Last April, I was invited by the Philippine Embassy here in Singapore to give a lecture to on Women’s Rights. Since it was a last minute notice, I had to hurriedly rummage through my old notes (and of course Google) so that I could come out with something substantial and coherent to present. During my lawyering years in the Philippines, I was not really directly involved in any activities or legislation concerning Women’s Rights. Although, I handled some criminal cases on bigamy, concubinage and qualified seduction when I was still practicing privately, I do not think I can already call myself an expert on the subject. As HR Director of an exclusive and high-end highland resort (just like the Genting Highlands) in the Philippines, I managed to remove from office two high level managers for rape and sexual harassment offenses.
Two months ago, my second cousin sought my help to track down the work address and contact numbers of her husband in Brunei who refused to send them enough remittances. The husband sends only 50% of his basic income to her. Their children are all minors and all are still studying. She was fortunate however with the help of Facebook, to catch her husband’s infidelity when he unintentionally posted a picture of his mistress online. The husband and mistress are both are working in Brunei. I managed to get the husband’s work contact numbers and gave them to her. She immediately called the Brunei employer and reported her husband’s infidelity and the fact that she was not being sent enough support. The employer however brushed aside her complaint and told her that the company does not involve itself with personal matters.
One of the most common problems after or during an impending marriage break up is actually support. Most men tend to renege from their obligations to their children as parents by failing to send or give them money for their daily sustenance and education, especially if most or all of their kids are still minors. Ten years ago, the only judicial relief of wives and women (who were not married) were to file a civil case of support against their husbands or the fathers of their children. However, considering the unusual length of time and sum of money one has to spend during trials and hearings, most women end up without having any relief.
Aware of the situation, Congress passed Republic Act 9262 in 2004. The law was officially called, “An Act Defining Violence Against Women and their Children, Providing for Protective Measures for Victims, Prescribing Penalties Therefore, and For Other Purposes”. Since it was a mouthful, it was given the initials VAWC or also known as the “Violence Against Women and Children” law. It is already ten years old but most Filipinos, especially women, have no idea what the law brings.
Maybe the most salient feature of the law is classifying several acts that were once deemed only to be civil in nature as now criminal. Take for example the case of failing to give support. The VAWC law already classifies the refusal of the husband to send monetary support to his wife and children as a violent act. It says that withdrawal of financial support is considered economic abuse, and economic abuse is classified by this law to be a violent act against women and their children. As compared to the wife’s relief of a civil action for support ten years ago, economic abuse under VAWC is a criminal act. It is worth noting that the law does not discriminate whether the woman is married to the man. It focuses not on the relationship but on the abuse that happens to the woman and the children, which arises from the relationship.
Economic Abuse or any violent act against women and children under the VAWC could be filed with the prosecutor’s office without cost and even without the need of a lawyer. If the prosecutor finds merit or probable cause, he will file it with the court and an ensuing warrant of arrest will be issued. A hold departure order (HDO) and/or cancellation of passport may then be requested from the Court by the wife or the offended woman. In almost all cases, the husbands or the fathers of the wives and children are compelled to give in to the demand of support for fear of being imprisoned, and additionally if working abroad, for fear of being deported upon cancellation of his passport. One recent example of the application of this law is the criminal case filed by Derek Ramsay’s wife against him with the Makati Prosecutor’s Office for failing to support their son.
One interesting provision of this law is classifying as criminal the act of “causing mental or emotional anguish, public ridicule or humiliation to the woman or her child”. One frequent venue for this act is the social media. The posting of photos and comments on Facebook of extra-marital affairs that causes mental torture and humiliation to the wife and/or her children falls under this provision. A Filipina Kababayan once told me that her husband posted on Facebook a photo of him and his mistress kissing. I advised her that the act may accurately fall under this particular paragraph of the law. The husband may be liable criminally. Countless possible applications may fall under this definition of a violent act.
A good reading of the law would reveal numerous provisions safeguarding the welfare of women and children. Some lawyers would often exaggerate their applications and would try to cover all cases under the sun. But one good thing happened for sure under this law. It gives women more rights to uphold and defend themselves. The only thing that is left to be done is how to spread it for everyone to know.