03/20/2015

Women versus our laws

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Contrary to what most people have increasingly come to believe, laws don’t just fall from the sky. They are the products of actual people who actually sit behind their desks, pens in hand, mulling over the various ways to complicate human life. More often than not, these people don’t write the words, don’t do the drudge work when it comes to assessing the facts. And yet, when faced with the strong arm of the law, we immediately presume its divine infallibility.

To err is human, and in the law, there’s plenty of room for error. Especially where women are concerned.

Smooth criminals

Our Revised Penal Code, a granddaddy relic from the Spanish era, has been the bane of women’s groups for some time now. Foremost among its questionable provisions are Articles 202 (Prostitutes), 247 (Death or Physical Injuries Inflicted Under Exceptional Circumstances), 333 (Adultery), and 334 (Concubinage).

Under Article 202, prostitutes are particularly defined as women who, for money or profit, habitually indulge in sexual intercourse or lascivious conduct. Depending on whether the woman relapses into prostitution (after being caught the first time), she can face imprisonment of up to two years and four months. As the world’s oldest profession, you’d think the law would have considered the fact that men have been known to sell their bodies for sex, too.

And while our legislators are ready to give the RPC a much-needed facelift, thinking of decriminalizing prostitution altogether, this sorely misses the point. If the commodification of women’s bodies is legally permissible, then what about the traffickers and pimps who buy and sell these women in the first place?

Article 247 suffers from a similar lapse. Under this interesting point of law, any married person who kills or inflicts serious injury on a spouse after catching said spouse in the act of having sex with another, can get away with the measly penalty of destierro, or banishment, of 25 kilometers. If the injuries are less than serious, the wrathful spouse gets away scot-free.

Here’s the rub: under the same circumstances, Article 247 also applies to parents, but only with respect to their below-18 daughters. Really?

Speaking of marital matters, Articles 333 and 334 are really just different sides of the same coin. Except on one side, adultery can only be committed by a married woman, while on the other, a married man can only be guilty of concubinage. Aside from the cultural connotations (adultery is a sin, concubinage just means you’re the bee’s knees), there’s the very real repercussion of facing time behind bars. An adulteress can be imprisoned up to six years, but a husband with a concubine can only receive a maximum of four years and two months. Additionally, the act of adultery isn’t cured by a subsequent declaration that the woman’s marriage never legally existed. One night of rapture with someone not your husband — that’s all it takes. On the other hand, for concubinage to kick in, it still has to be shown that, under “scandalous circumstances,” the husband keeps a mistress in the home, has sex with her (or him, right?), or cohabits with her (or him) in any other place. That’s a lot of nuts.

Civil tongues

While the RPC might currently be the repository of our most blatantly gender-specific laws, the Family Code, with its hands dipped in the more domestic aspect of civil life, comes in a close second.

Scattered across its pages are various provisions emphasizing the husband’s superiority when it comes to decision-making.

In Articles 96 and 124, which talk about the two different kinds of property relationships among spouses, the whole point, simply, is that in case of disagreement over the administration and enjoyment of such property, the husband’s decision prevails. But, you know, the wife can always choose to spend precious time and money in court to ask for a proper remedy — available only within five years after the husband’s decision, of course.

Under Article 211, in case of disagreement over how to raise the kids, the father’s decision, again, comes out on top. To the kids out there with tiger moms who know this to be false, well, you can always show your mother a copy of the law.

The RPC and Family Code are just a preview. In various statutes and codes, scattered inconspicuously across its pages are other provisions that are textually biased against women. In the Civil Code, for instance, Article 739 on illegal donations states one of its conditions in this manner — “Those made to a public officer or his wife, descendants and ascendants, by reason of his office.” Does this presume that women can’t be public officers? In application, courts have construed these outdated provisions in more practical, gender-neutral terms. However, judicial interpretation can only go so far. Bound by the clear letter of the law, it’s left in the hands of those infallible divinities playing God from within Congress.

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