House panels OK bill raising age of statutory rape to 16, removing 'forgiveness clause'

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 27 2020 08:40 PM | Updated as of Aug 27 2020 09:12 PM

MANILA - Two committees of the House of Representatives have approved a new bill that aims to revamp the country's rape laws, Agusan del Norte (1st District) Rep. Lawrence Fortun said Thursday.

Fortun, chairman of the Technical Working Group on the bills, said the committees on Revision of Laws and Welfare of Children have approved a substitute bill changing important provisions of existing legislations pertaining to the crime of rape.

Provisions of the substitute bill include changing the age of statutory rape from below 12 years of age to under 16 years old, removing the "forgiveness clause", as well as expanding the definition of rape.

“The committees on Revision of Laws and Welfare of Children practically overhauled our country’s laws against rape, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation and other gender-based violence," Fortun said in a statement.

"This is a major victory for women, children and other vulnerable person, regardless of their gender preferences. The reforms are long overdue,” he added.

The substitute bill amended the definition of rape to include certain acts of perversion for sexual gratification, according to Fortun.

He said "grooming when the same results in the acts of rape under the new definition, is likewise punishable as rape."

The bill provides that rape may now be committed against a female, male or other persons, regardless of their gender preferences, and a child, also regardless of gender.

The TWG, according to Fortun, included a provision on presumption of the lack of consent on the part of the rape victim, emphasizing that the "lack of resistance to the commission of rape shall not be construed as consent."

“Affidavits of desistance or amicable settlement shall be prohibited at any stage of the proceedings for any the offenses punishable under this proposed law,” Fortun said.

“The concept of a close-in relationship, otherwise known as sweetheart clause, is included as one of the provisions, to protect young people engaged in consensual, non-abusive and non-exploitative sexual relationship from criminal prosecution for a crime that carries with it the very harsh penalty of reclusion perpetua,” he added.

The so-called "forgiveness clause", which absolves the offender of criminal liability after being forgiven by the victim, is removed from the substitute bill.

“The provision now is that forgiveness and subsequent marriage of the offended party to the offender shall not extinguish the crime of rape,” Fortun said.

The proposed bill punishes both rape and statutory rape with reclusion perpetua.

According to Fortun, the lockdown imposed during the coronavirus pandemic has exposed women and children to a higher risk of sexual and gender-base violence, and reforms in the country's laws are needed to address these problems.

"As a consequence of lockdown and other quarantine protocols, movements are restricted and people are forced to stay at home. In the process, women and children are exposed to a heightened risk of different forms of sexual and gender-based violence," he said.

"Our very own (Department of Social Welfare and Development) has reported increased cases of sexual abuse and exploitation since the pandemic started. And since the prospects of return to normalcy in the near future are not very bright, this shadow pandemic is a matter of exigency."

"Not only are these reforms imperative and indispensable, they are even most urgent in these times of the pandemic," the lawmaker said.

President Rodrigo Duterte in his weekly report last June 8 to Congress about the government's response to the COVID-19 crisis said thousands of cases of violence against women and children were recorded by the police since the start of lockdowns in the country in March.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) previously called on the Duterte administration to protect the rights of women and children during the COVID-19 lockdowns.