The Legal Implications of the Act Declaring Ghosting as an Emotional Offense
On June 30, 2022, Congressman Arnolfo A. Teves, Jr. of the 3rd District of Negros Oriental introduced House Bill No. 611.
BY ATTY. JOSE MARIA B. SANTOS & ATTY. DOMINIC UMANDAP
On June 30, 2022, Congressman Arnolfo A. Teves, Jr. of the 3rd District of Negros Oriental introduced House Bill No. 611 (HB 611) titled “An Act Declaring Ghosting As An Emotional Offense.” The introduction of the bill garnered mixed reactions from the public. This article hopes to shed light on the legal implications of the aforementioned bill.
WHAT IS “GHOSTING?" Ghosting in common parlance refers to the act of suddenly and/or unexpectedly ceasing communication and correspondence with another person without any explanation. The victim in ghosting is typically someone who might have been a potential dating or romantic partner, yet for reasons often unknown, had been cut off from all contact without explanation by the prospective partner. In Teves’ explanatory note for HB 611, he described ghosting as when “someone cuts off all forms of communication [which] can be mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting to the ghosted person.” Section 2 of HB 611 defines ghosting as “a form of emotional abuse and happens once a person is engaged in a dating relationship with the opposite sex which affects the mental state of the victim.” Section 3 of HB 611 defines a dating relationship as “a situation wherein the parties live as husband and wife without the benefit of marriage or are romantically involved over time and on a continuing basis during the course of the relationship. A casual acquaintance or ordinary socialization between two individuals in a business or social context is not a dating relationship.
IS GHOSTING A CRIMINAL OFFENSE UNDER PHILIPPINE LAWS? HB 611 seeks to declare ghosting as an emotional offense. However, the bill does not provide penalties in case of a violation. It also does not mention any other law to which its status as an emotional offense may be applied. Consequently, it could not be considered as a criminal statute if it were to pass in its current form.
Assuming that HB 611’s objective is to penalize emotional abuse, it may be akin to Section 5(i) of Republic Act (RA) No. 9262, or the “Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Law of 2004.” This punishes the act of “causing mental or emotional anguish, public ridicule or humiliation to the woman or her child, including, but not limited to, repeated verbal and emotional abuse, and denial of financial support or custody of minor children of access to the woman’s child/children.”
The Supreme Court held in Araza v. People (G.R. No. 247427, 08 September 2020) that the following elements must be proven to constitute a violation of Section 5(i) of RA 9262:
1. The offended party is a woman and/or her child or children;
2. The woman is either the wife or former wife of the offender, or is a woman with whom the offender has or had a sexual or dating relationship, or is a woman with whom such offender has a common child. As for the woman’s child or children, they may be legitimate or illegitimate, or living within or without the family abode;
3. The offender causes on the woman and/or child mental or emotional anguish; and
4. The anguish is caused through acts of public ridicule or humiliation, repeated verbal and emotional abuse, denial of financial support or custody of minor children or access to the children or similar acts or omissions.
Applying the foregoing, ghosting, as defined in HB 611, may be punishable under existing law if it is proven beyond reasonable doubt that: (a) the offender and the offended parties are those mentioned under RA 9262; (b) the act of ghosting amounts to mental or emotional anguish; and (c) the anguish is caused through “public ridicule or humiliation, repeated verbal and emotional abuse, denial of financial support or custody of minor children or access to the children or similar acts or omissions.” This requires the presentation of the offended party as a witness to prove that the offender caused psychological or emotional violence. Note that RA 9262 is only applicable to women and/or her child or children. In addition, Section 3 of HB 611, which defines “dating relationship,” is a reiteration of Section 3(e) of RA 9262. Hence, ghosting under RA 9262 would only apply for women who have been engaged in a prolonged romantic relationship.
THE SUPREME COURT’S INTERPRETATION OF “GHOSTING”
Interestingly, the Supreme Court has decided a case which involved ghosting-like behavior. In Wassmer v. Velez (G.R. No. L-20089, 26 December 1964), Francisco X. Velez and Beatriz P. Wassmer were set to marry on September 04, 1954. However, Velez left a letter for Wassmer informing her that the wedding will have to be postponed. The next day, Velez sent a telegram to Beatriz stating that nothing has changed and that he is returning very soon. Unfortunately, Velez did not return and the wedding was cancelled. Wassmer sued Velez. The Supreme Court then decided against Velez and awarded Wassmer moral damages. The Supreme Court explained that there was nothing wrong in Velez’s cancellation of the wedding. However, it noted that Wassmer and her family had undertaken preparations for the wedding. The wedding had been formally set, a great deal of money had been spent, and the bride and the groom’s friends and relatives had been invited to celebrate the occasion. Consequently, the circumstances surrounding Velez’s cancellation justified the award of damages. Note that the above was a civil case for damages against Velez.
CAN MEMBERS OF THE LGBTQ COMMUNITY BE GHOSTED UNDER THE BILL? HB 611 only covers persons in a dating relationship "with the opposite sex.” It thus excludes same-sex relationships. However, there have been developments towards the inclusion and protection of persons in same-sex relationships. On September 19, 2019, Rep. Fidel F. Nograles introduced HB 4888, which sought to amend RA 9262 to expand its coverage to also protect men and members of the LGBTQ community. Dubbed the Anti-Violence Against Partners and their Children Act, or the Anti-VAPC Law, it specifically provides that “the term ‘partner’ includes intimate relationships of heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, intersex, cisgender, and transgender partners.” Senator Robinhood Padilla also introduced Senate Bill (SB) 449 seeking to institutionalize civil unions between same-sex couples. The bill intends to create a union between same-sex couples akin to marriage, binding them to the obligations and responsibilities as well as to the protection and benefits afforded by the act.
FINAL THOUGHTS It remains to be seen whether HB 611 will be passed into law. It may nevertheless still have a place in the Philippine legal system if it provides consequences for its violation and after further deliberations on how it could be interpreted and enforced with existing laws.