Ex-NEDA exec guilty of sexual harassment

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A FORMER regional director of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) of Central Visayas is facing half a year behind bars for sexually harassing his married employee.

The Sandiganbayan Third Division convicted Jose Romeo Escandor for violation of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act when he took advantage of Cindy Sheila Gamallo, a contractual employee of NEDA assisting in a Unicef project.

In the 39-page decision of the anti-graft court, the magistrates found that Escandor indeed displayed licentious behaviour before Gamallo, a married woman whose husband worked with Escandor.

The case traces in 1999 when one morning Escandor called Gamallo in his office, grabbed her, embraced her and kissed her on the forehead.

A series of malicious motives ensued, worst of sort was in December 2000, when Gamallo felt awkward during their Christmas party presentation because her boss is staring at her.

At the witness stand, Gamallo recounted her bitter struggle when her boss grabbed her when she was about to go home. Escandor kissed her on the lips but she moved away.

Lina Villamor, an officemate, saw Gamallo alighting from the stairs wiping her lips. Gamallo told Villamor what happened.

Apart from Villamor, Lelany Reso-or, Escandor’s secretary, and a security guard said that they saw how their boss took advantage of Gamallo.

Even before, Escandor had already been sending inappropriate messages through chat reading, “Hello, I miss you today,” “You are so beautiful,” or “I love you more everyday.”

Gamallo resigned in NEDA in 2003 where she filed a complaint at the NEDA Central Office. However, due to inaction, she filed the case before the Office of the Ombudsman in Visayas, which later on was built up and landed in Sandiganbayan.

During his defense, Escandor elaborated the layout of his office and said that had he been displaying indecent innuendos on Gamallo, everybody could have seen it because furniture were not obstructing sight.

Escandor told the court that Gamallo only concocted such allegations because her husband, a lawyer in NEDA and a junior of Escandor, had been in a bitter feud when Escandor filed an administrative case against Gamallo’s husband.

Escandor added that after a criminal case filed by Gamallo’s husband was dismissed, an avalanche of charges was filed against him, including her case and another sexual harassment case concerning Ruth Paul Cruz, another employee.

Resolving on the incident, the Sandiganbayan sustained the allegations of the Ombudsman, who said that the credibility of Gamallo far outweighs the denials of Escandor.

The justices said that if Escandor alleged that if the whole office plotted against his ouster, it smacks out of reason why only present one defense witness excluding himself.

“It is unbelievable that Escandor could not find other witnesses to refute Gamallo’s claim, while the complainant was able to gather witnesses who testified on her behalf,” the decision read, adding that the respondent’s claims were “reduced to mere denials.”

The Sandiganbayan added that Gamallo is honest and truthful even in cross-examination, when she confirmed that she signed the ouster of Escandor not to get back at her boss but to save the image of NEDA.

They added that for Gamallo to file a sexual harassment case is not a walk in the park.

“Filing a charge for sexual harassment is not a trivial matter. It entails having to go public with an incident that one is trying to forget. It means opening oneself to public ridicule and scrutiny,” the justices rendered, quoting a Supreme Court ruling.

Escandor was convicted to be placed behind bars for six months and to pay a fine of P20,000.

Associate Justices Alex Quiroz penned the decision, with Associate Justices Jose Hernandez and Samuel Martires concurring. JOHN CONSTANTINE G. CORDON

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