SC: Abusive Mothers can be Offenders under VAWC Law; Fathers can File Case on Behalf of Abused Children
February 09, 2023
Mothers who abuse their children can be offenders under the Anti- Violence Against Women and Their Children (VAWC) Act, and fathers can apply for remedies under the law on behalf of the abused children.
Thus ruled the Supreme Court En Banc in an 18-page Decision penned by Justice Mario V. Lopez, granting the Petition for Certiorari filed by Randy Michael Knutson on behalf of his minor daughter. The petition challenged the ruling of the Taguig City Regional Trial Court (RTC) which had dismissed Knutson’s petition under Republic Act 9262, or the VAWC Act, for the issuance of Temporary and Protection Orders against Rosalina Knutson (Rosalina), the mother of his daughter.
The High Court also granted a permanent protection order in favor of the daughter.
On December 7, 2017, Knutson petitioned the Taguig City RTC for Temporary and Protection Orders against Rosalina, alleging that Rosalina placed their daughter in a harmful environment deleterious to the latter’s physical, emotional, moral, and psychological development.
The RTC dismissed Knutson’s petition on the ground that protection and custody orders under the VAWC Act could not be issued against a mother who allegedly abused her own child.
The RTC added that the remedies under the law were not available to Knutson, the father, because he was not a “woman victim of violence.”
Knutson moved for reconsideration of the dismissal, but was also denied by the RTC, prompting him to file a Petition for Certiorari before the Supreme Court alleging grave abuse of discretion on the part of the RTC.
In granting Knutson’s petition, the Supreme Court ruled that while the VAWC Act excludes men as victims, this does not mean the law denies a father of its remedies solely because of his gender or the fact that he is not a “woman victim of violence.”
The Court held that Section 9(b) of the VAWC Act explicitly allows “parents or guardians of the offended party” to file a petition for protection orders. This provision was further incorporated in the law’s implementing rules as well as in A.M. No. 04-10-11-SC or the Rule on Violence Against Women and Children, the Court said.
The Court further explained that the law speaks in clear language
when it used the word “parents” pertaining to the father and the mother of
the woman or child victim. The law did not qualify on who between the parents of the victim may apply for protection orders, held the Court.
In the case of Knutson, it is clearly stated in the title of his petition for issuance of a protection order that he is acting on behalf of his minor daughter. “There is no question that the offended party is [the daughter], a minor child, who allegedly experienced violence and abuse. Thus, [Knutson] may assist [his daughter] in filing the petition as the parent of the offended party,” ruled the Court.
The Court added that Knutson is not asking for a protection order in his favor. The petition he filed is “principally and directly for the protection of the minor child and not the father.”
The Court also ruled that the VAWC Act covers situations where the mother committed violent and abusive acts against her own child. “The fact that a social legislation affords special protection to a particular sector does not automatically suggest that its members are excluded from violating such law,” ruled the Court.
Citing Section 3 of the VAWC Act, the Court noted that “violence against women and children” was defined in the law as abusive acts “committed by any person.”
“The statute used the gender-neutral word ‘person’ as the offender
which embraces any person of either sex,” noted the Court.
“Logically, a mother who maltreated her child resulting in physical, sexual, or psychological violence defined and penalized under [the VAWC Act] is not absolved from criminal liability notwithstanding that the measure is intended to protect both women and their children,” the Court ruled.
Applying this to Knutson, the Court held that the RTC’s position that only children under the care of the woman victim of violence can be protected under the VAWC Act is a restrictive interpretation that “will frustrate the policy of the law to afford special attention to women and children as usual victims of violence and abuse.”
Such approach “will weaken the law and remove from its coverage instances where the mother herself is the abuser of her child,” held the Court, adding that this “negates not only the plain letters of the law and the clear legislative intent as to who may be offenders but also downgrades the country’s avowed international commitment to eliminate all forms of violence against children including those perpetrated by their parents.”
The Court added that the RTC’s “consoling statement that the children who suffered abuse from the hands of their own mothers may invoke other laws except [the VAWC Act] is discriminatory. The supposed reassurance is an outright denial of effective legal measures to address the seriousness and urgency of the situation…[given that] only [the VAWC Act] created the innovative remedies of protection and custody orders. Other laws have no mechanisms to prevent further acts of violence against the child.”
The Court concluded that in issuing its ruling, “the Court refuses to
be an instrument of injustice and mischief perpetrated against vulnerable
sectors of the society such as children victims of violence. The Court will not shirk its bounden duty to interpret the law in keeping with the cardinal principle that in enacting a statute, the legislature intended right and justice to prevail.” (Courtesy of the Supreme Court Public Information Office)
FULL TEXT OF G.R. No. 239215 dated July 12, 2022 at https://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/32898/
FULL TEXT OF Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo’s Separate Dissenting Opinion: https://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/32920/
FULL TEXT OF Senior Associate Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen’s Separate Opinion: https://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/32916/
FULL TEXT OF Associate Justice Benjamin S. Caguioa’s Dissenting Opinion: https://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/32923/
FULL TEXT OF Associate Justice Amy C. Lazaro-Javier’s Concurring Opinion: https://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/32926/
FULL TEXT OF Associate Justice Rodil V. Zalameda’s Dissenting Opinion: https://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/32930/
FULL TEXT OF Associate Justice Maria Filomena D. Singh’s Dissenting Opinion: https://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/32934/