Philippines: Domestic violence, recourse available to victims, including state protection, legislation and support services available to victims (2013-March 2015) [PHL105113.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa

1. Domestic Violence in the Philippines: Overview

The US Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013 states that domestic violence against women continues to be a "serious and widespread problem" in the Philippines (US 27 Feb. 2014, 29). The website of the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) [made up of government officials and NGO leaders appointed by the President of the Philippines (ibid., 31)], formerly known as the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women (NCRFW) (Philippines n.d.b), describes it similarly as "one of the country's pervasive social problems" (ibid. n.d.a). Citing the Women and Children Protection Center (WCPC) of the Philippine National Police (PNP) [1], a November 2012 news release by the Philippine Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) [2] states that there were 9,485 reported cases of domestic violence in 2010, 15,104 reported cases in 2011, and 12,948 reported cases between January and August 2012 (ibid. 26 Nov. 2012). The PCW states in a statistical report issued in May 2014 that 15,969 cases were reported by year-end 2012 (ibid. 13 May 2014). The PCW goes on to say that, in 2013, the PNP-WCPC documented 23,856 cases of domestic violence, an increase of 49.4 percent from 2012 (ibid.). The PCW report states further that this is not necessarily indicative of "decreasing or increasing incidence [of violence against women] ... because [the] data are based only from what was reported to PNP" (ibid.).

According to the Philippines National Demographic and Health Survey 2013 (NDHS), among women who are, or have been married, 26 percent have experienced "some form of emotional, physical and/or sexual violence" and 15 percent have experienced "physical and/or sexual violence from their current or most recent husband" (ibid. Aug. 2014, 197). The report on the results of the survey notes that "while the questionnaire [for individuals] was designed to optimize the reporting of violence experienced, there is still a likelihood of underreporting, particularly sexual violence" (ibid. 187). The report further indicates that the Women's Safety Module, the questionnaire intended to gather information on "women's experience of physical, sexual and emotional violence from their husbands/partners as well as by other family members or unrelated individuals," could only be administered if privacy could be obtained (ibid., 186-187). If privacy could not be obtained, the interviewer would skip the module and provide information on why the interview was terminated (ibid., 187).

2. State Protection
2.1 Legislation

Sources indicate that the Philippines is a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPA) (Philippines n.d.i; APC Mar. 2013, 16). A March 2013 report on violence against women in the Philippines by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), a "network and organisation" that has consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and supports ICT (information and communications technology) access for development and social justice (ibid. n.d.), notes that the Philippines is also a party to the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (DEVAW) (ibid. Mar. 2013, 16).

Republic Act (RA) 9262, the Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004, penalizes abuse within the family and intimate relationships (Philippines n.d.c; ibid. 2004b, 1-2). A primer on the application of the law, produced in 2004 by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), states that this includes economic, psychological, physical and sexual abuse (ibid., 1, 3). Under the Act, domestic violence is considered a "public crime," whereby the offence may be "prosecuted upon the filing of a complaint by any citizen having personal knowledge of the circumstances involving the commission of the crime" (ibid. 2004a, Sec. 25; ibid. 2004b, 1, 4). The law protects women and their children (ibid., 1), including women in same-sex relationships (ibid., 2).

Cited in a 2012 article by the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), the Chief of the Policy Development and Advocacy Division of the PCW said that, while there had been convictions since the passage of RA 9262, obtaining the exact number of convictions is difficult as there is no procedure for collecting data from all of the individual family courts (UN 30 May 2012). Country Reports 2013 similarly states that "[s]tatistics were unavailable on prosecutions, convictions, and punishments [of domestic violence]" (US 27 Feb. 2014, 29). Further information on the number of prosecutions and convictions could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate during the time constraints of this Response.

2.2 Justice System

Quoting a participant in gender-sensitivity training for police officers, a 2013 case study by Soroptimist International (SI), a global network of women that undertake local, national or global initiatives to address the needs of women and girls (SI n.d.b), states that "'[d]omestic abuse is a concern that is taken lightly by the police" (ibid. n.d.a). According to Country Reports 2013, "in smaller localities perpetrators of abuse sometimes use personal relationships with local authorities to avoid prosecution" and that some women were "told to pay special fees" to the police "before their complaints could be registered" (US 27 Feb. 2014, 30).

