The House committees on welfare of children and revision of laws approved on Thursday, August 27, a bill seeking to raise the age of sexual consent to 16 and provide stronger protections against sexual abuse of children.
It was a consolidation of 10 versions of the bill which had been pending at the committee level. (READ: Lawmakers mull over ages 16 or 18 for minimum age of sexual consent)
The Anti-Rape Law, which pegs the age of statutory rape at 12 years old, was signed in 1997. The law holds that an adult could have sexual relations with a 12-year-old and claim it was consensual.
If the bill becomes law, any adult that engages in sexual activity with a minor below 16 years old would be guilty of rape, regardless if that minor gave his or her consent.
Tingog Sinirangan Representative Yedda Romualdez, chairperson of the House committee on welfare of children, said in her opening remarks that the age of 12 years old as the minimum age for sexual consent was “simply unacceptable.”
“By strengthening the protection of children, the proposed legislation puts firmly the safety and welfare of children as a foremost concern – not only of the family – but that of the entire community. I am happy to note that the proposed substitute bill also seeks to educate and empower the home, the school, and the community to put safeguards that will prevent any such crimes from happening in the future,” said Romualdez.
“Prosecution can only go as far to eradicate the crime – but ensuring that children grow up to their fullest potential requires utmost attention and affirmative action on our part,” she added.
House Deputy Speaker Roberto Puno, author of one of the bills, added that the benefit of good conduct time allowance for inmates would not apply if “grooming” was an aggravating circumstance.
Grooming refers to establishing trust or a relationship with a minor and/or that minor's family for the purpose of perpetrating sexual abuse or exploitation.
Persons who commit statutory rape would face reclusion perpetua or 40 years of imprisonment.
Based on the bill, consensual, non-abusive, and non-exploitative sexual activity with a minor below 16 years old will not be considered statutory rape in the following conditions:
Statutory rape can still be claimed for someone over 16 years old if the victim has a physical, mental, or psychological disability or condition that renders him or her unable to fully understand consent or the consequences of any sexual activity.
The Anti-Rape Law of 1997 also provides that should a rapist and the victim get married, then the rapist would be cleared of criminal action. The newly approved bill added a provision that a subsequent marriage would not extinguish criminal action for rape nor the penalty imposed.
While the bill's hurdling the committee level is a step forward towards protecting the welfare of Filipino children, Romualdez said “there is much more left to be done.”
The minimum age of sexual consent is just one of many issues related to children’s welfare that have yet to be addressed in Philippine laws. President Rodrigo Duterte, in his 4 years of office so far, has not included priority bills related to women, children, family, and gender.