Published 23 January 2023, The Daily Tribune
In light of the proliferation of cases for support being supplanted with criminal cases, the Supreme Court saw the need to clarify the letter and intent of the law, particularly Section 5(i) of Republic Act 9262 or Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children, to determine the proper remedies for lack of spousal/ financial support.
In Acharon vs. People (G.R. 224946. 9 November 2021), the Court laid down the guidelines for determining how a spouse can be found guilty of economic abuse in connection with the denial of financial support.
Section 5 (i) of RA 9262 uses the phrase “denial of financial support” in defining the criminal act. “Denial” is defined as “refusal to satisfy a request or desire” or “the act of not allowing someone to do or have something.”
The foregoing definitions connote willfulness, or an active exertion of effort so that one would not be able to have or do something. This may be contrasted with the word “failure,” defined as “the fact of not doing something (one) should have done,” which in turn connotes passivity. From the plain meaning of the words used, the act punished by Section 5 (i) must be intentional.
The SC added that it is not enough for the woman to experience mental or emotional anguish, or for her partner to deny financial support that is legally due to her. For criminal liability to arise under Section 5 (i) of RA 9262, insofar as it deals with “denial of financial support,” there must be evidence that the accused willfully or consciously withheld financial support legally due to the woman inflicting mental or emotional anguish upon her. In other words, the physical element of the offense under Section 5 (i) is the willful denial of financial support, while the mental element is the intention to inflict mental or emotional anguish upon the woman. Both must exist and be proven in court before a person may be convicted of violating Section 5 (i) of RA 9262.
To be punishable by Section 5 (i) of RA 9262, it must ultimately be proven that the accused had the intent of inflicting mental or emotional anguish upon the woman, thereby inflicting psychological violence upon her, with the willful denial of financial support being the means selected by the accused to accomplish the said purpose. This means that the mere failure or one’s inability to provide financial support is not sufficient to rise to the level of criminality under Section 5 (i), even if mental or emotional anguish is experienced by the woman.
In other words, even if the woman were to suffer mental or emotional anguish due to the lack of financial support, but the accused merely failed or was unable to so provide support, then criminal liability would not arise.
From the foregoing discussion, the elements of a violation of Section 5 (i), insofar as it deals with the denial of financial support, are:
(1) The offended party is a woman and/or her child or children;
(2) The woman is either the wife or former wife of the offender or is a woman with whom the offender has or had a sexual or dating relationship, or is a woman with whom such offender has a common child. As for the woman’s child or children, they may be legitimate or illegitimate, or living within or without the family abode;
(3) The offender willfully refuses to give or consciously denies the woman and/or her child or children financial support that is legally due her and/or her child or children; and
(4) The offender denied the woman and/or her child or children financial support to cause the woman and/or her child or children mental or emotional anguish.
In conclusion, to be convicted under Section 5 (i), “the evidence must establish beyond reasonable doubt that the accused intended to cause the victim mental or emotional anguish, or public ridicule or humiliation through the denial of — not the mere failure or inability to provide — financial support, which thereby resulted into psychological violence.”