According to a 2011 report by the Women's Legal and Human Rights Bureau Inc. [3], a feminist NGO established in 1990 that is comprised of "women's rights activists and advocates" (GenderIT.org n.d.), "[g]ender bias and gender-based discrimination pervades deeply the judiciary" (Women's Legal and Human Rights Bureau Inc. [2011], para. 9). The report notes that, in 2008, "a Communication under the OPCEDAW [Optional Protocol of the CEDAW (ibid., note 7)]" was filed against the Republic of the Philippines, concerning the rape-trial case KTV vs. The Philippines, "for its violation of the positive obligations as a State Party to the CEDAW, committing discrimination against a women victim of rape" (ibid., para. 7). The report further notes that

the case from which the Communication is based on is not an isolated one and in fact points to systemic discrimination against women, particularly on rape cases. Trial court decisions discriminate against women and perpetuate discriminatory beliefs about rape victims and aid in continuing violation of the victim. (ibid.)

Further and corroborating information about the police and the courts could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

2.3 Protection Orders

Under RA 9262, protection orders are available to victims of domestic violence and are intended to prevent "further acts of violence" (Philippines 2004a, Sec. 8). Relief granted under a protection order may include "removal and exclusion of the respondent from the residence of the petitioner, regardless of ownership of the residence" (ibid.). The three types of protection orders available are a barangay protection order (BPO), a temporary protection order (TPO), and a permanent protection order (PPO) (ibid.; ibid. 2004b, 4). A BPO is issued by the punong barangay, is valid for 15 days (ibid. 2004a, Sec. 14; ibid. 2004b, 4), and is not renewable (ibid.). A barangay is "the smallest government unit" (UN 30 May 2012). The punong barangay is the barangay chair (Philippines n.d.c).

An application for a protection order "filed with a court" is considered "an application for both a TPO and PPO" (ibid. 2004a, Sec. 11). An application may be filed with the local family court or, in cases where there is no family court, with the local regional trial court, municipal trial court, municipal circuit trial court or metropolitan trial court (ibid., Sec. 10; ibid. 2004b, 6). A TPO is valid for 30 days (ibid. 2004a, Sec. 15) and is extendable for periods of 30 days each "until a final judgement [concerning the issuance of a PPO] is issued" (ibid., Sec. 16).

Sources indicate that, under an October 2013 agreement between the DSWD and Public Attorney's Office (PAO), the "PAO will provide legal assistance to victims of domestic violence," including applying for a protection order or "civil action for damages" (ibid. 12 Oct. 2013; Philippine Daily Inquirer 16 Oct. 2013). RA 9262 states that "[t]he lack of access to family or conjugal resources by the applicant ... shall qualify the petitioner to legal representation by the PAO" (Philippines 2004a, Sec. 13). Further and corroborating information on the issuance rate, accessibility and effectiveness of protection orders could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

2.4 Divorce

Sources indicate that there are no divorce laws in the Philippines (The Washington Post 10 Oct. 2014; CNN 6 Oct. 2014). While civil and religious annulments are available, sources indicate that they are prohibitively expensive for the majority of the population, they must meet strict criteria (such as psychological impairment on the part of one or both spouses) and they do not include provisions for annulment based on spousal abuse (ibid.; The Washington Post 10 Oct. 2014). Legal separation is also available and allows the couple to live apart and separate assets, though they are not able to marry again (CNN 6 Oct. 2014; Gancayco Balasbas & Associates 10 Mar. 2014). An October 2014 CNN article further states that separated individuals may be "charged with adultery or concubinage if caught with another partner" (6 Oct. 2014). According to the 2011 report by the Women's Legal and Human Rights Bureau, Inc., the lack of divorce laws affects more women than men as

more women suffer from failed marriages due to their economic and ... other forms of disempowerment. ... it forces individuals to remain in irreparable relationships, exposes women and children to violence. (para. 17)

