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VAWC hanging over seafarers’ heads like the Sword of Damocles

The Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Act (VAWC), or Republic Act 9262, in some instances, can be considered a “Sword of Damocles” hanging over a seafarer’s head, specially in support issues.

The Sword of Damocles is an allusion to the imminent and ever-present peril faced by those in positions of power who always labor under the specter of anxiety and death, and that “there can be no happiness for one who is under constant apprehensions.”

Enacted in 2004, RA 9262 is a landmark legislation that defines and criminalizes acts of violence against women and their children perpetrated by women’s intimate partners, i.e., husband, former husband, or any person who has or had a sexual or dating relationship, or with whom the woman has a common child, or against her child whether legitimate or illegitimate, within or without the family abode, which result in or is likely to result in, among others, economic abuse.

The said law defined “economic abuse” as any act that makes or attempts to make a woman financially dependent, which includes the following: (1) withdrawal of financial support or preventing the victim from engaging in any legitimate profession, occupation, business or activity, except in cases wherein the other spouse/partner objects on valid, serious and moral grounds; and (2) deprivation or threat of deprivation of financial resources and the right to the use and enjoyment of the conjugal, community or property owned in common.

Economic abuse is a deliberate pattern of control in which individuals interfere with their partner’s ability to acquire, use, and maintain economic resources. It may decimate a victim’s financial well-being and result in psychological and physical ailments as a result of ensuing stress and poverty.

Some Filipino seafarers are confronted with warrants of arrest or hold departure orders (HDOs) due to criminal complaints filed under RA 9262 where they are accused of abandoning their financial obligation to persons to which they are obliged by law to support.

The Filipino seafarer is required to make a monthly allotment of at least 80 percent of his monthly basic salary, which shall be payable to his designated allottee, or the person named as the recipient of his remittances to the Philippines.

A common problem in connection with remittance is the issue on who will be the seafarer’s allottee.

The mandatory remittance required by law does not divest the right of a seafarer over his hard-earned money or earnings.

Like any personal property, the seafarer can freely dispose or give to anybody without limitations other than those provided by law. His right to dispose his wage remains in his discretion, including the manner or as to how he will divide nor dispose it.

Under RA 9262, the deprivation or denial of financial support to the woman or the child is considered a crime which may include the deprivation of support of a common child of the man-accused and the woman-victim, whether such common child is legitimate or not.

Married couples are legally obliged to support members of the family, including the spouse and not just the kids. However, the offending spouse as well as one who is guilty of abandonment (leaves the conjugal home without justifiable reasons) is not eligible for support.

The law puts pressure on a father to provide for his child by threatening him with criminal action if he does not provide support. The act of denying support to a child is considered a continuing offense (Del Socorro v. Van Wilsem, 749 Phil. 823, 839, 2014).

Child support is for “indispensable” needs of the child, which include food, shelter, clothes, medical care, education and transportation. In the Philippines, child support continues until the child turns 18.

Generally, the rate of child support is dependent on the child’s needs and the parent’s means.

Parents-in-law may also be held liable for violation of the law under the principle of conspiracy under the Revised Penal Code.

The Supreme Court held in the case of Go-Tan v. Spouses Tan (567 SCRA 231) that the parents-in-law are proper respondents in a case filed by the victim upon the allegation that they and their son (victim’s husband) had community of design and purpose in tormenting her by giving her insufficient financial support; harassing and pressuring her to be ejected from the family home; and in repeatedly abusing her verbally, emotionally, mentally and physically.

If convicted under RA 9262, the accused shall be punished by prision mayor, or imprisonment of a minimum of six years and one day to a maximum of 12 years. He shall also pay a fine in the amount of not less than P100,000 but not more than P300,000.

Atty. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail [email protected], or call 0917-5025808 or 0908-8665786.

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