Legal Expert Discuss Legal Options if You're in an Abusive Relationship
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  • 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.

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    '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.

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    ’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.

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    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.

    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.

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    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.

    Where and how do you seek help?

    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.

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    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.”

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    Is legal separation or annulment an option to pursue in abusive relationships?

    Yes, definitely. For the women who are still married to and living with their aggressors, they should really consider the option of leaving that unhealthy and abusive relationship behind.

    One of the grounds for legal separation is repeated physical violence or grossly abusive conduct directed against the aggrieved spouse, a common child, or a child of the aggrieved spouse. Once a petition for legal separation is granted, the spouses may live apart from each other, and their properties are separated. However, the marriage ties are not severed, and neither spouse may remarry.

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    If the victim wants to completely sever the marriage ties, then she needs to file a petition for the declaration of nullity of her marriage. To do this, she needs to prove that her husband is psychologically incapacitated to comply with the essential marital obligations to live together and observe mutual love and respect, which may be manifested by her husband’s abusive behavior.

    While marriage vows are indeed sacred and should be given much respect, it should not serve as a reason to suffer through an abusive, and potentially dangerous, relationship.

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    Are there entities/organizations willing to help an abused spouse? What kind of help can they extend?

    Ever since the Anti-VAWC law was enacted, the government has stepped up its efforts to provide help and even shelter for victims of domestic violence. For example, the Women and Children's Protection Centre (WCPC) was established in Metro Manila, and is staffed entirely by female police officers. It even has an all-female Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) group that is dedicated to addressing emergencies related to crimes against women and children, and they are trained to handle "extreme cases" of domestic violence (such as when the victim is taken hostage by the aggressor).  There are also several NGOs who exist to help abused women and children, such as the Community-based Approach to Violence Against Women (COMBAT-VAW).

    There are also existing government departments and NGOs that help abused women.

    Any woman who has experienced abuse and is need of shelter, medical help, legal advice, or even counseling, is welcome to seek help from these entities.

    How much will the spouse end up spending on legal fees? Are there ways she can get financial assistance?

    The amount of legal fees really depends on the lawyer that will handle the case. Note, though, that for criminal cases filed under the Anti-VAWC law, the complainant is not required to pay filing fees. And, in case the complainant cannot afford to hire a lawyer, the public prosecutor will try the case free of charge. 

    In case the victim just wants to file for a protection order in a family court, the filing fees are very minimal (or free, if the woman is an indigent). There are also legal groups that specialize in giving free legal aid to victims of domestic violence, such as SALIGAN and Women’s Legal Bureau.

    The Department of Justice (DOJ) also created the Task Force on Women and Children Protection (TF-WCP), which is composed of state prosecutors who handle the preliminary investigation and prosecution of crimes against women and children.

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    How long do legal cases on abuse run? What are the consequences to the spouses and their children?   

    A BPO should be issued by the local barangay officials on the same day as the complaint is made. It is effective for 15 days, and the BPO orders the aggressor to stop harming or threatening the woman or child affected.

    The law requires that the application for TPO or PPO be immediately acted upon by the court. However, the unfortunate reality is that sometimes it can take up to two months for the court to issue a TPO, and as long as six months to a year to issue a PPO.

    Even more unfortunate is the fact that criminal actions under RA9262 can occasionally take up almost two to three years of litigation. The length of the proceedings can sometimes lead to the softening of feelings, and there are victims who just opt to forgive the aggressor. While there are some perpetrators who do learn their lessons and move on to being more caring and sensitive partners, there are still those who continue the cycle of abuse.

    There are good and bad consequences to the filing of an Anti-VAWC case against the aggressor. Obviously, it would be good for the victim to keep the aggressor away from her and her children in order to protect herself from further harm. Once she is out of the abusive relationship, she can take a step back to examine why it would be healthier for her to move on.

    On the other hand, let’s not forget that the aggressor used to be (or still is) the victim’s husband, partner, boyfriend, or lover, which can make it difficult for the victim to file a criminal case against him, as it can potentially put him in jail and give him a criminal record. This is often a very tough decision for the victim to make; some of them just want the abuse to end, but do not want to send their abuser to jail.

    The situation is even more complicated when children are involved. There are victims who struggle with the thought that their children will grow up without a father, or more commonly, there are those who worry about how they will support their children if the father is sent to jail. Unfortunately, a lot of the victims just choose to bear the abuse, so long as their children are provided for.

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    What about retribution from the abusive spouse? What options does the abused spouse have at her disposal?

    While the protection order is in place, the aggressor knows he cannot approach, harass, or contact the victim, and some decide to lash out in other ways. There are instances wherein the aggressor completely deprives the woman and her child of financial support, as a sort of “punishment” for filing the case. For these women, there are entities and organizations that provide shelter and protection; there are even some who teach the women different livelihood skills so that they can be independent. 

    Even worse, there are aggressors who choose to completely disregard the protection orders, and find ways to commit further physical, sexual, or psychological harm on the victims. When this happens, the police (or the barangay, in cases of a BPO) is tasked to enforce the protection order. A violation of a protection order shall be punishable with a fine ranging from Five Thousand Pesos (P5,000.00) to Fifty Thousand Pesos (P50,000.00) and/or imprisonment of six (6) months.

    In extreme cases, such as a hostage taking or an attempt on the life of the victim, the Women and Children's Protection Centre has an all-female Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) group, specially trained to address crimes against women and children.

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    What rights should a spouse be aware of?

    Every person has a right to be protected against spousal abuse. While there are some cases where the abuse is committed by the woman in the marriage, there are more cases of women being on the receiving end of the abuse. 

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    If your partner is at least willing to admit that he has a problem and is open to try changing his behavior, then counseling and couple’s therapy is always an option. But if your spouse, partner, or boyfriend has been committing the abusive acts again and again, there is probably little to no chance that he will ever change. I urge the victims to just seek help (legal or otherwise) and move on.

    There are times when a woman feels that she has to stay in the abusive relationship for the sake of the children, but this is a shortsighted view. Imagine the emotional and psychological impact it would have on the children to see their mother being regularly mistreated by their father. Some children grow up learning to hate their fathers for being abusive, or resenting their mothers for not fighting back. Besides, would you want your son to grow up thinking that it’s acceptable to use violence on women? Would you want your daughter to become the kind of woman who thinks that she deserves to be hurt by her husband? While it will be difficult to separate the kids from their father, it is always better to have them grow up in a non-toxic home.

    It is important to remember that there is never a reason to accept the abuse as “normal” or “deserved”. Just because you are married or are in a relationship  does not mean that he owns you. It is not okay for your husband or boyfriend to rape you because he thinks it is his right to demand sex from you at any time, it is not okay for him to punish you physically if he thinks you’ve done something wrong, it is not okay for him to humiliate you or call you names, it is not okay for him to have extramarital affairs because “that is normal for a man”, and it is not okay for him to make you financially dependent on him. These are the actions of an abusive partner, and someone who really loves and respects you will not do these things to you.

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