MANILA -- The Supreme Court (SC) has ruled that mothers who abuse their children can be held liable under the Violence Against Women and Their Children (VAWC) Act in suits brought by the fathers of minor children.
In an 18-page decision published online on Feb. 6, the tribunal granted a petition filed by a father, Randy Michael Knutson, on behalf of his minor daughter.
Knutson had taken the case to the SC to question the ruling of the Taguig City Regional Trial Court (RTC) which dismissed his suit under Republic Act 9262, or the VAWC Act, for the issuance of a temporary protection order (TPO) against Rosalina Knutson, the mother of his daughter.
The High Court also granted a permanent protection order in favor of the daughter.
The Taguig City RTC had dismissed Knutson’s petition on the ground that protection and custody orders under the VAWC Act could not be issued against a mother who allegedly abused her own child and said the father, was not a “woman victim of violence.”
In granting the father's petition, the High Court ruled that while the VAWC Act excludes men as victims, this does not mean the law denies a father of its remedies solely because of his gender or the fact that he is not a “woman victim of violence.”
The Court held that Section 9(b) of the VAWC Act allows “parents or guardians of the offended party” to file a petition for protection orders. This provision was further incorporated in the law’s implementing rules as well as in A.M. No. 04-10-11-SC or the Rule on Violence Against Women and Children, the Court said.
The Court further explained that the law speaks in clear language when it used the word “parents” pertaining to the father and the mother of the woman or child victim.
The law did not qualify on who between the parents of the victim may apply for protection orders, the Court said, adding that in the case of Knutson, it is clearly stated in the title of his petition for issuance of a protection order that he is acting on behalf of his minor daughter.
“There is no question that the offended party is [the daughter], a minor child, who allegedly experienced violence and abuse. Thus, [Knutson] may assist [his daughter] in filing the petition as the parent of the offended party,” ruled the Court.
The Court added that Knutson is not asking for a protection order in his favor. The petition he filed is “principally and directly for the protection of the minor child and not the father.”
The Court also ruled that the VAWC Act covers situations where the mother committed violent and abusive acts against her own child.
“The fact that a social legislation affords special protection to a particular sector does not automatically suggest that its members are excluded from violating such law,” said the Court.
Citing Section 3 of the VAWC Act, the SC noted that “violence against women and children” was defined in the law as abusive acts “committed by any person.”
“The statute used the gender-neutral word ‘person’ as the offender which embraces any person of either sex,” noted the Court.
“Logically, a mother who maltreated her child resulting in physical, sexual, or psychological violence defined and penalized under [the VAWC Act] is not absolved from criminal liability notwithstanding that the measure is intended to protect both women and their children,” the Court ruled.
The Court likewise said the RTC’s position that only children under the care of the woman victim of violence can be protected under the VAWC Act is a restrictive interpretation that “will frustrate the policy of the law to afford special attention to women and children as usual victims of violence and abuse.”
Such approach “will weaken the law and remove from its coverage instances where the mother herself is the abuser of her child,” held the Court, adding that this “negates not only the plain letters of the law and the clear legislative intent as to who may be offenders but also downgrades the country’s avowed international commitment to eliminate all forms of violence against children including those perpetrated by their parents.”
The Court added that the RTC’s “consoling statement” that the children who suffered abuse from the hands of their own mothers may invoke other laws except [the VAWC Act] is discriminatory.
“The supposed reassurance is an outright denial of effective legal measures to address the seriousness and urgency of the situation… [given that] only [the VAWC Act] created the innovative remedies of protection and custody orders. Other laws have no mechanisms to prevent further acts of violence against the child,” said the SC
The SC concluded that in issuing its ruling, “the Court refuses to be an instrument of injustice and mischief perpetrated against vulnerable sectors of the society such as children-victims of violence.”
“The Court will not shirk its bounden duty to interpret the law in keeping with the cardinal principle that in enacting a statute, the legislature intended right and justice to prevail,” the SC said. (PNA)