Violence vs women, kids: Why SC tagged marital infidelity as a crime
MANILA, Philippines—A recent Supreme Court (SC) decision strengthened a 2004 law, which seeks to address the prevalence of violence against women and their children (VAWC) by their intimate partners.
Looking back, no less than former presidents Rodrigo Duterte and Joseph Estrada had flaunted their philandering ways. Sometimes, they even appear to be trivializing what they’re doing, making it less complex than it really is.
But as Psych Central said, “infidelity can have lasting impacts on partners and children the couple may have,” stressing that “grief, brain changes, behaviors down the road, and mental health conditions such as anxiety, chronic stress, and depression can result.”
Now, almost 20 years since Republic Act (RA) No. 9262, or the Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Act, was enacted into law, the SC held that marital infidelity is one of the forms of psychological violence, which can be penalized by the law.
Last March 21, the SC First Division junked a Petition for Certiorari filed by a husband who appealed his conviction beyond reasonable doubt of violation of Section 5(i) of RA No. 9262.
Section 5(i) of the law provides that the crime of VAWC is committed by “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 of access to the woman’s child/children.”
Back in 2020, in G.R. No. 247429, the SC also upheld an RTC decision that marital infidelity may constitute psychological violence and can be penalized under that provision of the law.
Court records showed that the husband in the case was charged with committing acts of psychological violence and marital infidelity by having an affair with another woman, and having three children with the latter.
Emotional, psychological pain
In the latest case decided by the SC, it was stressed that all the elements to establish violation of Section 5(i) of RA No. 9262, which was signed on March 8, 2004 by then President Gloria Arroyo, were present.
The SC said “the offended party is a woman and/or her child or children; the woman is either the wife or former wife of the offender, and that the offender causes on the woman and/or child mental or emotional anguish.”
Likewise, it was stated that “the anguish is caused through acts of public ridicule or humiliation, repeated verbal and emotional abuse, denial of financial support or custody of minor children or access to the children or similar to such acts or omissions.”
Based on data from the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), from 2019 to 2021, 82 requests for assistance involving marital infidelity were received—3 in 2019, 24 in 2020, and 82 in 2021.
As defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, marital infidelity is the “act or fact of having a romantic or sexual relationship with someone other than one’s husband, wife, or partner.”
It was stressed in a research paper written by Kira Sly and published by the California State University that “infidelity was found to be associated with depression, anxiety, PTSD in some cases, decreased self-esteem, attachment issues, and more.”
The SC said the husband’s petition in the latest case that it decided was denied as the Jan. 31, 2019 decision and Oct. 18, 2019 resolution of the Court of Appeals (CA), which upheld the man’s conviction by a Regional Trial Court (RTC), was affirmed.
Based on court records, the husband and his wife were married on Dec. 29, 2006 and had a daughter, but the wife later went to Singapore in 2008 for work. Then in 2015, she discovered that her husband was in a romantic relationship with another woman.
“Worst, she later discovered that the other woman was pregnant with her husband’s child,” the SC said, explaining that the wife learned that the husband brought the other woman to their hometown, prompting her to return home.
The SC said learning that her husband and his mistress started to cohabit, the wife asked for the assistance of the Department of Social Welfare and Development in getting her daughter from her mother-in-law.
The husband was charged with violation of Section 5(i) of RA No. 9262 in 2016. The RTC found the husband “guilty of inflicting psychological violence against his wife and daughter through emotion[al] and psychological abandonment.”
Aggrieved, the husband appealed the RTC decision before the CA and imputed some errors such as “failing to consider that it was his wife who alienated their child from petitioner and for failing to consider that it was him who took custody of the child when she was still seven-months old until October 2015.”
But the CA “found no merit in the petition.”
Then years later, the SC agreed with both the RTC and CA decisions since, saying that clearly established that the husband’s acts had caused his wife and child “mental or emotional anguish through acts of public ridicule or humiliation, repeated verbal and emotional abuse, denial of financial support or custody of minor children.”
How does the law work?
Based on the law, the offended party may file a criminal action, or apply for a Protection Order either as an independent action or as an incident in civil or criminal action and other remedies.
The PCW said any citizen having personal knowledge of the circumstances involving the commission of the crime may file a complaint because violence against women and their children is considered a “public crime.”
Cases may be filed in the RTC designated as Family Court of the place where the crime was committed. “These courts have original and exclusive jurisdiction over these cases,” the PCW said.
Lawyer and legal education professor Kathy Panguban told INQUIRER.net that when it comes to evidence to prove the crime of psychological violence through marital infidelity, the most important is the testimony of the victim herself.
“The testimonial evidence of the victim is important because it is a personal experience, so she needs to narrate it. Now, if there are other witnesses with personal knowledge, they also need to be presented for corroborative evidence.”
Panguban, who is also the women and children lawyer of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, stressed that the totality of evidence is being weighed so it would also help if an expert, like a psychologist who was consulted by the victim regarding the violence experienced, can testify.
The PCW said if the male spouse/partner is the one complaining about abuses committed by his wife/partner, he may file a complaint or case under the Revised Penal Code.
Law protecting women, children
RA No. 9262 seeks to address the prevalence of VAWC by intimate partners like their husband or ex-husband, live-in partner or former live-in partner, boyfriend/girlfriend or ex-boyfriend/ex-girlfriend, dating partner or former dating partner.
As defined by the law, VAWC, refers to any act or a series of acts committed by an intimate partner against a woman who is his wife, former wife; against a woman with whom the person has or had a sexual or dating relationship; against a woman with whom he has a common child; against her child whether legitimate or illegitimate within or without the family abode.
It was stated that these acts result in or are 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.
Several acts of violence are covered by the law—physical, sexual and psychological violence, and economic abuse—and offenders can be penalized with imprisonment ranging from 1 month and 1 day to 20 years and payment of P100,000 to P300,000 in damages.
Based on the preliminary findings of the 2017 National Demographic and Health Survey, 26 percent of married women aged 15-49 had experienced physical, sexual or emotional violence by their husband or partner.
Also, one in five, or 20 percent of women, has experienced emotional violence, 14 percent has experienced physical violence, and 5 percent has experienced sexual violence by current or most recent husband or partner.
Psychological violence are acts or omissions causing or likely to cause mental or emotional suffering of the victim which includes, but is not limited to causing mental or emotional anguish, public ridicule or humiliation to the woman or her child.
Controlling or restricting the woman’s or her child’s movement or conduct and threatening or actually inflicting physical harm on oneself for the purpose of controlling the woman’s actions or decisions is likewise considered psychological violence.
The PCW said psychological violence also includes causing or allowing the victim to witness the physical, sexual or psychological abuse of a member of the family to which the victim belongs, or to witness pornography in any form or to witness abusive injury to pets or to unlawful or unwanted deprivation of the right to custody and/or visitation of common children.
Physical violence, meanwhile, includes physical harm such as causing/threatening/attempting to cause physical harm to the woman or her child and placing the woman or her child in fear of imminent physical harm.
Sexual violence are acts which are sexual in nature committed against a woman or her child. It 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, and physically attacking the sexual parts of the victim’s body.
Economic abuse includes acts that make or attempt to make a woman financially dependent upon her abuser, which includes, but is not limited to, the preventing the woman from engaging in any legitimate profession, occupation, business or activity.