SC: Sexual Harassment is Not Gender-Based

December 15, 2020

The Supreme Court held it was high-time to correct the society’s notion that women are the weaker sex and the only victims of sexual harassment because this is discriminatory against men who have suffered the same plight. Sexual harassment is not an issue of gender but an issue of power.

This pronouncement was contained in a decision (G.R. No. 231748) promulgated on July 8, 2020 that partly granted the petition of a male seafarer who was sexually harassed by the Chief Officer during the course of his employment on board a ship in 2014.

The Court’s Third Division ordered the respondents Anglo-Eastern Crew Management Philippines, Inc. (Anglo-Eastern Crew), its foreign principal Anglo-Eastern (ANTWERP) NV, to pay the petitioner US$ 1,389.20 the unexpired portion of his contract (US$ 604.00 basic monthly salary x 2.30 months); reinstated moral damages amounting to Php100,000; reinstated exemplary damages amounting to Php50,000; and attorney’s fees amounting to 10% of the total monetary award. All these shall earn legal interest at the rate of six percent from the finality of this Decision until fully paid. The petitioner was hired as a messman.

The Court held that the respondents did not refute the findings of the Labor Arbiter and the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) that petitioner was sexually harassed, hence, the latter was entitled to moral and exemplary damages, and attorney’s fees.

The Court held that the case at bar was unique because the illness involved is a mental health disorder. It held that petitioner should not be blamed for belatedly seeking medical help considering his dire financial condition is a factor. The Court said that it recognized that it takes time for victims of sexual harassment to come forward, especially so if the victim is a male due to several factors like stigma, sense of loss of masculinity, and fear of being perceived as homosexual.

The Court also held that we must change the notion that injuries refer to only the physical kind, as they can come in many forms like emotional or psychological. It is high-time that we recognize sexual harassment on board vessels as a risk faced by our seafarers.

The Court said that while it was established that petitioner suffered some form of injury, however, the pieces of evidence submitted are not sufficient to prove that he has been rendered permanently and totally disabled, hence, the Court is precluded from awarding disability benefits, not because of his non-compliance with the three-day reportorial requirement but because of lack of evidence.

Records show that while he was unable to comply with the three-day reportorial requirement, he filed a complaint a week after repatriation. To support his claim for disability benefits, he presented a psychiatric report and a medical certificate proving that he was diagnosed with PTSD, prescribed to medication, and recommended to psychotherapy sessions.

In October 2013, the petitioner was employed by Anglo-Eastern Crew as messman on behalf of ANTWERP and was deployed in February the following year aboard the ship.

On the night of June 27, 2014, the petitioner claimed that when he served dinner to Chief Officer Korolenko Oleksiy, the latter demanded that he masturbate and perform oral sex on him. He resisted and left the room. That same night, Oleksiy called for him again, and, repeated the sexual advances. On the second attempt, he also resisted and managed to escape. The following day, he filed a complaint for physical abuse and sexual abuse under alcohol intake against Oleksiy before the Captain. Two co-workers, to whom he earlier told the incident, corroborated the complaint through written testimonies. All incidents were entered in the Deck Log Book.

Oleksiy threatened to kill him when he learned of the complaint. On July 12, 2014, he was repatriated to the Philippines. Upon arrival, he was examined by the company physician who found that he was sexually harassed and physically abused by Oleksiy. In November 2014, he was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) by a clinical psychologist.

He filed a labor complaint but the Labor Arbiter, while finding that he was illegally dismissed, concluded that he cannot claim disability benefits because he failed to report within three days from his arrival and the medical evidence he submitted was not enough to guarantee his disability claim. The Labor Arbiter, however, granted him moral and exemplary damages and attorney’s fee. On appeal, the NLRC affirmed the Labor Arbiter’s ruling with modification as it deleted the award of damages. It also denied the petitioner’s subsequent motion for reconsideration. On appeal, the Court of Appeals dismissed for lack of merit his petition for certiorari and motion for reconsideration, prompting him to elevate the matter to the SC.

The SC Public Information Office will upload a copy of the decision to its website as soon as it is available. ###