The October 2014 CNN article notes that a bill to legalize divorce had been filed in Congress (6 Oct. 2014). The Philippine House of Representatives online Legislative Information System indicates that Luzviminda Ilagan, a member of Congress representing the Gabriela Women's Party (Philippines n.d.d), filed the bill, HB04408, on 13 May 2014, and that it was referred to the Committee on Population and Family Relations on 20 May 2014 (ibid. n.d.j). A 2013 article by the Huffington Post cites Rep. Ilagan as saying that, in general, Philippine society has a "low regard for women and children," which makes them "highly vulnerable to abuse"; she went on to express her belief that the bill would "empower" women (Oct. 24 2013).

A March 2015 article by GMA News, a news broadcasting company in the Philippines (GMA Network n.d.), indicates that the bill has been "languishing in the House Committee on Population and Family Relations since it was filed in May last year" (GMA 23 Mar. 2015). Further and corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

3. Support Services

According to the 2013 NDHS, among the women surveyed who have experienced physical and/or sexual assault, "30 percent sought help to stop the violence, 27 percent never sought help but told someone, and 38 percent never sought help and never told anyone" (Philippines Aug. 2014, 207). Among those surveyed who sought help to stop the violence, 59 percent went to their own families, 17 percent to friends, 9 percent to neighbours, 8 percent to the husband or partners' family, and 6 percent to the police (ibid., 208).

A 2014 article in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, published by two academics [4], on the factors that influence whether women in the Philippines stay in or leave abusive relationships, states that, among those surveyed that stayed in a relationship, significant factors included the following: a lack of personal resources; a lack of support from "families, friends, or the government," with some noting that their own parents "[forced them] to return to their abusive partners"; and that they were unable to access aid from community agencies "because much of their conflict was perceived as a 'private matter'" (Estrellado and Loh Mar. 2014, 581-582). The article notes that the "foremost factor" that contributed to women's decisions not to leave was "the role of women in the family and their concept of family," and notes further that there is social pressure against the disruption and break-up of the family and women are socialized to sacrifice for their families (ibid. 587).

The 2011 report by the Women's Legal and Human Rights Bureau, Inc. similarly notes that consultations with local service-providers indicate that economic dependence on their husbands, the cultural emphasis on maintaining the family and pressure for the "wife to be more forgiving" are barriers to leaving situations of domestic abuse (para. 5-6).

3.1 Women and Children Protection Desks

According to Philippine government publications, a Violence Against Women desk (VAW desk) serves as a facility to address VAW cases, to assist in securing a BPO, and to develop the barangay's "gender responsive plan" for addressing gender-based violence (Philippines 11 Mar. 2013a; ibid. Dec. 2010, 2). According to a 2010 joint memorandum circular, issued by five government departments [5] and entitled Guidelines in the Establishment of a Violence Against Women (VAW) Desk in Every Barangay, states that, among other responsibilities, VAW desks are to inform the individual of their rights, the recourse available and the processes involved, to assist the individual in accessing a safe shelter, and to report the incident to the Philippine National Police (PNP) (ibid., 3). According to a 2012 PCW publication, the Barangay VAW Desk Handbook, the VAW Desk should be located within or near the barangay hall, and if there is no hall, the desk may be located near where the punong barangay holds office (ibid. 2012, 10).

In 2012, the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on the Philippines reported to the UN Human Rights Council that there were "over 27,000 [VAW desks]" throughout the country (UN 9 Jul. 2012, para. 19). The same report also notes that, in 2012, there were "1,868 women and children protection desks in police stations nationwide, staffed by 3,240 female police personnel" (ibid.). Country Reports 2013 similarly states that the "PNP maintained a central women and children's unit with 1,909 desks" (US 27 Feb. 2014, 30). According to the 2012 IRIN article, these desks faced challenges, as some police stations were not open 24 hours a day, and citing the Senior Superintendent of the PNP, policewomen were "overworked" and the offices "understaffed" (UN 30 May 2012). Further and corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate during the time constraints of this Response.

