Published 03 September 2018, The Daily Tribune

Then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan once said that violence against women is perhaps the most shameful human rights violation, and it is perhaps the most pervasive. It knows no boundaries of geography, culture or wealth. As long as it continues, we cannot claim to be making real progress towards equality, development and peace.

In our country, there are various laws enacted aimed at curbing violence against women and children. One of these laws is the Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act (“VAWC”). Although the VAWC took effect on March 27, 2004, domestic violence is still prevalent.

In a study and survey conducted by the Philippine Statistics Authority in 2017, based on the data gathered from ever-married women aged 15-49 who have ever experienced emotional, physical, or sexual violence by their husband or partner, one in five (20%) women has ever experienced emotional violence, 14% has ever experienced physical violence, and 5% ever experienced sexual violence by their current or most recent husband or partner. Women who are annulled, separated, or widowed are more likely to have experienced all forms of violence by their most recent partner compared with women who are married or living together: 53 percent of annulled, separated, or widowed women have experienced physical, sexual, or emotional violence compared with 24 percent of women who are married or living together.

Does this mean that the VAWC is not an effective deterrent to domestic violence? In my view, the VAWC has sufficient remedies to address this problem. However, the pervasiveness of domestic violence springs from the lack of awareness of the VAWC. To shed light on this matter, here are the salient features of the VAWC.

Section 3 of the VAWC defines violence against women and children as any act or a series of acts committed by any person against a woman who is his wife, former wife, or against a woman with whom the person has or had a sexual or dating relationship, or with whom he has a common child, or against her child whether legitimate or illegitimate, within or without the family home, which result in or is likely to result in physical, sexual, psychological harm or suffering, or economic abuse including threats of such acts, battery, assault, coercion, harassment or arbitrary deprivation of liberty.

Under Section 5 of the VAWC, the following are penalized: a) physical violence, b) sexual violence, c) psychological violence, d) 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 or access to the woman’s child/children.

A person held to be criminally liable under the VAWC will suffer the penalty of imprisonment, ranging from one month to twelve years, depending on the act/s committed. In addition to imprisonment, the perpetrator shall (a) pay a fine in the amount of not less than One hundred thousand pesos but not more than three hundred thousand pesos; (b) undergo mandatory psychological counseling or psychiatric treatment and shall report compliance to the court.

A victim of domestic violence may avail himself of the protection orders under Section 8 of the VAWC, such as a barangay protection order (“BPO”), temporary protection order (“TPO”) and permanent protection order (“PPO”). Once issued, here are some of the reliefs that may be availed of via a protection order:

(a) Prohibition of the respondent from harassing, annoying, telephoning, contacting or otherwise communicating with the victim, directly or indirectly;

(b) Removal and exclusion of the respondent from the residence of the victim, regardless of ownership of the residence, either temporarily for the purpose of protecting the victim, or permanently where no property rights are violated;

(c) Directing the respondent to stay away from the victim and designated family or household member at a distance specified by the court, and to stay away from the residence, school, place of employment, or any specified place frequented by the victim and any designated family or household member;

(d) Directing lawful possession and use by the victim of an automobile and other essential personal effects, regardless of ownership, and directing the appropriate law enforcement officer to accompany the victim to the residence of the parties to ensure that the victim is safely restored to the possession of the automobile and other essential personal effects, or to supervise the victim or respondent’s removal of personal belongings;

(e) Granting a temporary or permanent custody of a child/children to the victim;

(f)  Directing the respondent to provide support to the woman and/or her child if entitled to legal support. Notwithstanding other laws to the contrary, the court shall order an appropriate percentage of the income or salary of the respondent to be withheld regularly by the respondent’s employer for the same to be automatically remitted directly to the woman. Failure to remit and/or withhold or any delay in the remittance of support to the woman and/or her child without justifiable cause shall render the respondent or his employer liable for indirect contempt of court;

Any of the afore-mentioned reliefs shall be granted even in the absence of a decree of legal separation or annulment or declaration of absolute nullity of marriage.

Applications for a BPO shall be filed in the appropriate barangay, pursuant to Section 41 of A.M. No. 04-10-11-SC, otherwise known as the Rule on VAWC. On the other hand, an application for TPO and PPO may be filed with the appropriate court, pursuant to Section 9 of the same rule.

A TPO may be issued by the court even without notice and hearing, but it is valid for a period of 30 days only, subject to extension by the court. Whereas, a PPO may only be issued after the case is submitted for decision. Once issued, the PPO is immediately executory, notwithstanding the appeal of the respondent.

Indeed, the law provides adequate remedies to women who are victims of violence. To them I say, speak up and stand for your rights. And to their tormentors, I say- women are not be victimized but loved and understood.

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