SOURCE: Press and Public Affairs Bureau
With a unanimous vote of 207 with no abstention, the House of Representatives approved on third and final reading a bill seeking to protect women and their children from electronic violence.
House Bill 8655, principally authored by Deputy Speaker Linabelle Ruth Villarica, seeks to shield women and their children from all forms of electronic violence and obviate any creative legal defense that may be used by violators of the law who manipulate technology to inflict violence.
The bill seeks to expand and amend Republic Act 9262, or the "Anti-Violence against Women and Their Children Act of 2004."
The bill considers electronic or information communication technology (ICT)-related violence to be a form of psychological violence as it involves acts or omissions that may be committed to cause mental or emotional suffering of the woman and children, such as intimidation, harassment, stalking, damage to property, public ridicule or humiliation, verbal abuse, and marital infidelity.
Psychological violence includes causing or allowing the woman and children to witness the physical, sexual, or psychological abuse of a member of the family to which the woman and her children belong; or to witness pornography in any form; or to witness the abusive injury to pets; or to unlawful or unwanted deprivation of the right to custody and/or visitation of common children.
The bill defines electronic or ICT-related violence as "any act or omission involving the use or exploitation of data or any form of ICT which causes or is likely to cause mental, emotional, or psychological distress or suffering to the woman and her children."
This includes unauthorized recording, reproduction, distribution, use, sharing or uploading of any photograph, video or other form of electronic and/or artistic presentation that: 1) shows or depicts in any form or manner the woman's and her children's genitalia, pubic area, buttocks, breasts, excretory body part or function, nudity, scenes with sexual context or portrayal of sexual conduct such as sexual intercourse, masturbation, kissing, caressing, hugging and petting; 2) exhibits any sexually-related verbal or non-verbal expressions and/or gestures of the woman and her children which may be construed as lewd, indecent, or obscene; or 3) depicts any purported violent or errant behavior of the woman and her children or the use of intoxicating or prohibited substances or drugs.
Electronic or ICT-related violence also refers to "any recording, reproduction, distribution, use, sharing, or uploading of any audio presentation and data, including sound clip of the same nature as those previously mentioned."
Also included are 1) harassing, intimidating, coercing, threatening, or vilifying a woman and her children through text messaging or other cyber, electronic, or multimedia means; 2) stalking which includes the hacking of personal accounts on social networking sites and the use of location data from electronic devices; 3) fabricating fake information/ news through text messaging or other cyber, electronic, or multimedia means; and 4) creating fake social media accounts using a different individual's personal information with ill intent and/or show malice, intrigue, or harm.
HB 8655 mandates that the maximum period of penalty shall be applied if the acts of violence are committed while the woman or child is pregnant or committed in the presence of her child. In addition to imprisonment, the perpetrator shall be penalized with a fine of P300,000 to P500,000.
In particular, acts causing and threatening electronic violence against a woman woman and her children shall be penalized with prision mayor. The maximum period in which legal action can be taken against these acts is up to 15 years after the violations are committed.
In cases involving electronic and ICT-related violence, the fine of P300,000 to P500,000 shall likewise be imposed and perpetrators shall be mandated to undergo psychological counseling or psychiatric treatment and shall report compliance to the court.
The bill further provides that cases of electronic violence against women and their children (EVAWC) may be filed in the place where the complainant resides at the time the woman and her children learned of the commission of the offense.
It also mandates the immediate blocking, blacklisting, removal, or shutdown of any upload, program, or application that causes or tends to cause violence against the woman and her children in cases of electronic or ICT-related violence. Failure of the internet service providers to cooperate with law enforcement agencies constitutes crimes of obstruction of justice.
The Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB), Department of Science and Technology (DOST), National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO), and two representatives from civil society organizations with a proven track record or involvement in the prevention and elimination of VAWC shall be included as additional members of the Inter-Agency Council on Violence Against Women and Their Children (IAC-VAWC).
Under the bill, a victim of VAWC is entitled to a paid leave of absence of up to 10 days in addition to other paid leaves under the Labor Code, Civil Service Rules and Regulations and other pre-existing laws and company policies, extendible when the necessity arises as specified in the protection order which shall cover the days that she has to attend to medical, legal, and other valid concerns related to the pending case. Unavailed leaves of this kind are non-cumulative and not convertible to cash.
In this vein, the Punong Barangay, Kagawad, prosecutor, clerk of court, physicians, social workers, and licensed counselors, as the case may be, are obligated to issue a certification at no cost to the victim as required for by the employer to comply with the 10-day paid leave.
The woman is given the option to avail of the 10-day leave of absence and the immediate superior of the person must approve the application on the same day of application.
Failure without justifiable cause to act on an application for the paid leave shall render the immediate superior or senior official, including the head of the agency administratively liable for suspension for 15 days.
Moreover, the superior or senior official liable for denying a valid application for leave and who shall prejudice the victim-survivor or any person for assisting a co-employee who is a victim-survivor under the Act shall be meted a fine of up to P10,000 and suspension for 30 days. | Czarina Engracia