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Online court hearings now allowed in Phl, says lawyer

15 December 2020

By Daisy CL Mandap

Relief from spousal abuse under VAWC Law are among those that can now be filed from abroad 

 If you’re an overseas Filipino worker who has long planned to file a case in the Philippines, including a petition for a declaration of nullity of your marriage, you now have the chance to do it without having to go home.

This was disclosed by lawyer June Ambrosio, a legal consultant of the Department of Social Welfare and Development and vice president of UP Women Lawyers’ Circle (Wiloci) during The SUN Interviews which aired via Facebook Live on Dec. 9. (Link is here: /sunwebhk/videos/3476704765778572/

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Ito yung isa sa mga upside ng pandemic,” said Ambrosio, “pwede nang mag online application ng kaso ang isang Pilipino na nasa abroad.”

(This is one of the positive outcomes of the pandemic. A Filipino can now pursue a case even is he/she is abroad).

Ambrosio cited a recent case of a Filipina in France who sought her help in filing a case for nullity of her marriage. After being sent a declaration form, the applicant had it verified at the Philippine Embassy in Paris, along with a “certificate of non-forum shopping,” then forwarded the same back to the lawyer.

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The case is now ongoing, says Ambrosio, and her client has been allowed to testify from France during the hearing held in Manila.

”We are doing online hearings now, although there are still some judges who are very traditional, and still insist on face-to-face interaction.”

She suggested overseas Filipino workers lobby for a more widespread use of online hearings so the Supreme Court can be forced to improve on the current practice.

A light moment among the panelists discussing a serious topic

Shiela Bonifacio, chair of Gabriela Hong Kong, said that this was a welcome development, since most OFWs are being held back by the requirement for personal appearance if they wanted to pursue a case in the Philippines.

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The cases are not just for a declaration of the nullity (or annulment, in cases where the marriage was void from the beginning), but also on matters relating to child custody and support, which often fall under the Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Act (VAWC), or RA 9262, which was the focus of the interview.

Ambrosio says the law punishes “any act or a series of acts committed by any person against a woman who is his wife, former wife, or against a woman with whom the person has or had a sexual or dating relationship, or with whom he has a common child, or against her child whether legitimate or illegitimate.”

Such act may happen inside or outside the family abode, “which result in or is likely to result in physical, sexual, psychological harm or suffering, or economic abuse including threats of such acts, battery, assault, coercion, harassment or arbitrary deprivation of liberty.”

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For immediate relief, the woman could apply for  a temporary protection order against her aggressor with the barangay nearest her, says Ambrosio. But she should file a case in court if she wants the protection order to become permanent.

According to Ambrosio, the law protects only the woman and her children, and not the husband or partner, “kasi wala pa tayong kaso ng battered husband.” (We don’t have any case of a battered husband).

She suggested that men who think they must have the same kind of protection should look for people who would be willing to support their quest in the form of legislation.

Consul General Raly Tejada talks to clients of a shelter
as part of the 18-day campaign to end violence vs women

Some of the examples Ambrosio cited as falling under the protection of the VAWC law is when the woman is subjected to sexual violence such as rape (which could also happen between married couples), psychological or mental abuse such as when the man commits infidelity, harasses his partner, or blackmails her with threats of posting their sexually explicit photos together.

Also actionable are cases of economic abuse, such as when the husband or partner of the woman refuses to provide financial support to her or their children.

Apart from the woman, also protected under the law are her minor children, or those who, even after attaining the age of majority, are unable to take care of themselves.

As for custody, Ambrosio said the mother gets sole custody for legitimate children who are under seven years old, and for all illegitimate children, no matter how old they may be.

Tunghayan ang isa na namang kwentong Dream Love

If the legitimate child is above 7 years old, the court decides who gets the custody, often consulting the child himself or herself.

Bonifacio said it was good to know about the laws that protect women who are in an abusive situation. It thus devolves upon the women to speak out and fight for their eights.

Tindigan natin ang ating mga karapatan,” she said. (We should stand up for our rights)

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This become more urgent if the woman has a child, Bonifacio said, because “hindi lang ikaw ang mapapahamak kundi pati anak mo.” (you won’t be the only one who will be put in harm’s way, but also your child).

Ambrosio said there are many venues for women who want to seek redress if they are in abusive situations.

For those seeking protection under VAWC, they can go to the barangays or a police station, each of which has a women and child desk. They can also go directly to the National Bureau of Investigation, which has a VAWC division, and a separate one for victims of cybercrimes and human trafficking.

Victims may also go to the Department of Social Welfare and Development, which has social workers deployed in various local government units under the supervision of the Department of Interior and Local Government.

The other groups that can help are the Philippine Attorney’s Office (PAO) which is specially mandated to assist VAWC victims; the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, whose various chapters all over the country offer free legal aid; the UP Women’s Lawyer’s Circle, the Women Crisis Centre at East Avenue Hospital, the women’s section at the Philippine General Hospital, and various groups that offer counseling like Gabriela, Ateneo de Manila University and Commission on Human Rights.

The interview was held during the 18-day national campaign to end violence against women and children, which lasted from Nov 25 to Dec 12.

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