MANILA, Philippines–If it was just a “pleasant, casual gesture” by a top executive of a GMA television network subsidiary, then why was the 23-year-old object of his attentions so outraged that she quit her job and sought to have him barred from any other employment in the network or any of its subsidiaries?
In fact, the victim, whose name is being withheld, said that far from a “pleasant, casual gesture,” what she experienced were caresses on her thigh and rear, invitations to join the executive in his room and an unwelcome kiss during a team-building seminar in a San Mateo, Rizal resort.
Last Thursday, a fact-finding committee formed by GMA began hearing the complaint of sexual harassment that the victim filed last April 15 against Scenarios Inc. executive vice-president Jose Antonio K. Veloso; stage and sets manager Ernesto Balleser, the victim’s direct superior; and Arnel Hiloma, the head of the administrative department of Scenarios.
After the complaint was filed, Veloso reportedly resigned as executive vice president of Scenarios. The victim fears, however, that he might be rehired in a different position in other GMA subsidiary companies.
The victim’s lawyer, Evalyn Ursua, questioned the composition of the fact-finding committee.
“The management should not be selecting the members of the committee … It seems they want to hide this incident from the other employees,” she said.
The selection of the committee members should be done by election among the employees and rank-and-file personnel and the supervisors should be the ones to choose their representatives to the committee, not the management, Ursua said.
Asked how the fact-finding committee would resolve the case and if witnesses to the sexual harassment incident would be called before the body, the GMA officials said that they would resolve the case based on affidavits that were submitted.
“Maybe this is the first time that a sexual harassment complaint lodged with the management reached this stage because they do not seem to know how to handle the case,” Ursua said.
The victim said she knows she faces an uphill battle but is pursuing the case because “I do not want this to happen to anybody else. This should not happen to anyone else.”
“He [Veloso] is a serious threat to the welfare and well-being of every female employee of the company and beyond. No female is safe from his abuses. Given his pattern of abusive conduct against females, he deserves to be dismissed from the company and barred from any employment within the GMA Network Inc. and any of its subsidiaries,” she said.
She asked that Balleser and Hiloma be included in the investigation for possible complicity in the offense.
“Given their tolerance of, if not active cooperation in, the commission of Mr. Veloso’s acts, they have contributed to a company culture of disrespect for women and continuing sexual harassment,” she said.
Their word against mine
She said that 90 percent of Scenarios employees, particularly in the stage and sets department, were women, a fact that she finds odd as the job requires lifting heavy objects.
“I know I will be going up against the top management. It is their word against mine …But it is time for him [Veloso] to stop. I have the chance to complain. I will pursue this and see this through,” the victim said.
Veloso could not be reached for comment. He did not respond to several text messages sent to his cellular phone.
Lawyer Dick Perez, vice president for legal affairs of GMA Network Inc., said the company was serious about looking into the sexual harassment complaint.
“This is a big matter for us. We are now investigating the case. We are serious,” he said.
He said the allegedly questionable composition of the fact-finding committee was a matter of perception.
“They [the complainant’s side] are going to submit their position and that would be unfair to us if they say we are not taking this seriously…We will resolve this,” the lawyer said.
Perez said that since Veloso has already resigned, “we cannot investigate him because he is no longer under our jurisdiction.” He said Veloso ceased to be connected with GMA and its subsidiary in April when he resigned.
He explained that the investigation was administrative and geared toward disciplining possibly errant employees.
In her affidavit-complaint, the victim said the sexual harassment occurred at a company team-building seminar at the 9 Waves Resort in San Mateo, Rizal from March 28 and March 29, attended by the management and staff, including Veloso, Balleser and Hiloma.
“From the time we got there until around lunchtime, our executive vice president, Jose Antonio K. Veloso (JAKV) kept approaching me and making small talk, which I did not find peculiar at [the] time,” she said.
Toward the late afternoon, she and some of her officemates went to the resort’s recreation room to play billiards and table tennis. They found Veloso already there playing billiards with one of their officemates.
“It was during this time that he started being a bit touchy [with] me but I did not think much of it since he was like that with women even in our office,” the victim said.
At 10 p.m. on March 28, the victim received a text message from her immediate superior, Balleser, asking for a flash drive that contained the files of an office project. When she went into one of the cottages to get the flash drive, she noted that the company officials had set up a table in front of the cottage and were sitting around it having drinks.
When she emerged from the cottage, she was invited to sit at the table between Balleser and Veloso, purportedly to discuss the project, which she took to be an “implied order.” As soon as she sat down, she was informed that the company would subsidize her tuition for a computer crash course.
However, she noticed that Veloso’s thigh kept brushing against hers, which she promptly moved to avoid. Veloso then allegedly placed his hand on her lap. She moved back her chair and started to rise, excusing herself, but the company officials told her to stay to discuss the project.
“I was afraid of what would happen if I refused. I panicked and I could not think straight. All that I was fully conscious of was that everyone sitting at the table was my superior and every request was an implied order,” the victim said in the affidavit.
Veloso resumed placing his hand on her lap and even held her hand. She said Balleser and Hiloma saw what was happening but did not react even after she looked pleadingly at Balleser for him to help her.
She pulled her hand away from Veloso’s grip, but he placed her hand on his lap, interlocking their fingers and then pinning her hand under his.
“When I started resisting subtly, he [Veloso] suddenly placed his hand on the small of my back and slipped it inside my panties. I grabbed his arm and tried to pull it out. He pulled out his hand and placed it again on my lap. He began humming near my ear, adding to my fear and panic. I froze on the spot,” she said.
She did not manage to get away until midnight when another female employee joined the group. But when the victim passed him, Veloso approached her and whispered, “See me later?”
She went back to her cottage and discussed what happened with her officemates. From their discussions, she felt she had to go back to rescue the other girl.
When Veloso saw her, he asked her to help transfer some unopened beer cans from another table to their table. As she turned to return to their table, Veloso grabbed her by the nape and kissed her on the lips.
“I immediately struggled and bowed my head to get out of his grip. I shook my head and said firmly, ‘Sir, no.’ He tried again, but I kept resisting him. I pushed him back with my left forearm,” until he finally let go.
She said the female employee she was attempting to rescue later told her that she was treated the same way but was too afraid to say or do anything.
She later received a text message from Veloso saying, “Are you all right?” to which she did not respond.
‘Pleasant, casual gesture’
Balleser and Hiloma, in a written response to the sexual harassment complaint, dismissed what they witnessed as “a pleasant, casual gesture.”
In an April 21 letter to Perez, they denied “having any knowledge, full awareness or preconceived notion of such indecent acts that allegedly transpired on the night of March 28, 2008 wherein Ms _____ claimed to have been sexually violated.”
In separate counteraffidavits, Balleser and Hiloma said that at the team-building seminar they saw Veloso and the victim “holding hands comfortably which was in plain view of everybody while talking and smiling” and did not see any malice, ignoring this as “a pleasant casual gesture.”
They also claimed not to have seen any form of resistance or defiance “that could possibly draw our attention to and/or alarm us of any unwelcome sexual transgression, as claimed by Ms ______.”
1. I believe that what the complainant has narrated is true.
2. I believe that the Inquirer management censored this story by putting that kind of headline (which I think is not being described by the story’s lead).
3. Yang mga rapist na yan ang dapat na pinapatay ng mga hitman ng militar, hindi ang mga aktibista.