Senate approves measure raising statutory age of rape from 12 to 16

Marje Pelayo   •   September 28, 2021   •   218

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate of the Philippines on Monday (September 27) passed on third and final reading a proposed measure that seeks to raise the age of sexual consent from the current 12 to 16 years old.

The bill was proposed in a bid to protect young people from all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse.

With 22 affirmative votes, no negative vote and one abstention, the Senate approved Senate Bill 2332, or An Act Increasing the Age for Determining Statutory Rape and other Acts of Sexual Abuse and Exploitation to Protect Children.

It seeks to amend Republic Act 3815, or the Revised Penal Code, and RA 7610, also known as the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act.

Under the bill, both men and women could be charged with statutory rape, and that the sexual orientation of the offender is not important.

During the period of interpellation on the bill, senators debated on the so-called “Romeo and Juliet” clause that would recognize “consensual” sexual activity between young couples if proven.

Senators later agreed that the exemption from criminal liability shall cover partners 16 year old and below, with age difference of not more than three years, but shall not apply if the victim is aged 13 and below.

In a 2015 National Baseline Study on Violence Against Children, one in every five children in the Philippines in the age group of 13 to 17 said they experienced sexual violence while one in 25 suffered from forced consummated sex during childhood.

Earlier, United Nations (UN) Philippines called on Congress to prioritize the measure increasing the age for determining the commission of statutory rape to below 16 years old from the current below 12 years old.

Defense chief Lorenzana tests positive for COVID-19 anew

Robie de Guzman   •   November 17, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana confirmed on Wednesday that he has again contracted COVID-19.

In a message to reporters, Lorenzana said he was informed of his test result earlier in the day but he has not manifested any symptoms.

He said he is fully vaccinated against coronavirus.

“This morning I got the result of my swab test yesterday afternoon after the Senate hearing. I am asymptomatic,” he said.

“Yes, I am fully vaxxed. I’ll observe myself for several days after that I’ll have another swab,” he added.

The Defense chief first tested positive for COVID-19 in April and recovered.

Lorenzana took a swab test after undergoing screening for COVID-19 on Tuesday when he physically attended a Senate hearing for his department’s budget for 2022.

With this development, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said they might suspend the budget deliberations on Thursday to give way for the testing of exposed Senate staff.

Lorenzana had interactions with several senators during the session. Among those who was exposed to him were Senators Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa and Francis Tolentino.

Senators and staff who had contact with Lorenzana have been asked to undergo quarantine and get tested after five days.

DILG, provinces urge Senate to restore NTF-ELCAC’s P28B budget for barangay dev’t program

Robie de Guzman   •   November 16, 2021

 MANILA, Philippines – The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the League of Provinces of the Philippines have appealed to the Senate to restore the P28.1 billion Support to Barangay Development Program (SBDP) proposed by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) for NPA-cleared barangays in the 2022 budget.

In a statement issued on Monday, DILG Secretary Eduardo Año said the program is “a game-changer in our battle to end Communist Terrorism in the country.”

“Unti-unti nang nararamdaman ng mga naninirahan sa mga barangay na sakop ng SBDP ngayong taon ang tunay na kahulugan ng pagbabago at pagkalinga ng gobyerno na hindi nila naramdaman sa nakaraan dahil sa mga Komunistang Terorista,” Año said.

The DILG chief noted that “there is now momentum in the fight against Communist terrorism and slashing the P28.1 Billion will send a wrong signal to the Local Government Units who have been expecting these development projects next year.”

“We must remember that the battle against the CTGs is not just a battle of arms, it’s also a battle for the hearts and minds of our people,” he said.

The League of Provinces of the Philippines (LPP) echoed Año’s appeal.

During its 8th General Assembly, the LPP said it passed Resolution No. 2021-009 supporting President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-insurgency program and urging the Senate to approve in full the proposed Support to the Barangay Development Program in the 2022 General Appropriations Bill.

“The full and continued implementation of the BDP needs to be pursued in order to bring about and sustain progress and development in these identified conflict-affected barangays that urgently need government support and assistance,” said LPP President and Marinduque Governor Presbiterio Velasco, Jr.

“The proposed projects under the SBDP which were identified by the community residents themselves, represent their collective aspiration towards genuine peace and development,” Año said.

The DILG Secretary stressed that cutting the proposed NTF-ELCAC budget next year will deprive these remote barangays of development and will make them vulnerable once more to the CTGs at a time when we have already gained significant strides in our whole-of-nation approach to defeat communist terrorism.

