Ateneo President apologizes amid sexual harassment protests

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 19) — The head of the Ateneo de Manila University has apologized in the wake of protests over incidents of sexual harassment allegedly perpetrated by faculty members.

Ateneo President Fr. Jose Ramon Villarin promised to take action to make its Quezon City campus "a safer school."

"This morning, I had a heart-to-heart, face-to-face meeting with our students, faculty and administrators on this important issue of sexual harassment in our school," Villarin said in a memorandum addressed to the university community on Friday.

"First and foremost, I deeply apologize for all the terrible hurt and pain our community has been going through the past few days," Villarin said. "No one should ever feel unsafe in the classroom, in the office, on campus or anywhere in our community."

Villarin acknowledged "gaps and inadequacies" in the school's systems and processes and vowed to address these.

He said the university will expand its alternative anonymous reporting mechanism to include sexual harassment cases.

"It is crucial to give victims the safe space they need to tell their stories and to tell them with freedom, sincerity, and trust," Villarin said.

He also assured that due process will be followed in any sexual harassment proceeding. "When both complainant and respondent are part of the same family, the load is heavier to bear," he said.

Villarin added that the university's Committee on Decorum and Investigation will need to be reorganized, with a woman as its head, as required by the country's Safe Spaces Act. A list of the committee members will be published every schoolyear, he said.

Villarin also pledged to set up an Office for the Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Adults, directly under his office "to eradicate this evil of sexual harassment." Consultations will be held with stakeholders to set up these initiatives, he said.

Students and faculty staged protests this week calling for the removal of "sexual predators" in campus. This came after a male student posted online the abuse he recently experienced from a female professor.

A group of Ateneo professors, in response, stood by the “innocence” of their colleague. In a statement released Saturday, the faculty members called on the school community to “condemn the practice of trial by publicity.”

This is the second time the university has responded to sexual abuse allegations thrown against its faculty members. In October 2018, Ateneo released a memorandum signed by University Vice President Maria Vilches promising to investigate a "famous" male professor -– known for being outspoken online – for allegedly making his students uncomfortable by asking for photos of their feet and inviting them to his room at the university dormitory.

Some students said there have been other cases of sexual harassment where professors have gone unpunished.