Understanding Domestic Violence

NAGA CITY, Camarines Sur—Many brides might have shed a tear uttering the infamous marital vow, “I…take you… for my lawful husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part,” but trust me, crying isn’t over for some of them in a year or two when domestic violence goes into the picture.

In fact, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) recently cited the 2008 National Health and Demographic Survey of the National Statistics Office (NSO) that revealed, “14.4 percent of married women have experienced physical abuse from their husbands.”

Domestic violence has been one of the most alarming social issues to date that the DSWD, in cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), launched the Training Workshop on Strengthening Capacities of Communities, Practitioners and Policy Makers to Address Violence Against Women (VAW).

Such training, held on November 27 to 29, aims at collaborating efforts to prevent and control VAW cases among ASEAN member states such as Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, and Vietnam.

While it was not the first time for DSWD to hold VAW training with the ASEAN, it was, nevertheless, the first time for them to “focus on the service providers and stakeholders, particularly on strengthening the capacities of communities, practitioners and policy makers as the next step to eliminate violence against women.  We are looking forward to a fruitful sharing of ideas and strategies that will effectively eliminate this social malady in the Asian region” as laid down by Secretary Dinky Soliman.

Domestic violence, nonetheless, haunts members of the family other than the wife, which is why the State “recognizes the need to protect the family and its members,” particularly women and children, from violence and threats against personal safety and security as much as it “values the dignity of women and children” declared under Republic Act 9262.

R.A. 9262 is “An Act Defining Violence Against Women and their Children, Providing for Protecting Measures for Victims, Prescribing Penalties Therefore, and for Other Purposes,” also known as, Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Act of 2004.

As the law provides, Violence Against Women and Children (VAWC) encompasses many different forms. One may be charged of VAWC based on the following acts committed against any woman or child: (1) causing physical harm, (2) attempting to cause physical harm, (3) instilling imminent fear or physical harm, (3) compelling or restricting rightful actions through the use of threats, intimidation, or physical harm, (4) manipulating actions through inflicting physical harm or threatening to do so, (5) causing or attempting to cause engagement into sexual activity through the use of threat, intimidation, or physical harm, (6) intentionally causing emotional or psychological stress, and (7) triggering mental or emotional anguish, public  ridicule, or humiliation.

The act also provides that, “Battered wife syndrome refers to a scientifically defined pattern of psychological and behavioral symptoms found in women living in battering relationships as a result of cumulative abuse.”

There are practical remedies for women and children suffering from domestic violence such as securing a barangay protection order (BPO). Atty. Michelle Joven, of the Regional Trial Court Fifth Judicial Region Branch 57, told SecurityMatters in Bicol, “Pag mga domestic violence, ang iba naghahagad barangay protection order. Sa barangay level nag-iisue silaMay period of validity lang (In domestic violence cases, others seek refuge for a barangay protection order. The barangay issues such order but effective for a limited period of time).”

Now, what if the case involves a barangay captain that may give rise to a conflict of interests in the issuance of a BPO? It might sound like a hypothetical question but it’s not for Atty. Joven who happened to recall that the first domestic violence case filed before the RTC in Libmanan, Camarines Sur involved a barangay captain allegedly beating his wife.

She said, “’Yung first case…’yun matindi yun kasi pigtaga taga siya kan barangay captain digdi sa Libmanan (The first case was tough because it involved a barangay captain who allegedly beat his wife, causing the latter to sustain cuts from a bolo.)”

Atty. Joven also narrated another VAWC case filed against a public servant which lasted for quite a long time. A police officer was charged of domestic violence for allegedly beating up his wife. She related, “Saro sa mga naraffle na case na pinakahaloy itong ang involve police (The most lengthy domestic violence case raffled at Branch 57 is the one involving a police officer).”

Apparently, the accused, being a public servant, is not the only common ground shared by the aforementioned cases of domestic violence – both charges ended up withdrawn by the complainants through amicable settlement, according to Atty. Joven.

In reference to the case filed against the barangay captain, she related that, “Two years after pagfile kan case nasettle na (Two years after the case was filed, it has already been settled).” She also said, “’Yung police nasettle din ‘yun, nag-agree lang sinda (The one involving the police officer was also settled upon agreement).”

Withdrawal of cases prior to the hearing is not new to Atty. Joven saying, “Sa record wala pang natapos. Sa statistics kan RTC Libmanan wala pa kaming nataposWala pa kaming nadedesisyunan dito na R.A. 9262 (Based on court records, RTC Libamanan hasn’t yet decided a case involving VAWC).”

And, why is that so? Atty. Joven added, “Usually, marital problems man talaga pag start igot igot ‘yan mag-file tapos later nagkakasundo na si mag-asawa (Cases involving marital problems, more often than not, are only active in the initial stages of the judicial proceedings but the momentum likely fades away the moment the parties reach an agreement).”

The nature of domestic violence may vary from one case to another that Atty. Joven asserted, “Cases filed here sa RTC Libmanan, ang cause ng problem, ang iba mga battered wife talaga, ang iba money, pag kulang ‘yung remittance (Cases of domestic violence filed before RTC Libmanan are either triggered by physical abuse in the case of a battered wife, or financial security once the husband falls short on household remittance).”

