By Ben Rosario
The House of Representatives, with 207 “yes” votes and no abstentions, approved on third and final reading of House Bill 8655 which proposes amendments to Republic Act 9262 or the “Anti-Violence against Women and Their Children Act of 2004” by extending protection for women and their children from electronic violence.
HB 8655 consolidated six bills proposing to shield women and their children from all forms of electronic violence and harassment. Authors said the measure also provides measures that would address any creative legal defense that may be used by violators of the law.
Authors include Reps. Neil J. Abayon (Aangat Tayo Partylist); Emmi de Jesus and Arlene Brosas and Emmide Jesus of Gabriela Partylist); Ma. Luis Lloren Cuaresma (NPC, Nueva Vizcaya) and Gus Tambunting (PDP-Laban, Paranaque City). Tambunting said the bill considers electronic or information communication technology (ICT)-related violence to be a form of psychological violence as it involves acts or omissions that may be committed to cause mental or emotional suffering of the woman and children, such as intimidation, harassment, stalking, damage to property, public ridicule or humiliation, verbal abuse, and marital infidelity.
Under the proposed measure, acts of psychological violence includes causing or allowing the woman and children to witness the physical, sexual, or psychological abuse of a member of the family to which the woman and her children belong; or to witness pornography in any form; or to witness the abusive injury to pets; or to unlawful or unwanted deprivation of the right to custody and/or visitation of common children.
Abayon said the bill defines electronic or ICT-related violence as “any act or omission involving the use or exploitation of data or any form of ICT which causes or is likely to cause mental, emotional, or psychological distress or suffering to the woman and her children.”
Electronic or ICT-related violence also refers to “any recording, reproduction, distribution, use, sharing, or uploading of any audio presentation and data, including sound clip of the same nature as those previously mentioned.”
Also included as prohibited acts are: 1) harassing, intimidating, coercing, threatening, or vilifying a woman and her children through text messaging or other cyber, electronic, or multimedia means; 2) stalking which includes the hacking of personal accounts on social networking sites and the use of location data from electronic devices; 3) fabricating fake information/ news through text messaging or other cyber, electronic, or multimedia means; and 4) creating fake social media accounts using a different individual’s personal information with ill intent and/or show malice, intrigue, or harm.
According to Abayon HB 8655 mandates that the maximum period of penalty shall be applied if the acts of violence are committed while the woman or child is pregnant or committed in the presence of her child. In addition to imprisonment, the perpetrator shall be penalized with a fine of P300,000 to P500,000.
Abayon said that acts causing and threatening electronic violence against a woman woman and her children shall be penalized with prision mayor. The maximum period in which legal action can be taken against these acts is up to 15 years after the violations are committed.
In cases involving electronic and ICT-related violence, the fine of P300,000 to P500,000 shall likewise be imposed and perpetrators shall be mandated to undergo psychological counseling or psychiatric treatment and shall report compliance to the court.
The bill further provides that cases of electronic violence against women and their children (EVAWC) may be filed in the place where the complainant resides at the time the woman and her children learned of the commission of the offense.
It also mandates the immediate blocking, blacklisting, removal, or shutdown of any upload, program, or application that causes or tends to cause violence against the woman and her children in cases of electronic or ICT-related violence. Failure of the internet service providers to cooperate with law enforcement agencies constitutes crimes of obstruction of justice.