Senate panels OK raising age of sexual consent to 16

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 1) — Proposals to increase the age of sexual consent in the country to 16 years old hurdled the committee level at the Senate on Thursday.

Under the country’s Anti-Rape Law signed in 1997, a sexual intercourse is automatically considered as statutory rape when the victim is under 12 years old. This is the lowest age of sexual consent in Asia, senators pointed out in a virtual meeting.

While the law also criminalizes sex with minors under 18 years of age, it only does so if consent is not present or if the act involves force, threat, or intimidation. Lawmakers and advocates say reforms are long overdue to give children stronger protection against sexual abuse.

Senator Richard Gordon, who chairs the Senate panel on justice and human rights, said a committee report will be submitted on Monday so it can soon be tackled in plenary. He led the joint meeting with the Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality chaired by Senator Risa Hontiveros.

Hontiveros said she will push for a “Romeo-and-Juliet” clause to mitigate the punitive effects on young couples who are close in age.

“There shall be no criminal liability on the part of the perpetrator, if the victim is between 14 and 18 years of age; age difference is not more than four years; and the sexual act in question is proven to be consensual, non-exploitative, and non-abusive,” Hontiveros said.

Senators Gordon, Imee Marcos, and Juan Miguel Zubiri agreed.

Zubiri is confident the measure will be passed swiftly since other lawmakers have voiced their support.

“We promise all our stakeholders that before Christmas, we’ll have a statutory rape age law,” Zubiri said.

A total of nine Senate bills were filed to raise the age of statutory rape.

A similar measure was passed by the House Committees on Revision of Laws and Welfare of Children in late August.

Agusan del Norte Rep. Lawrence Fortun said amending the 1997 Anti-Rape Law is an urgent matter, with many people isolated with their abusers at home due to various coronavirus lockdown measures.