Whatever might have prompted domestic violence, it is highly recommended for victims to ask for legal assistance from the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO). Atty. Joven stated, “Pwede sinda magseek nin assistance kang PAO, usually ‘yun inaadvise namin sa babae, kasi di ba ‘yung PAO kun sisay inot magdulok sainda for assistance ‘yun kinukua ninda client. Kun ang babae battered wife magdulok na sinda sa PAO para yung asawa nila bahala sila maghanap ng lawyer (PAO lawyers are likely to represent victims of domestic violence in court thereby leaving wife beaters on their own to seek for competent legal counsel).”

Domestic violence victims, through their legal representative, may file a case for violation of R.A. 9262 along with prayer for temporary protection order, which may become permanent based on the pieces of evidence presented before the court.

As Atty. Joven mentioned, “Pag nadetermine kan judge na may probable cause para i-permanent na ‘yung protection order, pag nadetermine kan judge na there is a need na mag-issue ng protection order talaga base duman sa mga evidence na tigsubmit (The judge may look into the need to issue a permanent protection order depending on the merits of the evidence introduced in court).”

She further explained that the prayer for protection order will be enforced by the sheriff as soon as it is approved by the court saying, “Ang nag-iimplement kan order sheriff from the Office of the Clerk of Court (OCC). Once na nasa branch na sya, iin-charge na sa branch ang mag-iimplement (If the case hasn’t been raffled yet, the sheriff from the OCC shall enforce the order. Otherwise the RTC branch shall designate the sheriff to implement the protection order).”

Unfortunately, how is the sheriff supposed to serve the protection order when the couple is no longer living under the same roof? Atty. Joven replied, “Usually suruway na ‘yan, pinapareceive lang kan complaint kan wife. ‘Yung mga nagfafile ning case suruway na sinda (Most, if not all couples involved in VAWC cases have already parted ways that the sheriff shall only be left asking the husband to receive a copy of the complaint initiated by the wife).”

Not all victims of domestic violence are likely to stand by the prayer for protection order filed before the court, though. Some would push it and take chances living with the husband to fix the family once again. Atty. Joven shared the incident when the wife asked for the withdrawal of the complaint to prevent the sheriff from enforcing the court order in favor of the protection order against the husband.

She articulated, “Kasi meron din kaming case dito, ready na, yaon na ‘yung protection order. Nung iseserve na nung sheriff, aba nakiusap na ‘yung asawang babae (There was an incident when the wife asked to withdraw the complaint as soon as the protection order has been prepared for enforcement by the sheriff).”

Because issuance of the protection order usually marks the start of the tedious court battle involving domestic violence. Prior to court hearing, however, cases on violation of R.A. 9262 are often submitted for mediation to come up with an amicable settlement. This way, the case gets to be resolved quickly.

Atty. Joven said of the R.A. 9262 cases, “Nirerefer namin sila sa mediation, pag may civil cases na tigfile inirerefer sa mediation para hindi na maclog ang dockets ng court, kasi kung magkaagree pa ‘yung party dai na maglaba ‘yung process (Civil cases, including R.A. 9262 cases, are subject to mediation not only to spare court dockets from getting clogged but also to expedite the judicial process).”

She also contended that, “Kan nagcreate sinda ning Philippine Mediation Center, nagkua sinda employees na pwede maghandle mediation cases, civil cases – mga family cases talaga (When the Philippine Mediation Center was established, the Supreme Court had to get employees on board to handle cases for mediation like civil suits commonly on family affairs).”

Nonetheless, the court is likely to take over the case once mediation fails to work its wonders. Atty. Joven related, “Once na dai na feasible ang amicable settlement irerefer back ninda sa court for a full-blown trial (When amicable settlement is not anymore feasible, the case is referred back to the court for a full blown trial).”

Filing a charge for VAWC is certainly not the end of the line for those who suffered from domestic violence. Women may take the legal action up a notch by asking for an annulment or legal separation. Either way, it’s a good chance to bail out from the unhealthy marriage.

When asked whether or not domestic violence is a ground for annulment or legal separation, Atty. Joven stressed that VAWC shall only fall as a ground for legal separation, although it might be considered for cases of annulment under psychological incapacity.

She stated, “Siguro kun battered wife baka pwede ilaog sa psychological incapacity depende lang siguro sa sa pagkadraft ng complaint for annulment (Maybe if you are a battered wife, this could be used for charges based on psychological incapacity, but it depends on how the complaint for annulment was drafted).”

All these, however, do not change the fact that most cases of domestic violence remain unreported without the benefit of mediation or court trial. Atty. Joven said, “Kasi minsan kadakol man dyan mga battered families, mga battered wife, battered children, dai sinda nagrereklamo (There are many cases of battered families, battered wives, and battered children out there which aren’t reported to authorities).”

The judicial system, not to mention the efforts of the DSWD along with the ASEAN, might have been plausible to avert domestic violence cases, but empowerment of women and children is likewise imperative to put an end to violent acts committed against them.