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Laws that aim to protect women and girls in the Philippines

By Ratziel San Juan Published Mar 14, 2023 4:28 pm

Embracing equity during International Women's Month means recognizing that everyone has different circumstances and, therefore, needs the appropriate opportunities and resources to guarantee a fair, equal outcome.

One such disparity in opportunities and resources is how the law has historically favored men over women.

According to UP Law Center Institute of Human Rights director and professor Elizabeth Aguiling-Pangalangan, there was a time when judges required female victims to be chaste or virgins to be convinced they were raped, "even if chastity was not one of the elements of the crime."

In the landmark case of Garcia vs. Drilon in 2013, the Supreme Court through Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe highlighted the importance of legislation protecting women to correct social imbalances and prejudice.

"The unequal power relationship between women and men; the fact that women are more likely than men to be victims of violence; and the widespread gender bias and prejudice against women all make for real differences justifying the classification under the law," she said.

Thus, there is a need for more laws and greater representation of women remains relevant even today.

PhilSTAR L!fe has listed down local laws that, to a certain extent, are able to protect Filipino women and codify their rights. These fruits of decadeslong Philippine legislation are a testament to how far the women's rights movement has come in the Philippines—and how far ahead the road goes.

RA 9262 or the Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Act of 2004

Before the 21st century, Filipino women had very few legal resourses, as they could only resort to the Revised Penal Code for physical injuries and later, the Anti-Rape Law of 1997. According to Aguiling-Pangalangan, these laws proved to be useless when it came to other forms of violence, like emotional, psychological, or economic abuse.

"Women could not avail of the remedy of a protection order back then, and they had to be physically abused repeatedly before women were granted legal separation," the professor historicized during a March 6 forum on the post-pandemic state of women’s rights in the Philippines. That would all change once the Republic Act (RA) 9262 or the Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Act of 2004 was enacted.

Specifically, the law defined violence against women and their children (VAWC) by their intimate partners, which also include former partners and other women.

"Celebrated as one of the country's landmark women's rights legislations, the law provided the widest range of relief for women who are victims of violence. It was the result of a decadelong effort of survivors, advocates, organizations, legislators, and government agencies alike. It sought to shield women and their children from any act or series of acts resulting in physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering, or any form of economic abuse that can be committed by a woman's intimate partner," Aguiling-Pangalangan celebrated.

State counsel Angela Marie De Gracia-Cruz of the Department of Justice's Office of Cybercrime said the law also covers stalking and other similar forms of offline violence as psychological harm.

RA 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012

For cyberstalking and online acts of violence, De Gracia-Cruz said that the Philippines also has sufficient laws that penalize these.

Particularly, she cited how section 6 of RA 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 "would be very helpful" in relation to the Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Act of 2004. This is because it presupposes that the earlier law can be violated online, especially through sexual and psychological harm.

"For example, if stalking was committed online or by, through, or with the use of ICT (information and communications technology), the resulting consequences would be first, instead of prision mayor, one degree higher of prision mayor would be reclusion temporal. Then that would be the imposable penalty," the Office of Cybercrime representative said.

RA 11313 or the Safe Spaces Act (Bawal Bastos Law) of 2019

What the previous laws don't tackle is covered by the territory of RA 11313 or the Safe Spaces Act (Bawal Bastos Law) of 2019.

This identifies gender-based sexual harassment committed in public spaces, educational or training institutions, workplaces, and even cyberspace.

The said law likewise defines gender-based sexual harassment as acts committed through any unwanted and uninvited sexual actions or remarks against any person regardless of the motive for committing such actions. It even encompasses sexist, homophobic, misogynistic, and transphobic remarks.

Aside from catcalling, the law penalizes persistent uninvited comments or gestures on a person's appearance, relentless requests for personal details, statements of sexual comments and suggestions, unwanted and threatening advances whether verbal or physical, persistent telling of sexual jokes or use of sexual names, as well as stalking and similar conduct.

The Safe Spaces Act's online manifestation known as "GBOSH" or gender-based online sexual harassment includes unwanted sexual remarks and comments, threats, uploading or sharing of one’s photos without consent, video and audio recordings, cyberstalking, and online identity theft.

RA 11930 or the Anti-OSAEC & Anti-CSAEM Act and RA 11862 the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2022

Meanwhile, RA 11930 or the Anti-Online Sexual Abuse or Exploitation of Children (OSAEC) and Anti-Child Sexual Abuse or Exploitation Materials Act (CSAEM) protects youth, especially young girls, who are vulnerable to such abuse and exploitation—often at the hands of the same adults who serve as their guardians, like parents and other family members.

“We don’t use the term 'child pornography' anymore. It’s not politically correct. We use OSAEC and CSAEM,” De Gracia-Cruz reminded.

Similarly, RA 11862 or the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act prohibits the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, adoption, or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation or when the adoption is induced by any form of consideration for exploitative purposes.