Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. VI, No. 13      May 7-13, 2006      Quezon City, Philippines











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Sexual Harassment at SM Baguio

“After I was inspected, I saw the guard frisking my sons from the waist down to their private parts, one after the other. I freaked out when I saw what the guard did, as I also saw him smiling while my two sons were looking at me helplessly. I reprimanded him and said that he had just sexually harassed my children. Instead of apologizing, he argued that he was only joking and that he wasn't gay and that my children were boys anyway.”    


Communications Head, Office of the Secretary

Department of Education


To fellow parents, colleagues in education and child development, and friends in media,


As you may well know, we at the Department of Education (DepEd) have been actively advocating against child abuse. No less than DepEd OIC Secretary Fe Hidalgo herself has warned teachers and school officials about this issue. As Communications head at the Office of the Secretary, and as a father of three young children, this advocacy has been my personal conviction.


I'd like to share an incident which happened last Saturday, April 29, in Baguio City where my two sons, aged six and eight, were sexually harassed at SM Baguio.


Frisking my kids' private parts – not funny!


I went to SM Baguio with my two sons and 4 year-old daughter on Saturday afternoon. At the entrance, there was this routine baggage inspection – one line for males and another for females. Upon our entrance, the guard inspected my bag and frisked me. As I was holding my little girl, my two sons were following right behind me.


After I was inspected, I saw the guard frisking my sons from the waist down to their private parts, one after the other. I freaked out when I saw what the guard did, as I also saw him smiling while my two sons were looking at me helplessly. I reprimanded him and said that he had just sexually harassed my children. Instead of apologizing, he argued that he was only joking and that he wasn't gay and that my children were boys anyway.   


This really provoked me and I asked for the supervisor from the other guards, who, by the way, seemed unaffected by what happened. The guard, as if threatening me, confronted me and said, "Gusto mo ba 'ko matanggal sa trabaho?" I said yes, because he had just harassed my children and he shouldn't be in that job if he himself harmed or abused the people he's supposed to protect.


A representative from SM's Customer Service Relations (CSR) came and I told him what happened. He confronted the guard who then admitted what he did and even demonstrated it – on my sons again! This triggered me to shout at him to stop touching my sons.


The excuse – kids can bear weapons, too


I was invited by the CSR representative to their office so I could file a complaint to the CSR Supervisor, which I did. As I wrote down my complaint, I asked the CSR Supervisor why the children had to be frisked to begin with. They explained that this was a standard operating procedure because of the possibility that bombs or weapons could be slid through into their clothes. This was the same excuse given to me by the Area Coordinator of Star Force, the security agency the guard worked for.


Upon learning that the guard was not relieved from his post (the supervisor at the CSR office was initially arguing that they had no one to replace his post at the moment), I asked that he be relieved and told them that I wanted him arrested. So he was called down to the CSR office in a separate room. The CSR Supervisor called for a Police Officer to whom I narrated my complaint. He then called for a Police Mobile Patrol Unit to bring us and the guard to Baguio City's Station 7, near the City Hall.


SM Baguio's customer relations – limited warranty


When we were being picked up, another Police Officer who came with the Mobile Patrol Unit asked what happened. The CSR representative to whom the guard confessed suddenly tweaked the story by saying that when the guard frisked the kids, his hands just came near their private parts. In an effort to tell him that I saw him lie right there, I approached him, thanked him for his help and expressed my hope that he and SM Baguio would be cooperative in the case. He said they would.


But no representative from SM Baguio came to the Police Station with us. In fact no representative from SM Baguio showed any concern after they turned us over to the Police.


I was very bothered with this as I sensed that I was going to have a hard time fighting for my children with these people. So I called two of my colleagues from the Office of the Secretary who were also in Baguio to go meet me at the Police Station.


The trauma of my children and the untroubled offender


At the Police Station 7, we were brought to an office that facilitated cases involving women and children. I filed my complaint there and we were all asked for our statements – me, my two sons and the guard.


