PHILIPPINES – Singer Freddie Aguilar’s confirmation of his relationship with a young lady – reportedly, in fact, a 16-year-old girl – has raised not only eyebrows, but questions of law.

When an older person gets romantically involved with a teenager, can there be legal consequences?

There is a reason why children under 18 years of age cannot legally marry, vote, drive a car, give consent to a contract, or even see a movie with some sexual, though not overly prurient, scenes without parental guidance. There is also a reason why children 15-years-old and below are considered without liability should they commit a crime. Those 16- and 17-years-old can be prosecuted only if proven to have sufficient discernment and, at any rate, will still not suffer any jail term if they are deemed reformed upon reaching the age of 18.

Minors are considered not mature enough to fully comprehend the consequences of their actions. They are at that formative stage when they are still creating their independent experiences which, in the long run, can produce either a wayward life or a good one. That is why our law places children under the parental authority of their parents – up to the age of 18 years.

And so if lack of discernment and maturity is the basic premise to why children are fully protected, they must likewise be conclusively presumed to not fully understand the nature and depth of having a romantic or sexual relationship with the an older person. The gullibility, impressionistic mindset, and the sense of excitement of a teenager, may be taken advantage of by older people to the detriment of the former.

Even if a girl above 12 but below 18 years of age were to fully consent to sexual intercourse with an older man, the latter can still be charged for criminal seduction under Article 338 of the Revised Penal Code if it is proven that his acts in enticing the girl were part of a deceitful strategy. This would hold  even if the girl’s parents consented to the relationship. And even if the young girl were to declare unequivocally that her love for the older man is genuine.

That declaration is not exculpatory. In fact, that is the essence of criminal seduction. A girl may not know that her feeling, authentic though it may be, may well be just the by-product of deceitful manipulation of her older boyfriend. This is nothing less than sexual abuse and exploitation of minors. If found guilty, the seducer will suffer a penalty of arresto mayor – a jail term of one month and one day to six months. Civil damages amounting to millions of pesos can also be ordered to answer for the emotional and physical damage suffered by the child.

Talking about exploitation of minors, Section 10 (b) of Republic Act No. 7610, otherwise known as the “Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act”, provides that child abuse and exploitation can also be committed by a person “who shall keep or have in his company a minor, twelve (12) years or under or who is ten (10) years or more his junior in any public or private place, hotel, motel, beer joint, discotheque, cabaret, pension house, sauna or massage parlor, beach and/or other tourist resort or similar places.”

A private place could be the house of the exploiter or abuser. A public place could be a club, a bar, a movie house, the mall or, as the law said, a beer joint. The abuser or exploiter shall “suffer the penalty of prision mayor in its maximum period.” This means jail term from 10 years and 1 day to 12 years. He shall also be fined an amount of not less than P50,000. Civil damages can also be ordered to pay the child. That amount can reach up to millions of pesos depending on the damage to the child, both physically and emotionally.

The law will however “not apply to any person who is related within the fourth degree of consanguinity or affinity or any bond recognized by law, local custom and tradition or acts in the performance of a social, moral or legal duty.” However, if the parents are the ones who induce, deliver or offer the child to the culprit, they shall suffer imprisonment from 8 years and 1 day to 10 years. There is no question that, under our Family Code, their parental authority can be terminated.

Not only that, Section 6 of Republic Act 7610 also provides that if a “person, not a relative of a child, is found alone with the said child inside the room or cubicle of a house, an inn, hotel, motel, pension house, apartelle or other similar establishments, vessel, vehicle or any other hidden or secluded area under circumstances which would lead a reasonable person to believe that the child is about to be exploited in prostitution and other sexual abuse,” this can be considered indicative of an attempt to have the child prostituted or subjected to sexual abuse.

There is nothing wrong with falling in love. But when such feeling is generated from minor children by an adult, society steps in for the child’s protection should the parents be remiss. The protective mantle falls very hard on any adult seducer, abuser, molester, and exploiter. Nothing less than incarceration is justified as a penalty. Instead of experiencing a May-December romance with the young girl, he may just end up suffering that period in jail.