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Friday, February 26, 2021

Justice for those suffering the ‘silent pandemic’

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Helen May Frias
Atty. Helen May M. Frias is a lawyer in Manalo, Perez, Paco & Antonio Law Offices. She finished her Juris Doctor Degree at Far Eastern University. She obtained her undergraduate degree in Public Administration and Governance from Polytechnic University of the Philippines. She believes that we will soon have a better Philippines.

Two days before the entire Luzon was placed on Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), I was already drafting my letter to request for a flexible work arrangement addressed to the partners of the law firm where I work. It was a sigh of relief when my Boss’s approved my request and here I am, fortunate enough to be less exposed to contracting the coronavirus. Here I am, safer within the confines of our home. 

Home should be the safest place there is, they say. This rings even truer at these troubled times when the corona virus continues to strike anywhere and anyone regardless of age, gender, or status in life. We can see constant reminders almost everywhere to stay home, to be safe, and to help our front liners by not spreading the virus outside. For me and for some, home is the best place to be in right now. But is it applicable to all?

In April, almost a month after the country was put on community quarantine; the Commission of Human Rights (CHR) has revealed in a statement that there has been a rise in the number of domestic violence incidences in the country. Restrictive movements due to the imposed community quarantine bolstered the perpetrators to commit domestic abuses, whether physical, psychological, or sexual abuses against Filipino women and children.  

What is even more appalling is the fact that some Filipino children were pushed by their own parents to do sexual and lascivious acts in front of webcams for viewing and ‘consumption’ of pedophiles and predators. Loss of income to some Filipino household during this unprecedented time made it appear to some that this online sexual exploitation of children is ‘necessary’ or ‘the only means’ to an end. These are the silent struggles and unheard cries of our fellow Filipinos, their own ‘silent pandemic’. 

Nonetheless, we cannot discount the fact that our laws are somehow equipped with protection and recourse for domestic abuse victims. We have Republic Act No. 9262 or the Anti-Violence against Women and Their Children Act of 2004 (R.A. No. 9262). In the same law, there is recourse to file a petition for protection orders. Under Section 8 of R.A. No. 9262, a protection order is an order issued for the purpose of preventing further acts of violence against a woman or her child and granting other necessary relief. The relief granted under a protection order serves the purpose of safeguarding the victim from further harm, minimizing any disruption in the victim’s daily life, and facilitating the opportunity and ability of the victim to independently regain control of her life.

Section 9 provides for the list of persons who may file a petition for protection orders which includes the following:

(a) the offended party;

(b) parents or guardians of the offended party;

(c) ascendants, descendants or collateral relatives within the fourth civil degree of consanguinity or affinity;

(d) officers or social workers of the DSWD or social workers of local government units (LGUs);

(e) police officers, preferably those in charge of women and children’s desks;

(f) Punong Barangay or Barangay Kagawad;

(g) lawyer, counselor, therapist or healthcare provider of the petitioner;

(h) At least two (2) concerned responsible citizens of the city or municipality where the violence against women and their children occurred and who has personal knowledge of the offense committed.

While there are temporary reliefs available for the victims does not mean that the perpetrators can get off scot-free. Under the law, the perpetrators are still criminally liable. 

Further, we have also Republic Act No. 9775 or the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009 (R.A. No. 9775). R.A. No. 9775 aims to guarantee the fundamental rights of every child from all forms of neglect, cruelty, and other conditions prejudicial to his/her development and protect every child from all forms of exploitation and abuse. Under Section 6 of the said law, the following may file a complaint on cases of any form of child pornography and other offenses punishable under the same law:

(a) Offended party;

(b) Parents or guardians;

(c) Ascendant or collateral relative within the third degree of consanguinity;

(d) Officer, social worker or representative of a licensed child-caring institution;

(e) Officer or social worker of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD);

(f) Local social welfare development officer;

(g) Barangay chairman;

(h) Any law enforcement officer;

(i) At least three (3) concerned responsible citizens residing in the place where the violation occurred; or

(j) Any person who has personal knowledge of the circumstances of the commission of any offense under this Act.

These laws have already been in place to protect the rights of children and those domestic abuse victims even prior to the pandemic. However, this pandemic made it more difficult for victims to access justice due to restricted and limited movements and the fact that other priorities like putting food on the table take precedence above all.

Although it may be true that this pandemic has somehow become a great equalizer as everyone is vulnerable to contracting the virus, it has also made it more glaring that while “we are all in the same storm; we are not in the same boat”. It has made inequality and poverty problems in the Philippines even more flagrant. Even justice has become a rare gem.  

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