House ratifies bill raising age for statutory rape

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 14 2021 08:54 PM

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MANILA — The House of Representatives has ratified the bicameral conference committee report on House Bill 7836 and Senate Bill 2332 which aims to increase the age for determining statutory rape.

Once ratified by the Senate, the consolidated bill, which seeks stronger protection against rape, sexual exploitation and abuse, will be sent to President Rodrigo Duterte for signature.

House Committee on Revision of Laws chair and Zambales 2nd District Rep. Cheryl P. Deloso-Montalla on Tuesday said they have determined that the age of statutory rape will be set under 16 years of age "in view of the global standard".

“We also aligned with this bill the age of consent in other crimes under the criminal code and other anti-child abuse and exploitation laws like the R.A. No. 7610,” she said.

Deloso-Montalla said that the panel has provided a “close-in relationship” or “sweetheart clause” to recognize the legitimate relationship between two teenagers "that is in consonance with the age of criminal liability" under the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act and the Juvenile Justice Welfare Act, as amended by R.A. No. 10630, or the Act Strengthening the Juvenile Justice System in the Philippines. 

“Now that we have ratified the bi-cam report on the anti-stat rape bill, it is now a step closer to becoming a law! We will always endure to ascertain that our children are given optimum protection under our laws and within the bounds of the democratic society that we have,” she said.

Initially, nine bills were referred to the House panel that she chairs relating to the amendments to Anti-Rape Law with specific provisions on increasing the age of consent on statutory rape. Similar bills were referred to the House Committee on Welfare of Children.

Both panels jointly heard and deliberated exhaustively on the proposed measures and came up with a substitute bill - HB 7836 or An Act Providing for Stronger Protection Against Rape and Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, Including Increasing the Age for Determining the Commission of Statutory Rape.

House Assistant Minority Leader and Gabriela Women's Party Rep. Arlene Brosas, a member of the Bicameral Conference Committee, welcomed the approval.

"This is a historical victory for women and child rights advocates, as well as survivors who have been lobbying for this legislation. The passage of the amendment that aims to increase the age of statutory rape is indeed a huge step forward to providing victims ample remedies under the law," she said in a speech.

"Since the enactment of the Anti-Rape Law in 1997, we've seen new forms of sexual violence as overt physical force and physical resistance are no longer the only factors that constitute rape. In most cases, most victims were threatened, manipulated, or even groomed to engage in sexual relations with perpetrators who are most of the time, a powerful individual or person of authority."

"We will intensify our call to 'rage against rape' and push for more reforms in the current law as more cases of rape and sexual violence continue to rise in the country," Brosas said.

Agusan del Norte 1st District Rep. Lawrence Fortun said the ratification of the bicameral report is an important milestone in fighting rape and other forms of sexual abuse and exploitation. 

“Most importantly, the ratified version increases the age for determining the commission of statutory rape from 12 years old to below 16 years old thereby rectifying the unflattering record of the Philippines of having one of the lowest ages for statutory rape among members of the ASEAN countries and way below the recommendatory age provided in international conventions,” he said. 

Fortun, however, lamented the exclusion of key provisions from House Bill 7836, including the definition of what rape is. He also pointed out that the reconciled version does not include the provision on the presumption of lack of consent "on the part of a rape victim and the removal of the archaic forgiveness clause that frees a perpetrator from criminal liability if he and his victim marry.” 

“Hindi rin naisama ang pagpapalawig ng listahan ng mga tao at awtoridad na maaaring magsampa ng kasong rape, pati na rin ang mandatory reporting. Ang pagbabawal ng pagsumite ng affidavits of desistance at amicable settlements ay hindi rin nakapaloob sa reconciled version. Kasama na rin ang mandatong mapanatili ang confidentiality ng lahat ng rape proceedings,” Fortun told House colleagues.

(The expansion of the list of individuals and authorities who can file rape charges, and mandatory reporting, was not included. The prohibition of submission of affidavits of desistance and amicable settlements are also not included in the reconciled version. Keeping rape proceedings confidential was also left out.) 

But he noted that the reconciled version “expands the definition of rape to equally protect men, women, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community from this horrendous crime.”

He said that while the House "might not have achieved everything that we envisioned for the final version of the measure", the congressional chamber has made a "legislative landmark and historical victory for all women and children and victims sexual abuse and exploitation."

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