Time’s Up Ateneo 2nd Anniversary Statement
15 October 2021
Two years after the historic protests against sexual violence and impunity that shook the Ateneo de Manila University beginning 15 October 2019, we at Time’s Up Ateneo reaffirm our commitment to survivors’ struggle for justice and healing. Though Time’s Up Ateneo was formally founded two days later, the 15 October protest was our veritable spiritual founding: the ideals it represented continue to ground and animate our work.
On our second anniversary, we wish not only to celebrate what we have achieved, but also to chart our path forward. The path before us invites not only survivors and advocates, but the larger community: away from the complicity that enables sexual violence, toward a future defined by care. Our second anniversary thus features activities and projects that reflect the theme: from complicity to care.
Fighting sexual violence and institutional complicity is a battle on multiple fronts, and hard-won victories might be followed by disappointing setbacks. The Ateneo community has gone a considerable way in addressing a culture of complicity that has often burdened and punished survivors. One hard-won victory in this regard is the implementation of the new Code of Decorum and Administrative Rules on Sexual Harassment, Other Forms of Sexual Misconduct, and Inappropriate Behavior since September 2020, after a thorough consultation and revision process that saw the participation of many survivors and advocates, including Time’s Up Ateneo.
In a statement last 15 February 2021, Time’s Up Ateneo, along with the Sanggunian Commission on Anti-Sexual Misconduct and Violence (CASMV), welcomed the introduction of the new Code as a “significant development in addressing sexual and gender-based violence.” The joint statement, however, also called on the University to “duly honor survivors, their healing, and their vision of justice” in the implementation of the new Code. Indeed, the pursuit of healing and justice cannot be achieved without redress for past injustices.
As such, in our February statement, we expressly asked the University administration for a genuine apology for and a clear rectification of the 23 October 2019 memorandum from the Office of the President, which, as we have previously said, “misled the community on the issue and discredited the stories and voices of survivors and their advocates.” We also called on the administration to formally release survivors from any NDAs signed with University offices and to refrain from weaponizing these and the Data Privacy Act against survivors and their supporters.
The University’s response has been disappointing. While we appreciate the correspondence we have had with the University Gender and Development Office, we have never received a reply, even after a follow-up, from University President Fr. Roberto C. Yap, S.J., to whom the joint statement was sent and who is ultimately in the best position to address the demands, which remain unmet. We are troubled that even just the concern about the 23 October 2019 memorandum remains unaddressed. That memorandum put survivors in harm’s way, and the fact that it remains unrectified to this day constitutes an active, continuing harm that damages survivors’ well-being.
This is a troubling fact, especially given the findings of the landmark audit of the processes and mechanisms of the University related to sexual harassment and sexual violence, which was conducted by Ms. Jeanne Frances I. Illo upon the University’s request following the 15 October 2019 protest. The audit, in which we participated, noted that “while a number of issues have been resolved, some continue to fester because of continuing dissatisfaction over how specific past complaints have been handled by the University, while new concerns have been noted relative to current policies, processes and procedures.” While the audit was completed in June 2020 and made available upon request in April 2021, Ms. Illo’s observation still holds true today.
Moving forward, we ask the University to finally take concrete steps to make amends toward survivors who have suffered from the shortcomings of previous processes. Good first steps have already been outlined in our February joint statement.
Apart from such amends, however, we also call on the University to remain ever-responsive to the full range of survivors’ experiences, as sexual violence takes on new forms especially amid COVID-19’s disruption of the usual learning context. The limits and scope of the recent reforms — how well they are able to protect and defend survivors — will continue to be tested as hitherto unconsidered forms of harassment come to light in proportion with improvements to our understanding of sexual violence. Among other measures, the Code, then, must be a living document that will be continuously updated and reformed in response to its successes and failures in promoting survivors’ welfare. The Code, after all, outlines minimum commitments. It is not by itself a sufficient blueprint for the community’s necessary confrontation with the larger culture of sexual violence and complicity that the Code ostensibly combats.
As we take stock, on our anniversary, of what we have achieved in the past year, we also take heed of the work that remains to be done. We are proud to say that our work has continued at full speed, held up by a sense of mutual aid and support that has made our community not only a loving and caring safe space, but also a ground for passionate advocacy. We have found strength, too, in our friendships — our extensive network that has allowed us to embrace feminist solidarity beyond our immediate community, even across borders.
Our joy in our work, however, also reveals a sadness rooted in the way that we have felt erased in our own larger community. Many of our members have contributed greatly to the task of reforming the University’s broken processes, including a rigorous participation in the audit and in the drafting of the new Code. Many of our members and allies have, at great cost, spoken out and broken the silence. We have fought hard to make the University a safer space, a better place for everyone. And yet we, a grassroots movement on the ground, have felt continuously excluded in institutional efforts to address the problems we have fought hard to bring to light. While we are proud to see our contributions adopted by University offices or officially recognized bodies, it pains us to see such contributions presented thoroughly cleared of our fingerprints as Time’s Up Ateneo. We have been a part of Ateneo history for the last two years, but the institution, it feels to us, cannot deign to acknowledge that. We may be acknowledged in private, official correspondence and in closed-door meetings, but never, it seems, in the resulting documents or in public releases.
Such erasure ignores the fact that community-led advocacy has contributed a great deal to the hard-won reforms. Forgetting, or passing over in silence, the contributions of survivors and community advocates in securing reforms is not only unjust. It also enables retaliation against survivors and advocates, playing into the hands of hostile quarters who seek to drive us out of the community. Erasing us from the picture reproduces the violence that sidelines and silences survivors.
We are still a long way from achieving gender justice — and that is not a fight that we can win individually. For this reason, we have never wavered in our vision of building a community. Time’s Up Ateneo is neither a short-lived campaign nor a simple lobby group. We are, first and foremost, a community of survivors and advocates. We are a community that stands with survivors. We are a community of care.
We invite the larger Ateneo community to share in this care and to participate in this task of caring for each other. Such care is a rebuke to the complicity that has wounded our community and so often contributed to the suffering of survivors. As the audit findings stated, “maintaining a safe space at the Ateneo also requires vigilance among its members, forever breaking the silence that shrouds sexual offences and protects sexual predators.”
That is the path we must now take: from complicity to care.