House panels approve bill raising age for statutory rape to 16

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 27) — A bill which seeks to raise the age of sexual consent in the Philippines to 16 years old was approved on Thursday by the House Committees on Revision of Laws and Welfare of Children.

Under the country’s Anti-Rape Law signed in 1997, a sexual intercourse is automatically considered as statutory rape if the victim is under 12 years old — the lowest in Southeast Asia.

While the law also criminalizes sex with minors under age 18, it only does so if consent is not present or if the act involves force, threat, or intimidation.

The substitute bill further seeks to amend the definition of rape to include certain acts of perversion for sexual gratification, and will not extinguish criminal liability despite the presence of forgiveness or subsequent marriage between the rapist and the victim.

“This is a major victory for women, children and other vulnerable persons, regardless of their gender preferences," said Rep. Lawrence Fortun, of the 1st District of Agusan del Norte, who presented the bill to the two committees.

"The reforms are long overdue,” he added.

Fortun also said that “grooming when the same results in the acts of rape under the new definition” will likewise be punishable as rape. Grooming pertains to psychological actions made by an adult to lessen a minor's fears as a prelude to sexual abuse.

READ: Understanding consent in sexual activity

Amicable settlement or affidavits of desistance will not be allowed at any stage of the proceedings for the offenses listed under the proposed law, he said.

Meanwhile, the concept of a close-in relationship or a "sweetheart clause” is included as one of the provisions, according to the lawmaker, “to protect young people engaged in consensual, non-abusive and non-exploitative sexual relationship from criminal prosecution for a crime that carries with it the very harsh penalty of reclusion perpetua."

Both under the existing law and the substitute bill, a person charged with rape faces reclusion perpetua or an imprisonment of 20 to 40 years.

With many people isolated with their abusers at home due to the coronavirus lockdown, Fortun said the reforms to the 1997 Anti-Rape Law is an urgent matter.

"Our very own DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) has reported increased cases of sexual abuse and exploitation since the pandemic started," Fortun said. "Not only are these reforms imperative and indispensable, they are even most urgent in these times of the pandemic."