Citing the PCW, in 2013 the Office of the President of the Philippines (OPAPP) reported that, "out of 40,027 barangays in the country, 30,424 have established ... VAW Desks" (Philippines 11 Mar. 2013a). A March 2014 news release by the Department of the Interior and Local Government states that "31,408 of the 42,028 barangays" had VAW desks by December 2013 (ibid. 10 Mar. 2014). The report provides the following information, which is summarized in a table format:

Region: Number of Barangays with VAW Desks: Percentage of Total with VAW Desks:
IVA 4,011 100
VII 3,003 100
National Capital Region 1,705 99.94
VI 4,034 99.58
II 2,148 92.95
XII 1,046 87.53
Cordillera Autonomous Region 1,014 86.22
X 1,737 85.91
III 2,315 74.63
XIII 912 69.57
IX 1,266 64.99
I 1,782 54.58
VIII 2,237 50.96
V 1,323 38.12
ARMM [Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao] 274 11

(ibid.)

3.2 Women and Children Protection Unit

According to the Philippines Department of Health (DOH), in 1997, Administrative Order 1-B on the establishment of a Women and Children Protection Unit (WCPU) in all DOH hospitals, was issued in response to the "increasing number of women and children who consult due to violence, rape, incest, and other related cases" (Philippines, n.d.e).

All of the information in this paragraph was taken from a document on the DOH website describing the situation of the WCPUs in 2011 (ibid.). There were "38 working WCPUs in 25 provinces" and while there had been "attempts to increase the number of WCPUs ... they have been unsuccessful for many reasons." All WCPUs were being managed by part-time personnel, and there was a limited number of professional staff trained in the area of "women and children protection work." In the case of hospitals that did not have a WCPU, the report stated, they "may be trained to refer the victims to women and children protection coordinators and WCPUs in other hospitals." A women and children protection coordinator is responsible for "coordinating the management and referral of all [VAWC] cases in the hospital."

A March 2013 DOH memorandum repeats verbatim the statement about unsuccessful attempts to increase the number of WCPUs and indicates that the number remained at 38 (ibid. 11 Mar. 2013b). The DOH memorandum notes a number of challenges, including budgetary constraints, priorities of the "local chief executive and/or healthcare facility management," and reluctance of staff to take on additional duties as a result of heavy workloads (ibid.). Further and corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

3.3 Support Services

According to the PCW, the DSWD provides "temporary care and shelter for Women in Especially Difficult Circumstances [6], called the Haven, Crisis Intervention Unit of the [DSWD]" (ibid. n.d.c). A document provided on the DSWD website similarly notes that they provide community-based and residential-care services to Women in Especially Difficult Circumstances in order to "enable them to resolve their problems as well as prepare them for their eventual return to their families and communities" (ibid. n.d.g). Another document, on the website of the DSWD Field Office XI, Davao Region, concerning the Substitute Home Care for Women program, a "residential facility that provides a 24-hour alternative family care arrangement to disadvantaged women, particularly the so called Women in Especially Difficult Circumstances in crisis situation whose needs cannot be adequately met by their families over a period of time" says the program aims to provide a "wide range of services for the protection and rehabilitation of women in especially difficult circumstances which [are] geared towards reintegration into their families if indicated" (ibid. n.d.f).

A 2014 report on programs that support women survivors of domestic violence published by GSDRC, a "partnership of research institutions, think-tanks and consultancy organisations" specializing in governance, social development, humanitarian and conflict issues (GSDRC n.d.), similarly states that Substitute Home Care shelters "run by the government" provide shelter, food, clothing and personal care items (ibid. 1 Aug. 2014, 8). The report further indicates that there are also legal, counselling, health-check and skills-development services available (ibid.).

