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MANILA, Philippines – Filipino women have gained a lot of ground in becoming productive, valued members and leaders of key sectors in Philippine society.
Despite this, women continue to face challenges and conditions that discriminate against them and threaten their safety and well-being.
Some of these emanate from the very laws that are meant to protect citizens.
As we end Women’s Month in March, we look into some of the laws that, according to women’s groups, are unfair to women.
Women’s issues and the Penal Code
The Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) points out some articles in the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines which are unfair to women. Among them are the following:
- Revised Penal Code Articles 333 and 334 (Marital Infidelity laws)
Articles 333 and 334 define adultery and concubinage. According to these articles, a wife may be found guilty of adultery if she has sexual relations with a man not her husband. In contrast, a husband would only be guilty of concubinage by meeting certain specific conditions. The punishment for adultery is heavier than concubinage.
The law implies that husbands can get away with infidelity so long as they don’t meet certain conditions, making it discriminatory against women. Various women’s groups, notably Gabriela and PCW, have called for the article’s revision to make adultery clauses and punishment applicable to both sexes.
So far, the article has not been revised, and lawyers have had to rely on charging unfaithful husbands with psychological violence under the Anti-Violence against Women and their Children Act of 2004.
- Revised Penal Code Article 202
Article 202 defines prostitution as the act of women who engage in sexual relations and lascivious acts for profit, and outlines the appropriate punishment for such acts.
According to PCW, the law is unfair since it implies that prostitutes are “criminals who engage in the sex industry for monetary gain.” It doesn’t take into account that most prostitutes are forced into the sex trade by socio-economic factors such as poverty, making them victims rather than perpetrators.
The group adds that the law only penalizes prostitutes – not the customers or pimps. While there are existing laws that penalize customers and pimps, such as the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, the PCW nonetheless recommends that prostitutes are to be decriminalized and recognized as victims, and that customers and pimps must bear the brunt of criminal punishment for prostitution.
- Revised Penal Code Article 351
Article 351 defines premature marriages, in which women are barred from remarrying for 301 days or when pregnant following legal separation, annulment, or being widowed.
Despite the fact that there have been no convictions for premature marriage, the law is seen as unfair to women as it enforces a period of mourning on them. The PCW recommends that the law be repealed entirely to ensure that “women and men have the same rights to enter into and leave marriages.”
- Revised Penal Code Article 247
Article 247 refers to death or physical injuries inflicted under exceptional circumstances, in which legally married persons who have caught their spouse in the act of sexual relations with another person and either kill or injure one or both of them are to be punished only by destierro (either a restraining order or 6 months to 6 years imprisonment)
The above rule is also applicable to parents who catch their daughters with a seducer.
Women’s groups frown upon this article as the law only lightly punishes or even fails to punish the act of killing or injuring of spouses and daughters. According to the PCW, while legal proposals have been filed in 2013 to repeal Article 247, the proposals remain pending in Congress.
The Family Code and Women’s rights
The Family Code governs family and family property relations in the Philippines and, according to the PCW, the following articles are disadvantageous to women and their rights:
- Family Code Article 55 (1)
Article 55 (1) states that legal separation could be filed if petitioner or the common child of the petitioner receives repeated physical violence or gross abusive conduct.
While the law itself is applicable to both spouses, the PCW notes that wives are at a disadvantage owing to the general physical strength of husbands. The law also states that the abuse has to be repeated to qualify. So in cases of wife-beating, battered wives may have to suffer sustained and heavy beating to be able to file for legal separation, the PCW said.
It is on these grounds that the PCW is calling for an amendment to consider not only the number of times abuse is inflicted but the seriousness of the abuse. The legislative measure to amend Article 55 according to the PCW’s recommendations is pending in Congress.
- Family Code Article 96 and 124
Articles 96 and 124 state that while ownership of properties belongs to both spouses jointly, it is the husband’s decision that shall prevail in case of disagreements.
The issue that women’s groups have with these articles is clear, as the law presupposes that husbands are wiser and have better judgment than their wives. It also implies that since husbands are most likely the breadwinners, they ought to make the decisions when it comes to properties.
The PCW has submitted recommendations to amend these two articles, suggesting that decisions on community property require the consent of both spouses to encourage mutual decision-making. Like the above articles, the recommendations are pending in Congress.
- Family Code Article 221 and 225
Articles 221 and 255 both pertain to the legal guardianship of a married couple over their common children.
Article 221 states that the husband and wife jointly have legal guardianship over their common children. However, in disagreements over legal guardianship, the husband’s decision prevails unless there is a judicial order against it.
Article 225 focuses on the property of the child, in which a married couple has legal guardianship of a dependent child’s property. Like Article 221, unless there is a judicial order against him, the husband’s decisions prevail over any argument arising over the child’s property.
Like Articles 96 and 124, Articles 221 and 225 are questionable as far as women’s groups are concerned. Based on the PCW’s interpretation, these force the wife to go to court every time she has to question her husband’s decision.
To amend the two articles, the PCW suggests that both should require the consent of the husband and wife over matters of legal guardianship over their children and their property. – Rappler.com
Sources: Rappler, Philippine Commission on Women, Commission on Audit, Gov.ph, Family Code, Revised Penal Code, various news reports
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