“Mahigit 50 taon nang naghihirap at napag-iwanan ang ating mga kababayan na nakatira sa mga bulubundukin at malalayong lugar na dati ay pinamumugaran ng mga communist terrorist groups (CTGs),” he said.

“Nakikiusap po tayo sa ating mga Senador na huwag ipagkait ang pagkakataong maramdaman nila ang pagmamalasakit ng gobyerno at malasap ang tunay pagbabago,” he added.

Año said that the P16.44-billion development projects under the SBDP this year are in full swing in the 822 insurgency-cleared barangays with several projects already completed and others in different phases of implementation.

Of the 2,318 SBDP projects funded this year, 19 are already completed, 557 are undergoing implementation, 783 are under procurement, and 959 are under pre-procurement.

Among the completed SBDP projects are livelihood projects in Barangay Mount Diwata, Monkayo, Davao de Oro; lot purchase for housing in Barangays Don Mariano Marcos, Tagbua, and Calapagan, Lupon, Davao Oriental; distribution of seed capital to poor farmers in Barangay Caduha-an, Cadiz City, Negros Occidental; livelihood project in Sangab, Maco, Davao de Oro; installation of 50 units LED solar street lights with solar panel in Barangay Darapuay, Bansalan, Davao del Sur; and purchase of rice harvesters in Carataya, Mahunodhunod, Putian and San Antonio in Cuartero, Capiz.

“Based on the current status of SBDP projects, we are expecting that majority of them will be completed by the first quarter of 2022 with some spill-over projects to be completed by the second quarter,” Año said.

He explained that some of the projects are still under procurement on the LGU level because it takes about 1-2 months for the preparation of pre-procurement documents like Detailed Engineering Design (DED) from the implementing local government units (LGUs), Certificate of Pre-condition (CP) or Certificate of Non-Coverage (CNC) from the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP), and Notice of Authority to Debit Account Issued (NADAI) from the Bureau of Treasury (BTr).

The DILG Chief maintained that completing these documentary requirements were even more challenging with the stringent COVID-19 restrictions as another 4 to 5 months are needed to complete the procurement process in compliance with the Republic Act (RA) 9184.

He added that actual implementation of the SBDP projects on the ground takes about 1 to 4 months to complete depending on the nature of the project with non-infra projects usually completed faster than infra projects like roads and buildings.

Senate OKs bill seeking creation of judiciary marshals

Robie de Guzman   •   November 9, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate has passed on third and final reading a bill seeking the creation of a security force to ensure the safety of members of the Judiciary and their families.

With 21 affirmative votes, one abstention, and no negative vote, the Senate Bill No. (SBN) 1947 or An Act Creating the Office of the Judiciary Marshals hurdled the upper chamber.

The measure seeks the creation of the judiciary marshals under the supervision of the Supreme Court, which shall be primarily responsible for the security, safety, and protection of the members, officials, personnel, and property of the Judiciary, including the integrity of the courts and their proceedings.

The creation of the Office of the Judiciary Marshal is seen to help counter the continuing attacks on judges, lawyers, and other court personnel.

Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Committee on Justice and Human Rights and sponsor of the bill, said the measure aims to improve the administration of justice in the country.

He noted that 34 judges have already been killed since 1999, and only 10 percent of these killings have been solved. A number of lawyers and court personnel were also slain in the past years.

“This is aimed to protect, defend, safeguard, watch over, provide security and ensure the safety of justices, judges, court officials and personnel, including their families, and halls of justice, courthouses, and other court buildings and properties,” Gordon said.

Under the measure, the judiciary marshals will be tasked to conduct threat assessments and launch investigations on crimes and other offenses committed against judiciary employees and court property. They may also undertake probes on allegations of irregularities, including graft and corruption, committed by members of the legal profession.

“This shall include coordinating with other law enforcement agencies to maximize collection and sharing of intelligence information for purposes of identifying threats,” the measure stated.

The Supreme Court, the chief justice, or the court administrator may also instruct the judicial marshals to perform other related functions.

The proposed office would be headed by a Chief Marshal, who shall be appointed by the high court and assisted by three deputy marshals to be assigned in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.

An initial funding of P50 million would be needed for the enactment of the measure, the bill stated. This would cover, among others, the salaries and other expenses of personnel, as well as the purchase of necessary supplies and equipment.

Senate Bill No. 1947 is a consolidated bill composed of Gordon’s SBN 1181; Senate President Vicente’s Sotto III’s SBN 1255; SBN 1209 by Senators Panfilo Lacson and Leila De Lima; and Dela Rosa’s SBN 1237. Other senators also asked to be made co-authors of the bill.

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