This in itself was a very difficult moment for my children – to have them undergo some questioning and tell a stranger how they were sexually violated. So I had to reassure them that it was ok and that we had to tell the authorities that the guard did something wrong to them so he would be punished. My eldest son said, "Daddy buti na lang nakita mo kasi di ko alam kung pano ako magrereklamo nung ginawa nya yun."


So my two sons and I gave our sworn statements. Two policewomen gently interviewed them. I was thankful to these two ladies for being like kindergarten teachers to my kids. I also thanked them for facilitating our case swiftly.


Meanwhile, I found out that the guard had changed his story to "he was just doing his job," without admitting that he did frisk my children down to their private parts. The Area Coordinator from Star Force approached me and was proposing if we can have some sort of an out-of-court settlement. I said that all we wanted was for the guard to admit the truth like how he demonstrated it to the CSR Representative when he was confronted at the scene in SM Baguio. Then we want him punished for what he did as the law prescribes. I explained to him that it's all about a matter of principle so we will pursue the case.


At some point during our stay at the Police Station, the guard was somehow asking that I let this pass since he's just a security guard and that he, too, had children. I told him that he should've known better since he too had children. I also said that as a father, I'm sure he'd be as hurt as I am if this happened to his own children. I asked him to simply admit the truth as he did earlier, accept the punishment then perhaps I could be more considerate. Maintaining his arrogance, he never admitted it, and he never apologized.


Security guard on the loose


To our dismay, the inquest prosecutor to whom the case was endorsed, later on decided to have the guard released and instead have him "Promise to Appear" during the investigation or court hearings.


If that security guard went back to work and wasn't suspended or fired, then you can be sure that there's a security guard by the name of Roldan Gunayon on the loose at SM Baguio who can frisk your children's private parts anytime you enter the establishment.


It was alarming enough that Roldan Gunayon, a security guard, would have the temerity to commit that act of perversion to my children in a public place, in broad daylight.   It's unimaginable that he has been set free. At any time, he can continue his nefarious acts with any child at SM Baguio or anywhere he may be.


Justice delayed, justice denied


We were foolish to think that the security guard, after being caught of blatantly violating my children in public and admitting having done so at the scene; and after two innocent children gave their sworn statements to the police, however traumatic, would be imprisoned right away.


We thought we found justice when the Police facilitated our case swiftly. But we lost it when the security guard was released. What would it have taken to have him detained? Wasn't it enough that two very young children who had no sense of malice complain and swear on their soul that they were sexually violated?


Why wasn't he imprisoned at all?


The inquest prosecutor's "Promise to Appear" decision imputed to the accused the crime of unjust vexation in relation to RA 7610.  Unjust vexation is one of the minor offences in the Revised Penal Code, punishable by a fine of Php 5 – Php 200 or imprisonment of 1-30 days.  He wasn't even charged of violations against RA 7610 or the Child Protection Act. However minor the violation may be interpreted, any layperson such as me would, by common sense, easily point that out as child abuse. My children themselves knew that they were violated and they themselves expressed that they were wronged. Unjust vexation is not a crime against honor.


Just how minor an offence is frisking the private parts of children when you're not even supposed to frisk these innocent people to begin with? How minor an offence is frisking their private parts with such malicious intent of kidding with them? How minor an offence is sexually harassing children?


I was also informed that we did not expressly manifest in our sworn statements that we wanted the guard detained – a technicality that could've prompted the prosecutor to simply set the guard free. I thought that the point of bringing the guard to the police station was to have him arrested; otherwise we would've left him at SM Baguio after we filed the complaint at the CSR Office. It's sad that a mere technicality was given more consideration than the rights of my children to be served justice at that moment when they honestly complained that they were indeed violated.


Whatever the prosecutor appreciation for the case was, his decision certainly communicated little concern for the abused children who the state, so we all trust, are supposed to protect first and foremost.


Obviously, his decision showed that justice for two sexually harassed children could be delayed until the court got to investigate the offender despite the fact that he was caught in the act and despite the sworn complaints of two innocent children against him.


