Revisiting the VAWC law
There is a growing ugly trend in the practice of family law that tends to abuse the remedy of a court-issued protection order, resulting in injustice.
Although the Law on Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children (RA 9262), commonly called the VAWC law, was crafted to provide abused women and children a remedy to shield and protect them against further abuse either physically, psychologically or economically, many women, obviously upon advice by their lawyers, have been using this remedy more as an instrument of abuse against their husbands or male partners. Very often, a protection order is used as a tool to punish a man by depriving him of access to his children. All too often, women seeking a protection order are motivated by vindictiveness, sometimes even greed.
Not too many cases falling under the law on violence against women and their children really involve a woman who is seeing protection because her life and limb are genuinely under threat by a husband, an ex-husband, a present or former male partner. More often, the VAWC cases clogging family courts involve a wife seeking a protection order against her husband when the real bottom issue between them is a mere marital dispute or personality clash.
For example, a protection order is often sought to punish a husband who committed an act of infidelity, or to pressure him to give a higher amount of support, or to deprive him completely from enjoyment of community properties or assets.
At the outset, when a petition under the VAWC law (RA 9262) is filed, what a court issues—if it finds reasonable grounds—is a temporary protection order. Its validity from issuance is 30 days but it is thereafter automatically issued every 30 days until there is a change in the circumstances of the woman or child in whose favor it was issued or until it is converted into a permanent protection order.
What does a protection order consist of and how is it abused? A temporary protection order prohibits the husband or former partner of a woman to stay away from her and often, their children too, within a distance specified by the court. It also prevents him from calling, texting or trying to communicate with her and their children, annoying or harassing her in any way. It is abused in the sense that women who have been scorned by their husbands or partners, or who have had a fight with them, often get back by obtaining a temporary protection order preventing their husbands or male partners not only from seeing them and contacting them but from having any access to their common children as well. In such cases, children are suddenly without a father, not knowing why because he cannot even explain to them.
In one case for instance, the wife left the family home after a quarrel with her husband, taking their two children with her. She then went to her parents’ home. When the husband was consistently refused entry into his in-laws’ house and when his parents’ attempts to mediate between them failed, he filed a complaint seeking shared custody of their children to whom he was very attached. After hearings, the court eventually ordered the wife to let the children spend weekends with their father. The judge saw for herself how the two children embraced and clung to their father when they saw him in court. Unfortunately, the wife, to thwart the court order, quickly obtained a temporary protection order from another court. Thus, when the man went to the place of residence of the woman to pick up his children based on the first court’s order, he was not allowed entry into the subdivision and the guards presented him with the protection order. Years have passed and to date, the father has not been able to see or talk to his children. The slow movement of cases in court and the ability of lawyers to abuse certain remedies even when they are not appropriate or fair have deprived many a father of their children’s company and love.
In another case, a Filipina who was living abroad with her foreign husband left him with her three kids in tow when she learned that her husband was having an affair with another woman. Back in the Philippines, she obtained a temporary protection order for herself and her children. She also filed a criminal case against her husband for alleged psychological abuse. When the husband came to the Philippines, he found that he was not allowed to see or talk to her or their children. He was also served a subpoena involving a criminal complaint under VAWC filed against him by his wife forcing him to immediately leave for fear of not being able to depart and go back to his home country where his job was.
In a yet another disturbing case, the wife obtained a protection order for herself and her children against her husband while he was away on a business trip abroad. When he came back, he had no home to go to as he was refused entry into their village. He stayed with a friend the evening he arrived. On the following day, he sought the help of some common friends to act as intermediaries between him and his wife to mend their marriage. She refused. She told their common friends that he had taken her for granted, neglected her and that this was a form of psychological abuse. She then took over the operation of the businesses established and formerly ran by her husband without any preparation or training for it. The protection order she obtained prevented him from going near their business offices because she claimed in her petition that she went there everyday. What was most unjust for him was that it was he who invested in their businesses using inherited money; it was he who exclusively raised the money to purchase their posh home and all its contents by borrowing from his mother. Now, he had no home, no work, no source of income and no access to the children he loved.
For all its good intentions, the law on anti-violence against women and their children has been used as an instrument of injustice—a consequence not contemplated by it. The saddest of all is that children who are caught between their parents’ skirmishes have often become the biggest losers. They lose a father who is a necessary anchor for their balanced upbringing.
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