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The Anti-VAWC law is constitutional

By Elizabeth Angsioco | Aug. 03, 2013 at 12:01am
Reported cases of violence against women by their intimate partners, whether husbands, live-in partners, boyfriends, or even exes continue to be in the news. Even women celebrities are not spared.

Recently, broadcast journalist and newscaster Thistle “Sel” Guevarra made public the harrowing experience of violence she suffered from boyfriend Robert Spakowski. The battering was caused by an ordinary photograph (taken by Spakowski himself) that Sel uploaded on her Facebook page.

Sel filed a case against Spakowski under Republic Act 9262 or the Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children (Anti-VAWC) law. Unlike many other women who choose to suffer in silence, in my conversation with her, Sel said that she is determined to fight, not only for herself but also to show other women who suffer/ed the same, that justice may be achieved.

Sel’s courage is admirable. Spakowski is said to be presently in hiding.

Indeed, for Sel and other abused women, there is hope.

June 25, 2013 is an important day for Filipino women’s rights advocates. On this day, the Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision upholding the constitutionality of the Anti-VAWC law.

The challenge came from petitioner Jesus C. Garcia and against Honorable Judge Ray Alan Drilon of Bacolod City’s Regional Trial Court, and Rosalie Jaype-Garcia stemming from an anti-VAWC case filed by the latter against her petitioner husband.

Rosalie’s case was handled by some of the country’s ablest feminist lawyers. Her lead counsel was Rowena Guanzon of the Gender Justice Network, and co-counsel were Mae Gallos and Claire Luczon of the Womenlead Foundation.

It took women’s groups almost nine years of relentless advocacy before Congress passed this law. It was difficult because in the course of our work, I, my co-advocates and some women journalists were sued for libel by a powerful politician whose wife (who sought assistance from NGOs for alleged abuses by the husband) was said to have committed suicide.

The advocacy was also quite difficult because we were going up against other women’s groups who wanted men to be equally protected by law. The issue divided women. In the end, Congress passed a law that protects only women and children from violence.

As early as then, we knew that the law’s constitutionality would be challenged, particularly on the issue of equal protection.

Until now, the thinking that the law is discriminatory against men always crops up. People often have a hard time understanding that men cannot have the same protection via the same law because VAW is gender-based, that abuse is committed against women because of the mindset that women are the weaker, and therefore, inferior and subservient gender.

In its unanimous decision penned by Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe, the Supreme Court’s wisdom shone in its discussion of why the Anti-VAWC law does not violate the equal protection provision of the Constitution.

In the words of the Justices:

“Equal protection simply requires that all persons or things similarly situated should be treated alike, both as to rights conferred and responsibilities imposed. The oft-repeated disquisition in the early case of Victoriano v. Elizalde Rope Workers’ Union69 is instructive:

The guaranty of equal protection of the laws is not a guaranty of equality in the application of the laws upon all citizens of the state. It is not, therefore, a requirement, in order to avoid the constitutional prohibition against inequality, that every man, woman and child should be affected alike by a statute. Equality of operation of statutes does not mean indiscriminate operation on persons merely as such, but on persons according to the circumstances surrounding them. It guarantees equality, not identity of rights. The Constitution does not require that things which are different in fact be treated in law as though they were the same. The equal protection clause does not forbid discrimination as to things that are different. It does not prohibit legislation which is limited either in the object to which it is directed or by the territory within which it is to operate.

The equal protection of the laws clause of the Constitution allows classification. Classification in law, as in the other departments of knowledge or practice, is the grouping of things in speculation or practice because they agree with one another in certain particulars. A law is not invalid because of simple inequality. The very idea of classification is that of inequality, so that it goes without saying that the mere fact of inequality in no manner determines the matter of constitutionality. All that is required of a valid classification is that it be reasonable, which means that the classification should be based on substantial distinctions which make for real differences; that it must be germane to the purpose of the law; that it must not be limited to existing conditions only; and that it must apply equally to each member of the class. This Court has held that the standard is satisfied if the classification or distinction is based on a reasonable foundation or rational basis and is not palpably arbitrary. (Emphasis supplied)”

Associate Justice Roberto Abad’s words in his Concurring Opinion are also worth noting. He said:

“Chief Justice Puno’s thesis is that the right to equal protection casts another shadow when the issue raised under it involves persons protected by the social justice provision of the Constitution... The equal protection clause can no longer be interpreted as only a guarantee of formal equality but of substantive equality. “It ought to be construed,” said the Chief Justice, “in consonance with social justice as “the heart” particularly of the 1987 Constitution...”

This means that the weak, including women in relation to men, can be treated with a measure of bias that they may cease to be weak.

Chief Justice Puno goes on: “The Expanded Equal Protection Clause, anchored on the human rights rationale, is designed as a weapon against the indignity of discrimination so that in the patently unequal Philippine society, each person may be restored to his or her rightful position as a person with equal moral status. Specifically, the expanded equal protection clause should be understood as meant to “reduce social, economic, and political inequalities, and remove cultural inequities by equitably diffusing wealth and political power for the common good.”...”

This SC decision speaks volumes about the concepts of equality and equity which women’s groups have been fighting for decades. In the pursuit of equality, specific needs of specific disadvantaged groups must be addressed to enable these groups to be on the same footing as others. This is equity and this works for the common good.

In relation with VAW, the anti-VAWC law was enacted to address the unequal power relations between men and women that give rise to specific problems and needs of women. Because of such inequality, in most cases, women are the “usual” and “most likely” victims of abuse by the very people who promised them love and affection.

With the SC decision upholding the constitutionality of the Anti-VAWC law, there is more hope for women like Sel Guevarra.

* * *

For those who want more on this SC decision, you may attend the Public Forum on 12 August, starting at 9:00 a.m. at Miriam College sponsored by the Women and Gender Institute (WAGI).

bethangsioco@gmail.com and @bethangsioco on Twitter
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