1. What constitutes the legal definition of domestic abuse? How are abuses classified under Philippine law?
In the Philippines, “domestic abuse” is defined under Republic Act 9262, or the Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Act (Anti-VAWC law), which states: “‘Violence against women and their children’ refers to any act or a series of acts committed by any person… which 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.”
It is worth pointing out that the law protects not only wives or ex-wives, but also any woman with whom the person has or had a sexual or dating relationship, or with whom he has a common child. It also covers violence committed against the woman’s child, whether legitimate or illegitimate.
Violence under this law is not restricted to physical abuse alone. The abuse can also be sexual, psychological, or economic.
’Sexual violence‘ refers to an act that is sexual in nature, committed against a woman or her child. This includes, but is not limited to, rape, sexual harassment, acts of lasciviousness, treating a woman or her child as a sex object, making demeaning and sexually suggestive remarks, physically attacking the sexual parts of the victim's body, or prostituting the woman or child.
’Psychological violence‘ refers to acts or omissions likely to cause mental or emotional suffering to the victim; for example: intimidation, harassment, stalking, damage to property, public ridicule or humiliation, repeated verbal abuse and mental infidelity.
’Economic abuse‘ is committed by a person who makes or attempts to make a woman financially dependent on him, either by withdrawing financial support or preventing the victim from engaging in any legitimate profession, occupation, business or activity, deprivation or threat of deprivation of financial resources, or controlling the victims' own money or properties.
2. How many instances or incidents must occur before legal recourse is necessary?
A woman or her child who has been abused by her partner or husband even once is already a victim of domestic violence. The law does not require the victim to wait for the abuse to happen again and again in order to constitute a case under this law. If the victim keeps waiting for a “next time”, it might never happen.
3. What are the options of the abused spouse, legal or otherwise?
The victim of VAWC may file a complaint against the person under RA 9262. For her and her children’s protection while the case is pending, the victim may get a protection order against the aggressor (whether her husband, boyfriend, or partner), which may, among other things, prohibit the aggressor from harassing, annoying, telephoning, contacting or otherwise communicating with her, directly or indirectly; and order the aggressor to stay away from her, her children, and designated family or household members 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 woman and any of her designated family or household member.
Basically, the purpose of the protection order is to keep the victim from further harm, to minimize any disruption in her daily life, and to facilitate her opportunity and ability to independently regain control over her life.
Abused women can file for a Barangay Protection Order (BPO), which one can get from the local Barangay Office, a Temporary Protection Order (TPO), or a Permanent Protection Order (PPO) from the Family Court in the woman’s city.
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Of course, the protection order wouldn’t be much good if the victim makes herself too accessible to her aggressor. One of the things that the victim can do for herself is to avoid the aggressor, by either moving out of the house (or throwing him out, if they live together), surrounding herself with supportive family and friends, and to avoid traveling alone. Abusers are cowards, and they are less likely to approach or harass the victim if she is with someone else.
4. Are there steps or stages to follow regarding the legal aspect?
The victim should seek help from her local police. Every Police Station is required to have a Women and Children Protection Desks (WCPDs), which are staffed by police officers (mostly women) who have been trained to investigate and sensitively handle crimes against women and children. These police officers will assist the victim, either by going with her to the medical examiner (if she needs medical attention) and/or by helping her prepare the affidavit of complaint against the aggressor.
The victim can also seek the help of her local Barangay Office, who can issue and enforce the Barangay Protection Order, or she can also seek the advice of a lawyer who can guide her through the steps.
Section 11 of RA 9262 outlines the steps and requirements of how to apply for a protection order:
“SECTION 11. How to Apply for a Protection Order. – The application for a protection order must be in writing, signed and verified under oath by the applicant. It may be filed as an independent action or as incidental relief in any civil or criminal case the subject matter or issues thereof partakes of a violence as described in this Act. A standard protection order application form, written in English with translation to the major local languages, shall be made available to facilitate applications for protections order, and shall contain, among other, the following information:
(a) names and addresses of petitioner and respondent;
(b) description of relationships between petitioner and respondent;
(c) a statement of the circumstances of the abuse;
(d) description of the reliefs requested by petitioner as specified in Section 8 herein;
(e) request for counsel and reasons for such;
(f) request for waiver of application fees until hearing; and
(g) an attestation that there is no pending application for a protection order in another court.
An application for protection order filed with a court shall be considered an application for both a TPO and PPO.
Barangay officials and court personnel shall assist applicants in the preparation of the application. Law enforcement agents shall also extend assistance in the application for protection orders in cases brought to their attention.”