While we appeal that the guard be charged of violations against RA 7610, we can only hope that the good prosecutor would be enlightened, and could see beyond the technicalities of the law. We'd like to believe that the genius of RA 7610 is to first and foremost protect the welfare of innocent children, particularly in cases such as this.


Meanwhile, the harsh reality remains that my two sons were denied justice. Instead, the offender was allowed to go free.


SM Baguio's negligence and accountability


We were also foolish to think that the management of SM Baguio, with all its "we've got it all for you" fanfare, would be responsible enough to own accountability for their negligence since the incident happened within their premises and with their employed security guard as the offender.


Their accountability, if you can call it that, was limited to relieving the guard from his post and turning us over to the Police – both at my prodding. They did not even accompany us to the Police Station, to ensure, at the very least, that the matter was settled and the offence against my children was brought to justice. Their sense of accountability was limited to calming an aggrieved customer, without retribution whatsoever.


It was as if they left the guard to answer the accusations on his own; and we were left to prove our word against the statement of the guard when their CSR representative himself saw and heard the guard demonstrate and admit what he did to my children.


Meanwhile, Star Force Security Agency, through its Area Coordinator, could only offer an out-of-court settlement, which, in a sense, was even adding insult to injury. While I could appreciate the agency's effort to find a solution to the situation, we weren't after anything but simply justice for my children – that was for the guard to be imprisoned for what he did. We don't need appeasement, we want justice.


I hold SM Baguio accountable for this incident. Its failure to help us see the matter through speaks so much of the kind of service they render to the thousands of customers who patronize them everyday.


If this is the kind of customer service SM provides, then maybe they should change their slogan to "We get it all from you, then you're on your own."


Fighting for justice


If the guard is convicted, he can be imprisoned or he can post bail. Either punishment does not take away the trauma that my children went through. They will have to live with that experience for the rest of their lives.


Either punishment does not heal the wounds of that devastating moment for my children. And I can never forget the helpless look on their eyes when the guard touched their private parts, as if they were being raped and couldn't cry for help in their shock.


In my anger I could find the security guard and uncontrollably beat him up. But whatever pain this incident has caused us and however it will linger, unlawful means will not win justice for my two young sons.


My children, young as they are -- and any young child for that matter -- do not deserve to be subjected to such a horrible and abusive experience. And whoever does so should be duly charged and punished within the bounds of the Child Protection Act.


I come from a very forgiving family. But life has taught me that we are all responsible for the circumstances we find ourselves in and we must be held accountable for the consequences of our actions. I've had my share of paying up, and I continue to do so.


Hence I will fight for justice for my two sons until I've won so for them.


I have been warned that by making this issue public, I may stir the ire of the companies and personalities involved, and risk being retaliated upon. This is exactly why many abuses have not been served justice. I cannot be threatened and have my children grow up with an unresolved baggage in their lives.


I've written this to you all in my search for justice for my two sons -- to share my pain as a father, to warn you about a paedophile possibly on the loose in SM Baguio, to complain against frisking children and to show parents of children who have been abused or continue to be abused, that justice for their children is worth fighting for.


I make this statement to remind us adults about the kinds of abuses we allow our children to go through, which we may take for granted since they do not complain and they get easily frightened to speak up. Justice for every abused child has to be fought for.  


Toilet humor, which in many instances borders to perversion, is not at all funny, especially when our children are involved.


While we trust the state to protect the welfare of our children, it seems that we will not be able stop the abuses against them unless we bring these incidents out in the open and actively seek to punish those who abuse them.


Help from genuine authorities in Baguio


I have sought the assistance of other authorities in Baguio City – those whom I think would have genuine concern for children's welfare. I found the Office of Councilor Pinky Rondez most helpful and forthcoming. Being the lone woman-councilor in the city, women's and children's issues are foremost in her agenda. She has expressed her full support in my fight for justice for my children.


With all respect to the City of Baguio which I'm sure most of us enjoy visiting, I hope that this incident would help you strengthen your responsiveness to issues involving our young, keeping in mind that your beautiful city has been considered a haven for many people – local and foreign tourists alike, especially children.

Posted by Bulatlat




© 2006 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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