Criminal Law

Randy Michael Knutson for minor Rhuby Knutson vs Judge Elisa Sarmiento-Flores

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G.R. No. 239215 – Criminal Law – Special Penal Laws – Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Act – Women may be offenders in VAWC cases

Randy Michael Knutson, on behalf of his minor daughter Rhuby Knutson, filed a Petition for Permanent Protection Order against his estranged wife (mother of Rhuby) Rosalina Knutson. Judge Elisa Sarmiento-Flores dismissed the petition on the ground that a protection order cannot be issued against a mother who allegedly abused her child. Judge Elisa cited the case of Ocampo vs. Arcaya-Chua (A.M. OCA IPI No. 07-2630-RTJ, 23 April 2010) which provided that a protection order cannot be issued in favor of a husband against his wife. Judge Elisa further ruled that the offender under RA 9262 is any person who is the husband, former husband, those who had sexual or dating relationship with the woman or with whom she has a common child. On the other hand, the offended party may be the wife, former wife, a woman who has or had sexual or dating relationship, or with whom the man has a common child or HER child. A child’s mother is not included as one of the offenders. A child’s mother is specifically mentioned in the definition for offended party.

Randy filed a motion for reconsideration where he argued that RA 9262 provides that ANY PERSON may be liable for violations of the VAWC Law. Judge Elisa denied his motion for reconsideration. Judge Elisa ruled that under prevailing jurisprudence, the term ANY PERSON pertains to one who [has] or had a sexual or dating relationship with the woman as a victim of violence. For Judge Elisa, VAWC does not apply to a situation where it was the mother herself who had committed violent and abusive acts against her own child. She recommended Randy to avail of other legal remedies other than RA 9262.

ISSUE: May a mother be an offender under R.A. 9262?

HELD: Yes. 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. Logically, a mother who maltreated her child resulting in physical, sexual, or psychological violence defined and penalized under RA No. 9262 is not absolved from criminal liability notwithstanding that the measure is intended to protect both women and their children.

The term ANY PERSON is gender-neutral. It is not limited to a particular sex or gender. A perpetrator may be a woman too hence, lesbians may be held liable under RA 9262. It is also not limited to persons who are related or connected to the victim by marriage, former marriage, or a sexual or dating relationship, as in fact, grandparents may be held liable under RA 9262. Using this yardstick, mothers who are abusing their children may also be liable under RA 9262.

Does a father have legal standing to file for a permanent protection order?

Yes. Not for himself to be protected from his wife/partner but for his child/children to be protected from his wife/partner.

Suppose the child sought to be protected is under the care of the father, may a father still file for PPO considering that the title of the law provides “Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children“?

For context, Judge Elisa’s interpretation of the law is that children seeking protection under RA 9262 must be those children under the care of the mother. This interpretation is derived from the title of RA 9262 which states “Women and their Children”. Judge Elisa explained that the word “children” should not be isolated from the term “women” because the title of the law used the conjunction “and” which denotes joinder of phrases and clauses. As such, the children being protected refer to those under the care of the woman victim of violence.

The SC ruled that Judge Elisa’s interpretation is wrong. Although the title made use of the conjunctive word “and”, other parts of the law made use of the word “or” which signals disassociation or independence. Obviously, the RTC’s restrictive interpretation requiring that the mother and her child to be victims of violence before they may be entitled to the remedies of protection and custody orders will frustrate the policy of the law to afford special attention to women and children as usual victims of violence and abuse. The approach will weaken the law and remove from its coverage instances where the mother herself is the abuser of her child. The cramping stance 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.

But there are other legal remedies under than VAWC, i.e. Anti-Child Abuse Law, why not just allow the dismissal of this case and direct Randy to file other cases?

The RTC’s consoling statement that children who suffered abuse from the hands of their own mothers may invoke other laws except RA No. 9262 is discriminatory. The supposed reassurance is an outright denial of effective legal measures to address the seriousness and urgency of the situation. Suffice it to say that only RA 9262 created the innovative remedies of protection and custody orders. Other laws have no mechanisms to prevent further acts of violence against the child.

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