Admin, Sanggu push for formal complaints to prompt sexual harassment investigations

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FOLLOWING UNOFFICIAL complaints on social media against a Loyola Schools (LS) professor last September 30, the offices of the LS administration and the Sanggunian urge future harassment complainants to file official reports as to prompt formal investigation and action into allegations of sexual harassment.  

The harassment accusations were originally posted on ADMU Freedom Wall, which detailed specific descriptions of the accused professor and the unprofessional requests he reportedly asked of his students. These included allegedly inviting them into his bedroom for individual consultations, along with other inappropriate advances.

According to a memo by the Sanggunian, an official complaint was filed by the governing student body against the professor on October 12, prompting notarization by the Office of the Vice President for the Loyola Schools (OVPLS) and an official start of investigations by the Committee on Decorum and Investigation (CODI).

The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) mandated the establishment of a  CODI in every Higher Education Institution (HEI) in the country to investigate allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct involving members of their respective communities. Each CODI is a central body of investigation composed of representatives from every administrative, teacher and student sector in the respective institutes and, as such, is not under the jurisdiction of any specific unit within the HEI.

In an interview with The GUIDON, VPLS Maria Luz Vilches, PhD, said that since the official filing of the case, all information regarding the investigation has since been handed over to CODI. She noted that once CODI begins its probe, the offices of the LS cannot take part in the investigation, and all information regarding the case is kept confidential.

Admin response

On October 4, Vilches issued a memo regarding the directives the University has in place to combat sexual harassment and gender based violence.  She made direct references to CODI’s purpose and the standing Anti-Sexual Harassment Policy, as well as notice of a memo issued last February 9 regarding official protocol in place following sexual misconduct perpetrated by or against members of the LS community, regardless of positions of authority.

In the LS protocol memo, the VPLS reminded students of the official existing process of filing official complaints to the Office for Student Services for student complainants, and to the Human Resources Support bloc of the OVPLS for outsiders and employees of the University.

“The only thing that can be done by the LS afterwards is remain open to the complainant and respondent alike if they should need counselling,” Vilches said.

According to her, those who come forward for assistance after their case is filed are referred to the respective psychiatric offices of their sector.

In direct response to the harassment allegations of the time, Vilches expressed sympathy for the victims of sexual harassment and their families on behalf of the Loyola Schools community. “I empathize with and apologize to any and all victims who experienced such unacceptable behavior, especially from someone they trust,” said Vilches.

She likewise commended those who filed official complaints for their courage. “No one should be made afraid to speak the truth, ” she said.

Due process

Vilches noted that a number of students questioned the five-day delay between the LS administration’s response and the first accusatory post. According to Vilches, the answer is the existing due process.

CODI Chairperson Norberto Bautista, SJ discussed the general process of investigation after the committee is handed a case, noting that all information comes from the official complaint, the complainant, and the professional connections, and immediate supervisors of the respondent.

According to Bautista, investigation begins by scheduling interviews with both complainant and respondent parties. Every interview has at least one university-appointed psychologist and lawyer presiding, and either of the case’s parties may be accompanied by peers, family or lawyers.

However, Bautista said that only the complainant or respondent may answer official investigation questions, and none of their companions may speak on their behalf.

At the aftermath of the initial complaints, School of Humanities Dean Jonathan Chua, PhD urged the faculty and staff of his school to “exercise prudence on disseminating information on the still ongoing investigation.”

According to Chua, the case is an opportunity for the University administration to “test its internal processes.” He recommends lessons for all sectors on campus on teaching responsible voicing of discontent and accountability.

Vilches noted that the administration and investigation of sexual harassment cases themselves are “not handled by the LS.” However, the LS can still provide guidance and counselling services if needed, but they can not do anything anymore once complaints proceed to the CODI.

According to Vilches, the main function of the LS offices in the investigation is to receive and assess complaints. She said, “kailangan may due process. So, hindi yung action ng VPLS is not knee-jerk.”

