In the US, it’s called statutory rape. In the Philippines, it’s called seduction. Both refer to the same thing — having sexual relations with a minor, with or without the minor’s consent. All the discussion, online and off, about the topic has, of course, been triggered by the romance of singer Freddie Aguilar, 60, with a 16-year-old girl.
From a legal standpoint, lawyer Mel Sta. Maria got it right — Aguilar’s actions may have legal consequences based on the Article 338 of the Revised Penal Code and under Section 10 (b) of Republic Act No. 7610, otherwise known as the “Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act”.
First, the Revised Penal Code:
Art. 338. Simple seduction. — The seduction of a woman who is single or a widow of good reputation, over twelve but under eighteen years of age, committed by means of deceit, shall be punished by arresto mayor.
“Deceit” has a very wide definition. Fraud is only one kind of deceit. Taking advantage of a young person through pambobola, enticing a poor person with promises of wealth or a life of comfort, making misrepresentations about one’s true intentions are examples of deceit.
Is there deception in the relationship of Freddie Aguilar with his 16-year-old girlfriend? We don’t know. Even the girl probably doesn’t know. And that’s just the first problem.
The second problem is that under Article 344 of the Revised Penal Code, in cases involving seduction (and other “private crimes”):
1. A complaint can only be filed by the offended party or her parents, grandparents, or guardian.
2. A pardon bars the offended party or her parents, grandparents, or guardian from filing a complaint.
3. “Marriage of the offender with the offended party shall extinguish the criminal action.”
The girl and her parents aren’t going to file any complaint, that’s for sure. So, pardon is irrevelant.
But if a parent or guardian decides to file a complaint and Freddie Aguilar does marry the girl, can he no longer be prosecuted for seduction? It gets tricky.
Now comes the Family Code:
Art. 35. The following marriages shall be void from the beginning:
(1) Those contracted by any party below eighteen years of age even with the consent of parents or guardians;…
Void. Clearly, there can be no valid marriage. Not until the girl turns 18, anyway. Marriage is definitely not the route to avoid prison.
Freddie Aguilar’s liability under Republic Act No. 7610 is even more serious.
Talking about exploitation of minors, Section 10 (b) of Republic Act No. 7610, otherwise known as the “Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act”, provides that child abuse and exploitation can also be committed by a person “who shall keep or have in his company a minor, twelve (12) years or under or who is ten (10) years or more his junior in any public or private place, hotel, motel, beer joint, discotheque, cabaret, pension house, sauna or massage parlor, beach and/or other tourist resort or similar places.” [MEL STA. MARIA | Are there criminal consequences to May-December affairs such as Freddie Aguilar’s?]
That might sound draconian but Republic Act No. 7610 is a response to rampant child trafficking and child prostitution. And those two issues require draconian measures.
The funny thing is how two lawmakers representing the women and youth sectors, respectively and ironically, are completely ignoring both laws (which are crystal clear) in defending the right of Freddie Aguilar and the girl to their romance. Gabriela party-list Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan says no law was violated while Youth Against Corruption and Poverty (YACAP) party-list Rep. Carol Jayne Lopez says “it is really their private affair.”
Seriously, ladies? Seriously?
Or should we take the issue from a different perspective? I’ve no quarrel with Republic Act No. 7610 but insofar as the Revised Penal Code and the Family Code are concerned, I have to ask: What’s with the ages 16 and 18, anyway? Who came up with the standard that it should be illegal for anyone to have sex with a girl below 16? And what is the basis for the legal presumption that, at 18, a person is mature enough for marriage?
What is so special about those numbers? Atty. Mel Sta. Maria is of the opinion that the law affords protection for the young because “minors are considered not mature enough to fully comprehend the consequences of their actions.” Sure, but still, why 16 and 18? Methinks the numbers should be backed by verified or verifiable data; otherwise, they are arbitrary and both laws should be questioned.
But until they are amended or repealed, both laws stand. And it is part of the job of those two clueless lawmakers to KNOW THAT.
Stock photos from 123rf.com