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Exclusive: Ateneo responds to alumna’s sexual harassment case

By KAREN AVERION PANGAN Published Nov 05, 2020 4:25 am

“Time’s Up” and “Me Too” are two of the most powerful movements and social campaigns in recent years. The call-outs became a platform for women across the world to make public the sex crimes committed against them by powerful people, often men.

Other institutions, formerly too big and too bold to be pinpointed for such allegations, have also been recently named.

One such case is Ateneo de Manila University, which was put in the spotlight for alleged mishandling of a sexual harassment case filed by one of its alumni, Patricia Escalante.

The AB Philosophy Batch 2016 student filed the complaint against her former Philosophy teacher, Dr. Jesus Deogracias “Jade” Principe.

The start of the story

According to The Guidon, Principe was instrumental in Escalante’s decision to finish her degree in Philosophy. Student and professor found a common appreciation for Plato’s work and started a mentor-mentee relationship.

Ateneo alumna Patricia Escalante

As time went by, however, Escalante started feeling uncomfortable with some of Principe’s actions, one in particular involved the latter asking her to go on a date. While Principe apologized later for acting overly familiar after Escalante expressed her discomfort, the inappropriate advances didn’t entirely stop there.

Patricia told The Guidon of a separate instance where she and Principe were casually talking about her love for fish. She made a joke about turning into a salmon because of how often she enjoyed the treat, to which Principe responded with rubbing wasabi all over her should it happen.

“Certain events led me to feel uncomfortable around him and led me to decide to forgo a thesis and do the comprehensive oral exams instead,” Escalante wrote about Principe, who was also her thesis advisor, in a letter she addressed to the former Philosophy Department chair, Remmon E. Barbaze, PhD.

Patricia Escalante: ‘Justice for me is holding everybody who is part of the injustice accountable, from the professor to people who mishandled my case, to the administration.’

In 2016, Escalante filed a complaint that was “sexual in nature” against Principe. However, a memorandum from the University’s Office of the President signed by Jose Ramon “Jett” T Villarin SJ, dated Oct. 23, 2019, said that “no formal complaint for sexual harassment has been filed against Dr. Jesus Deogracias ‘Jade’ Principe.”

On Oct. 30, 2020, Escalante released a two-part video on the Facebook page Time’s Up Ateneo: “I felt extremely betrayed. Not even confused because when I saw that, I knew exactly what it meant or what it was trying to say, and so I was very angry.

“I remember thinking I wish I didn’t do this. From the first filing to the first exchanges that I received from the administration and the department, and of course the recent events this past year, I was always thinking I should have never done this.”

Escalante felt particularly disappointed by the fact that she got to know about Villarin’s memo via a public statement instead of a private update. She responded in writing to the office of Villarin asking for an appeal.

Ateneo responds to Escalante’s videos

Ateneo issued an exclusive statement to PhilSTAR L!fe yesterday, Nov. 4, through the University Marketing and Communications Office as coordinated by its director, Matec D. Villanueva.

Here’s an abridged version:

“On 30 October 2020, Ms. Patricia Escalante, an alumna, shared through a video posted on social media her experience of harassment when she was a college student at Ateneo de Manila University and the administrative process she went through after filing a complaint.

“We recognize her legitimate concerns about the University’s mechanisms and responses against sexual harassment and share her earnest desire to bring this case to a conclusion.

“We are indeed sorry for the hurt that these procedural lapses may have caused. A final decision is forthcoming regarding the specific issues she raised on appeal. We also recognize the similar concerns raised by others in the past year and of late. And to anyone who may have felt unheard or uncared for by the University, we are truly sorry.

“We reiterate that the University does not tolerate sexual harassment, other forms of sexual misconduct, and inappropriate behavior. We recognize fully the gaps identified in addressing these in the past. And we reassure everyone that significant steps are being done to ensure these incidents do not occur within the community now and in the future.

“An independent audit of the processes and mechanisms of the University related to sexual harassment and sexual violence, which began in December 2019, was completed in June 2020.

Ateneo de Manila University: ‘We are indeed sorry for the hurt that these procedural lapses may have caused. A final decision is forthcoming regarding the specific issues she raised on appeal.’

“Simultaneously, the University embarked on a consultative process of drafting its Code of Decorum and Administrative Rules on Sexual Harassment, Other Forms of Sexual Misconduct, and Inappropriate Behavior (otherwise known as the Code and Rules), which took into consideration the findings of the audit. The Code and Rules was approved in August 2020 and took effect on Sept. 26, 2020. A copy may be accessed through our website ateneo.edu/codeofdecorum.

“The University adopts a zero-tolerance policy against all forms of gender-based violence and discrimination, including sexual harassment and other forms of sexual misconduct.

“To the members of the University community, past and current, especially to those who have experienced abuse, we are allies in this struggle. Let us continue to listen to and hear each other. Let us come together as one community as we improve our systems and strengthen our stance against sexual harassment, abuse, and discrimination. Together, let us strive towards the one goal of making Ateneo a safe space for all.”

Big Blue delay, blunder

Women are making public the sex crimes committed against them by powerful people, often men.

Since Escalante requested an appeal in December 2019, the university has taken a few months to properly and formally respond to her case. At this point, there is still no final decision.

Principe has since personally written a letter of apology to Escalante while the latter has written numerous letters to departments like the Office of the Vice President of the Loyola school to further her case.

According to The Guidon, the investigating committee tasked to look at the case reached a verdict in May 2017, and informed Escalante in August 2017.

Principe, meanwhile, was said to have been given a “strong reprimand” and a warning to keep it from happening again. However, he continued to teach in the school year of 2017-2018. He was given a full load of classes again during the first semester of 2019-2020.

The decision caused faculty and students of the University to start an impunity protest, which resulted in a No Contract Order against him until the end of the first semester.

As for Escalante’s appeal, she shared, “They came out with the decision saying that they made a mistake and that they are classifying (my case) as sexual harassment. It’s been more than a while now, more than a month, and nothing has been done about the post that’s still public. A lot of the questions and concerns that I had in the letter that I wrote to him (Fr. Villarin)—they were never addressed.

“It comes back again to the whole Ateneo’s image is the most important thing in the world. That, for me, was the end of keeping silent."

Speaking out

“Time’s Up” and “Me Too” are two of the most powerful movements and social campaigns in recent years.

A protest against sexual harassment was held by Ateneo students in October 2019. This, Escalante said in the video, “meant everything to me. For the first time, I saw my case out there publicly, not in a negative space. For the first time, people (were) fighting for the cause and fighting for me as well. (That’s when) I really started healing and feeling more safe and secure about my story.

“It’s my story. It’s my voice and I can talk about it whenever and wherever I want because it happened to me. It was injustice done to me and I can never be made to feel like it is a secret only to protect certain people.

“I wish for other victims to know that there are people you can always reach out to. People who will protect, listen, and fight for you. Going public allowed me and the community to create that space for everyone to come together and start a dialogue.”

Escalante emphasized that she is not only pursuing her case for herself but to protect others from experiencing the same situation.

“Justice for me is holding everybody who is part of the injustice accountable, from the professor to certain people in the department who mishandled my case, to the administration…You can’t be in a leadership position if you cause these kinds of pains and traumas on your students.”