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Supreme Court punishes law professor over sexual advances to students

/ 04:44 PM July 10, 2019

MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court (SC) has suspended a professor’s privilege to practice law and also barred him from teaching law in any law school after he was found to have made sexual advances to his students at Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro.

In an 11-page decision promulgated April 10 but made public only on Wednesday, the SC unanimously suspended Atty. Cresencio Co Untian Jr. from the practice of law for five years, and disallowed him from teaching at any law school for 10 years.

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The high court also issued a stern warning to Co Untian that “a repetition of the same or similar act will be dealt with more severely.”

According to SC, Co Untian violated Rule 1.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility for Lawyers, which provides that “a lawyer shall not engage in an unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct.”

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“Clearly, the respondent abused the power and authority he possessed over the complainants. His sexually laced conduct had created a hostile and offensive environment which deeply prejudiced his students,” read the ruling penned by Associate Justice Jose Reyes Jr.

“In what was supposed to be a safe place for them to learn and develop, they were instead subjected to unwarranted sexual advances,” the order also noted.

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) had recommended the penalty of suspension from legal practice for two years against Co Untian, but the SC imposed a graver penalty.

The SC disagreed with IBP that sexual harassment needed to result to being forced to have sex.

“The Court (has) explained that the essence of sexual harassment is not the violation of the victim’s sexuality but the abuse of power by the offender. In other words, what the law aims to punish is the undue exercise of power and authority manifested through sexually charged conduct or one filled with sexual undertones,” the ruling pointed out.

The case stemmed from a complaint filed by three female students of Co Untian.

One student said Co Untian sent her romantic messages, love notes, and even invited her to go to Camiguin, which she declined.

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The other complained that the professor showed her a naked photo of a woman who looked like her and teased her about it within hearing distance of other students. The third student, on the other hand, said she asked Co Untian to repeat the question during recitation by saying, “Sir, come again?,” to which Untian supposedly responded, “You want me to come again? I have not come the first time and don’t you know that it took me five minutes to come, and you want me to come again?”   

The SC said Co Untian admitted the accusations but provided justification for his actions. He said the text messages he sent to one of the complainants “was a common everyday text devoid of any romantic undertones.”

About the naked picture, he said he confiscated it from another student. He showed it to one of the complainants as a joke while the incident during the recitation, he said, was only meant to “inject humor in the classroom.”

Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, in his separate concurring opinion, said he would have wanted Co Untian to be disbarred had this not been the first time that the SC was required to act against a law professor accused of sexually harassing his students.

Leonen said Co Untian “was the type of person who thrived on his ability to ridicule women.”

Leonen also said Co Untian “coded his advances through jokes is aggravating.”

“Not only were they means to trivialize, he also wanted to entertain others at the expense of women. He hoped to create an environment that normalized his act. Those who laughed were complicit. The more they laughed, the more his act appeared normal; the more, too, that his act directly caused unsolicited suffering upon his victims,” he said.

The SC magistrate pointed out that any unsolicited sexual act is not only uncivilized as “it is also insulting to the entire legal profession.” /kga

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TAGS: Cagayan de Oro, Code of Professional Responsibility, Cresencio Co Untian, Justice Marvic Leonen, law, Lawyer, Local news, misconduct, Nation, national news, news, Philippine news updates, Professor, Sexual abuse, Sexual harassment, Xavier
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