(Due process is needed. The VPLS can not act on knee-jerk reactions.)

Need for formal complaints

Meanwhile, the Sanggunian thanked the survivors of the incidents for coming out and raising their concerns. However, they also stressed the importance of accountability and the filing of formal complaints in their official memo on the matter.

The Sanggunian urged potential complainants to come forward and contact the Sanggunian Commission on Anti-Sexual Harassment or the Commission on Anti-Sexual Misconduct and Violence (CASMV) via their official channels on Facebook and Twitter.

According to Vilches, proper investigation and judiciary processes with harassment cases begin with victims writing and signing official complaints.

Vilches said that the administration refrains from “jumping on” anonymous complaints posted on social media, as they have not been notarized by the school’s governing bodies of administration.

“These aren’t just our own regulations, they come from a memo from [CHED]. A lot of people say, ‘what can you do?’ If no one officially comes out, I can’t do anything,” she explained.

“Kahit ilang beses ka pa magsabi [on social media], we cannot do anything about it,” she added.

(No matter how many times you speak about it on social media, we cannot do anything about it [if no formal complaints are filed].)  

Caring for survivors

CODI’s role is to conduct the formal investigations and to ensure the University is free from all forms of harassment through deserved sanctions. Bautista referred the investigation process through the revised OHRMOD Ver No. 2 policy, which explained step-by-step the entire investigation procedure.

Just like the OVPLS, CODI also makes it their responsibility to provide and recommend counselling to victims, as well as the respondent when needed. Bautista added, “Follow-up counselling can be recommended. The Unit Head usually advises the Unit Guidance Office for these services.”

In case victims opt to not go directly to these offices, they may approach CASMV, which helps and guides them in writing and filing the complaint.

“Majority of what we do when there are public consultations is really to listen, and to hold the survivor’s hand, and to makes sure that she feels that she is not alone in this fight,” Bendaña said.

Despite the official University protocol that requires formal written complaints before taking any action on allegations, Bendaña explained that the Sanggunian strives to strike a balance between enforcing this process while also sympathizing with the survivors who wish to remain anonymous.

Bendaña acknowledges and understands the reasons of the administration, but appeals for the units that run these investigations to try and acknowledge as well that victims may choose not to disclose their identities.

Hindi nila naiintindihan kung bakit anonymous nag fi-file yung mga students. “Paano aaksyunan kung walang pangalan?” [Empathy for the victims is] something I think we have to reiterate,” she asserted.

(They do not understand why students file anonymously. They think, “How can action be done without a name?” [Empathy for the victims is] something that I think we have to reiterate).”

Taking it forward

Even before the recent online uproar, the LS administration has been continuously strengthening their gender policies through coordination with the University’s CODI, hosting seminars on gender sensitivity, and publishing memos attending to cases of sexual misconduct online. With this, Vilches assures that the LS will continue following their past protocols for future similar cases.

Meanwhile, CASMV began lobbying in October for the revised gender policy prepared by the LS Anti-Sexual Misconduct Technical Working Group.

“As the University expects the highest standards of rigor and excellence from its students, it is the LS community’s corresponding duty to encourage and practice academic and moral excellence every day,” wrote the Sanggunian, in their statement of support for the draft LS Gender Policy. As of writing, 623 members of the Ateneo community have enlisted their support for the policy’s final draft online.

In compliance with Republic Act No. 7877, Section 6.1.3 of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Policy rules that individuals who violate the policy be “subjected to corrective action, up to and including termination of employment.” Moreover, Bautista said results of which will remain confidential. Follow-up counselling will be recommended to the complainant and, if applicable, the respondent, too.

In the meantime, Vilches claimed they are establishing a Gender Hub where any LS faculty, student, or staff can participate in to address these withstanding issues. She also encouraged students to go through the proper channels as “they will be looked after much better here than [on] social media.”

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