By Rey Panaligan
The Supreme Court (SC) has proposed to Congress an amendment to the law against abuse, exploitation, and discrimination of children, particularly on acts of lasciviousness against children below 12 years old.
In a decision that was released recently, the SC sought for “legislative correction” on the penalties imposed under Section 5(b) of Republic Act No. 7610, known as the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act.
To attain its objective, the SC furnished a copy of its decision to the Senate and the House of Representatives.
It also sent copies to the Department of Justice, the Office of the Solicitor General, the Office of the Court Administrator, and the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeals for their guidance and information.
A press statement on the decision issued by the SC’s public information office (PIO) stated:
“Specifically, the Court referred to the maximum penalty for lascivious conduct under RA 7610, Section 5(b), Article III when the child victim is under 12 years of age (reclusion temporal medium) and when the victim is 12 years old and below 18, or 18 or older under special circumstances, i.e., are unable to fully take care of themselves or protect themselves from abuse, neglect, cruelty, exploitation or discrimination because of a physical or mental disability or condition (reclusion temporal medium to reclusion perpetua) under Section 3(a).
“The Court noted that despite the clear intent of RA 7610 to provide for stronger deterrence and special protection against child abuse, the penalty for violation of Section 5(b) when the victim is under 12 years old is lower than the penalty when the victim is 12 years old and below 18.
“It is a basic rule in statutory construction that what courts may correct to reflect the real and apparent intention of the legislature are only those which are clearly clerical errors or obvious mistakes, omissions, and misprints, but not those due to oversight, as shown by a review of extraneous circumstances, where the law is clear, and to correct it would be to change the meaning of the law.
“Thus, a corrective legislation is the proper remedy to address the noted incongruent penalties for acts of lasciviousness committed against a child.”
Reclusion temporal is a prison term ranging from 12 years and one day to 20 years, while reclusion perpetua ranges from 20 years and one day to 40 years in jail.
The PIO release also stated:
“Furthermore, the Court reiterated its previous rulings that (1) Section 5(b), Article III of RA 7610 penalizes not only child prostitution, the essence of which is profit, but also other forms of sexual abuse wherein a child engages in sexual intercourse or lascivious conduct through coercion or influence and 2) that it is inconsequential that the sexual abuse occurred only once considering Section 5, Article III of RA 7610, which explicitly states that a child is deemed ‘exploited in prostitution or subjected to other sexual abuse’ when the child engages in sexual intercourse or lascivious conduct for money, profit or any other consideration, or under the coercion or influence of any adult, syndicate or group as well as Section 3(b), Article I thereof, which clearly provides that the term “child abuse” refers to the maltreatment, whether habitual or not, of the child which includes sexual abuse.”
The decision that contained the proposal to Congress was issued in the case of Salvador Tulagan who was convicted by the San Carlos City regional trial court (RTC) and affirmed by the Court of Appeals.
The SC decision found Tulagan guilty of sexual assault under paragraph 2, Article 266-A of the Revised Penal Code, in relation to Section 5(b) of RA 7610.
Tulagan was sentenced to a prison term ranging from 12 years, 10 months, and 21 days of reclusion temporal, as minimum, to 15 years, six months, and 20 days of reclusion temporal, as maximum.
The SC also ordered him to pay the amounts of ₱50,000 as civil indemnity, ₱50,000 as moral damages, and ₱50,000 as exemplary damages.
It likewise found him guilty of statutory rape under Article 266-A(1)(d) and penalized in Article 266-B of the RPC and was sentenced to a prison term ranging from 20 years and one day to 40 years of reclusion perpetua and to pay the victim P75,000 in civil indemnity, P75,000 in moral damages, and P75,000 in exemplary damages.