Officials and the rank-and-file at the National Economic Development Authority, a government agency tasked to map out strategies for the country’s progress, gather in huddles to talk about a sexual harassment case that allegedly involved an “influential” old-timer.
The accused is highly-regarded in economic and political circles—the kind who gets invited to international meetings to represent the country in economic gatherings that would host a head of state or two. Sources note he has been in NEDA for 42 years.
(Inquirer columnist Rina Jimenez David reported he is responsible for “big ticket” projects under the current administration.)
Trouble began in October when he received a show cause order to respond to a six-page complaint filed by an entry-level female employee.
The young woman claimed he pressured her to ride his vehicle after an office party celebrating his birthday the month before. While seated together at the back of the car, the official allegedly fondled her while thanking her for helping organize the party.
The employee is no longer around. Before she left however, she supposedly endured a lot of pressure from her supposed predator, and at least two female superiors who ridiculed her for requesting that she be transferred to another department following her ordeal inside the official’s car.
NEDA Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia had already tasked a Committee on Decorum and Investigation (CODI) to look into the case. “We’re expecting the decision to come out really soon,” an insider said.
NEDA released a statement earlier this month saying the CODI “will be submitting its findings following the prescribed timelines.” No specific date was given though.
NEDA however, asserts it has a code of conduct that “upholds respect for all” and that any form of abuse or harassment, “most especially sexual harassment, is not to be tolerated.”
The agency also recalled a previous case where another respondent to a sexual harassment case a few years back was disciplined “before the filing of a formal complaint.”
NEDA also stressed it is a “primary advocate of the Magna Carta (for) Women,” that it “champions the protection of women’s rights and expects its officials and employees to conduct themselves (at) the highest standards of ethics and integrity.”
The statement concludes with the assurance that ‘in the interest of justice, the principles of due process (will be) strictly observed.”
Columnist David used the word “veteran” in describing the official’s predatory behavior in NEDA. An insider noted that since the story broke, employees in the building have divided themselves into those sympathizing with the young woman and those loyal to the accused.
The insider said the entry-level ex-employee appears to be the first “so far who has come forward and filed a complaint” but the “can of worms” she opened is apparently not wide enough for “other victims (who) choose to keep quiet,” thinking the accused’s “influence” within NEDA would only render their actions useless.
Philippine courts have a sub judice rule that prevents the complainant and the subject of the complaint in a pending case from discussing the merits of the case in a public forum. Newspapers and online platforms like nolisoli.ph are covered by this restriction.
Fear of violating the sub judice rule is also making witnesses hesitant to share what they know about the case. One of them however, expressed a mixture of indignation and relief at how “a lot of people are now discussing it openly” since newspapers picked up the story.
This despite fears that the accused might use the same news stories to bolster his anticipated argument that a conspiracy within NEDA is behind the effort to try him by publicity despite his contributions to the agency.
For the record, nolisoli.ph attempted to get the side of the accused after getting hold of an electronic copy of the young woman’s complaint. The request for a statement was not granted.
We cannot discuss the merits of the complaint against the NEDA official but we laud the young woman’s courageous effort to reveal her cause of discomfort in her work environment.
Our current climate makes it easy for anyone in her situation to be slut-shamed and isolated. One glaring detail in her six-page statement to the NEDA legal staff was how two female superiors allegedly berated her for requesting for a transfer to another department despite the trauma she experienced.
Sub judice prevents us from discussing the details of her encounter with the female officials who apparently sympathize with the accused. The two will also not be named here.
But imagine running to your superiors, thinking they would act as protective siblings upon learning of your unpleasant experience, only to be told to shut up and put up.
While we await the findings of the NEDA committee, it remains objective to point out that we still have working environments where colleagues would rather turn a blind eye to incidents similar to this.
The blind eye not only keeps a victim marginalized, it also emboldens a predator to continue. The blind eye wants to keep a victim mute.
Regardless of whether the story is true, the fact remains that young workers (whether male or female) without adequate influence in the work environment are the most vulnerable to power-tripping superiors (whether male or female) who insist on getting away with questionable acts.
Like other justice-loving citizens, we expect investigating committees, especially those tasked to examine incidents involving ranking government officials, to remain objective and blind to the rank of whoever is involved.
Like the rest of the NEDA community, we remain vigilant and anticipate a report that the agency promised will be a product of due process and truly reflective of its adherence to the “highest standards of ethics and integrity.”
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Writer: CATHY CAÑARES YAMSUAN
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