Without providing further detail, the DSWD website indicates that there is "nationwide" coverage for services for Women in Especially Difficult Circumstances (Philippines n.d.g). According to Country Reports 2013, "the DSWD extended assistance to 521 victims of physical abuse and maltreatment as of September [2013]" (US 27 Feb. 2014, 29-30). Further and corroborating information, including the exact location and the effectiveness of these services, could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

According to the report by the Association for Progressive Communications, the Women's Crisis Center Manila (WCC) provides women in need with temporary shelter, counselling, referrals for health and medical needs, community support programs, education and skills training, and legal assistance (APC Mar. 2013, 25). The report also states that WCC is the "only shelter that accepts both mothers and their children as well as significant others who are survivors themselves" (ibid.). Further and corroborating information, including additional WCC locations and the effectiveness of the services provided, could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time Constraints of this Response.

3.4 Family/Community Watch

According to a 2013 report on best practices for community based responses to violence against women and children (VAWC) by Plan International, an international development organization focused on the rights and interests of children (Plan International n.d.), there are bantay panimalay (family or community watch) organizations "at [the] barangay level composed of barangay officials, service providers, men and women and volunteers" (Plan International [2013], 1). The report states further that these organizations may serve as a community patrol, assist in reporting and provide referrals to the VAWC desk officer or Barangay Council for the WCPUs, conduct information sessions on anti-VAWC law, and counsel victims of abuse (ibid.). Beginning in 2010, Plan International worked with the Runggiyan Foundation, a "women-based [NGO] in Leyte" (ibid., 2), and one of the outcomes of their work was the establishment of a VAWC desk and the organization of family watch groups in "25 Plan covered communities in 5 municipalities of East Samar, West Samar and North Samar" (Plan International [2013], 3-4). The PCW states "'community watch' is central to the Cebu City's anti-domestic violence program" (Philippines n.d.c). Further and corroborating information, including the number of such programs that are running across the country and their effectiveness, could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

Notes

[1] According to the Philippines National Police Commission (NAPOLCOM), the PNP WCPC, formerly known as Women and Children Concerns Division, is a "regular office of the PNP under the functional authority of the Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management (DIDM)" and investigates and treats victims of "child abuse, violence against women and other similar crimes" (Philippines 23 Jan. 2015).

[2] The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) aims to "develop, implement and coordinate social protection and poverty reduction solutions for and with the poor, vulnerable and disadvantaged" (Philippines n.d.h).

[3] The Women's Legal and Human Rights Bureau was formerly known as the Women's Legal Bureau (Women's Legal and Human Rights Bureau, Inc. [2011], 1).

[4] The article was written by Dr. Alicia F. Esterellado, Assistant Professor at the Counseling and Educational Psychology Department at De La Salle University, Manila, Philippines (De La Salle University n.d.) and Dr. Jennifer Loh, Senior Lecturer at the School of Psychology and Social Sciences at Edith Cowan University, Joondalup, Western Australia, Australia (Edith Cowan University n.d.).

[5] The memorandum was produced by the Department of the Interior and Local Government, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Education, Department of Health, and the Philippine Commission on Women (Philipines Dec. 2010).

[6] The DSWD defines Women in Especially Difficult Circumstances as "marginalized and disadvantaged women ages 18 to 59," which includes those forced into prostitution, victims of illegal recruitment, women in detention, women victims of armed conflict and women who have been physically or sexually abused (ibid. n.d.f).

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Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Attempts to contact the following were unsuccessful within the time constraints of this Response: assistant professor in the Counseling and Educational Psychology Department at De La Salle University, Manila, Philippines; Philippines – Philippine Commission on Women; WeDpro; Women and Gender Institute at Miriam College, Philippines; Women's Crisis Center – Manila; Women's Legal and Human Rights Bureau, Inc.

Internet sites, including: Alternate Forum for Research in Mindanao; Amnesty International, Amnesty International – Philippines; Asian Development Bank; Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development; Association of South East Asian Nations; ecoi.net; Factiva; Filipina Women's Network; Philippines – Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Information Agency, Open Data Philippines, Philippine National Police, Supreme Court of the Philippines; PhilStar; Small Arms Survey; United Nations – Partners for Prevention, UN Population Fund, UN Women, World Health Organization.