Published 17 January 2022, The Daily Tribune

Is it a fault not to be able to provide adequate support when you are not in the position to do so? More essentially, does the omission or denial to provide adequate support constitute a crime?

Interestingly, the questions were answered in a recent case decided by the Supreme Court, XXX vs People of the Philippines, (G.R. 252087, February 10, 2021) involving violation of Republic Act (RA) 9262, popularly known as the Law on Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children. Pertinent to the cited case is Section 5 (i) of the said law which punishes “causing mental or emotional anguish, public ridicule or humiliation to the woman or her child, including, but not limited to, repeated verbal and emotional abuse, and denial of financial support or custody of minor children of access to the woman’s child or children.”

In the cited case, the Supreme Court explained the difference between failure to provide support and denial of support. Incidentally, the names of the parties were withheld pursuant to the provision of the same law ordaining the confidentiality of all records pertaining to cases governed by the said law.

The private complainant is the lawful wife of the accused. She had no source of income and was entirely dependent upon him for support. The accused worked as a mechanic, initially gave support to his spouse but eventually stopped and even left the conjugal abode.

After trial, the Regional Trial Court convicted the accused. The Court of Appeals eventually affirmed the conviction. Dissatisfied, XXX brought the petition before the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court found for the petitioner, explaining:

The law will not punish a person when he suffers from a mental debilitation that deprived him of the mental faculties necessary to perform an obligation. In this case, while the prosecution established that XXX failed to provide adequate support to his daughter, there is no evidence that he did so intentionally. Moreover, there is convincing evidence that XXX’s Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome and paranoid ideations were of such a nature and degree that he could not bring himself to work and provide for his family even though it may have been proved that he has the physical capacity to do so.

It was further emphasized that what distinguishes Section 5 (i) from the other violations of Section 5 of RA 9262, are the indispensable requirements of (1) psychological violence; and (2) emotional anguish or mental suffering. Psychological violence is the means employed by the perpetrator, while emotional anguish or mental sufferings are the effects caused to or the damage sustained by the offended party.

As the SC said in another case of violation under the said law, the “focus of this particular criminal act [Section 5 (i) of RA 9262] is the causation of non-physical suffering, that is, mental or emotional distress, or even anxiety and social shame or dishonor on the offended party.”

In addition, it was held that the prosecution must prove the guilt of the accused by establishing the existence of all the elements of the crime charged. In this case, while the prosecution was able to prove that XXX denied support for CCC, the SC does not think there is proof beyond reasonable doubt that such constituted psychological violence or that it was the cause of AAA’s mental and emotional distress. The records show that petitioner was willing to provide support and in 2005, had attempted to negotiate with AAA as to the amount both at the barangay and before the City Prosecution Office.

The Supreme Court then concluded that it appears that petitioner was not unwilling to provide support per se, but could not do so because the amount he could offer was not sufficient for AAA to realize the aspirations she had set for (their daughter) CCC (e.g., that the latter be schooled privately. The High Court recognizes the validity of AAA’s aspirations for her child, however, it remains that petitioner was not in a position to meet such. That petitioner attempted to find a way to provide support within his means indicates that he did not willfully set out to cause psychological violence upon AAA, even when the latter was constantly harassing him, which later on caused his PTSD. Consequently, it cannot be concluded beyond reasonable doubt that he caused AAA’s emotional distress.

Also instructive is the Supreme Court’s discourse on the prosecution of acts mala prohibita, to wit:

“We agree that XXX is not insane, but that is beside the point, because he did not raise such a defense to begin with. It is a well-settled principle in criminal law that while criminal intent need not be proved in the prosecution of acts mala prohibita which are generally punished in such special penal laws as RA 9262, the prosecution still has the burden to prove that the prohibited act was intentional or voluntary. There is a well-settled distinction between intent to commit the crime and intent to perpetrate the act. A person may not have consciously intended to commit a crime; but if he did intend to commit an act — and that act is, by the very nature of things, the crime itself — then he can be held liable for the malum prohibitum. Conversely, if a person did not intend to perpetrate an act that has been defined by law to be the crime itself, then he is not guilty of the act. Here, the evidence shows that petitioner could not provide support because (1) AAA prevented him from doing so by refusing what he could offer; and (2) he was suffering from an incurable mental illness which, though not sufficient to be considered as a form of insanity, was to a degree that effectively incapacitated him from earning.”

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