The legislative proposal raising the age of sexual consent in the Philippines is close to hurdling the Senate.
Members of the Senate on Tuesday, September 21, approved on second reading Senate Bill No. 2332, which would amend the country’s Revised Penal Code to raise the age for determining statutory rape from 12 to 16 years old.
The Senate is expected to pass the bill on third and final reading next week.
Before their approval, senators had lengthy debates on the provisions of the bill, including a suggestion to raise the proposed age of consent from 16 to 17.
Senator Francis Tolentino wanted it at 17, noting the country was a signatory to United Nations agreements protecting the rights of children.
Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, one of the principal authors of the bill, explained that the age of consent of 16 was proposed in consideration of the traditions of indigenous and Muslim people who were allowed to marry early.
“In Mindanao, particularly our Muslim brothers and sisters, together with the IPs, they marry early. It’s early marriage there. As a matter of fact, I attended a wedding in Iligan City last week — daughter of the mayor of a town, son is also a mayor of a town — the child is 18 and wife is 16. That is not uncommon, that is common in these areas,” Zubiri told his colleagues.
“I’m worried if you increase the age, what will happen now to the areas of indigenous peoples and the Muslim? Baka makasuhan pa sila (They could end up facing charges),” he raised, appealing to keep the age of consent at 16.
Senator Risa Hontiveros, also a co-author to the bill, supported Zubiri, despite originally proposing that the age of consent be set at 18.
The Senate, voting 14-5, eventually voted to keep it to the age of 16.
Senators also debated on the so-called “Romeo and Juliet” clause that would recognize “consensual” sexual activity between young couples if proven.
Voting 13-4-2, they 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.
Apart from raising the age of sexual consent, Zubiri said the bill also amends the language of the law to be gender-responsive, to reflect that rape is committed by a person who shall have carnal knowledge against any person, rather than the previous definition that rape is between a man and a woman only.
“As the father of three young kids, this is really important bill to me,” Zubiri said after the bill’s approval on second reading.
“This is a landmark bill that will protect so many children, and we’re very hopeful that the bill will sail swiftly from here on out. We were able to hash out the finer details of it in the plenary, and we’re looking forward to its passage,” he added.
Currently, the Philippines has one of the lowest ages for determining statutory rape across the world, second only to Niger, at 11 years old.