Frequent collaborators and long-time rumored couple Coco Martin and Julia Montes finally confirmed their real life relationship yesterday, May 23, when the two appeared at the watch party for the series “Unbreak My Heart.”
While talking to reporters, Martin revealed that the two of them have been together for 12 years. “Napakasarap ng pakiramdam namin dahil 12 years na kaming magkasama, pero pareho pa rin tulad ng dati.” He also spoke candidly about their desire to keep the relationship private, saying, “Mas masarap ‘yung pakiramdam na pribado ang buhay namin, tahimik. Walang mga issue. Ito, masaya kami.”
While that sentiment is normally understandable—many public figures have expressed a desire to have a life outside of public speculation—it takes an immediate dark turn once you do the numbers. Martin, who is turning 42 this November, and Montes, who is 28, have a 14-year age gap. If we are to take Martin’s word, Montes was 16 when they formed a relationship. He would’ve been 30.
In a separate interview they held together last year, Martin admitted that Montes had initially rejected his advances. “Ano pa siya, noon, bagets. Mga 14,” he said.
“13,” Montes corrected him.
“13 to 14,” Martin said, then laughed. “Nagtangka ako sa kanya. Nagtangkang magbola. Na-reject ako.”
The age of consent in the Philippines was raised to 16 years old last year. When Martin and Montes became a couple, it was still 12. This means that in the eyes of the law, their relationship is legally permissible.
However, legality does not dictate morality or ethics. “A central—perhaps the central—question of the philosophy of law concerns the relationship between law and morality,” notes the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s page on the limits of law. “A right’s legal validity does not guarant[ee] its moral justification,” it also states in its page on legal rights. What may be legally right may not be morally or ethically right, and vice versa.
In 2020, we released a story on grooming and predatory behavior. We described grooming as a manipulation tactic often used by predators to condition their young targets into consenting into a relationship with them. “Grooming often starts with building a friendship or a relationship that establishes a connection between the sexual predator and their target.” There’s also an inherent power play at hand—grooming is done by an older, more powerful figure to a person who is more vulnerable.
It should be clear as well that we are not saying that relationships with large age gaps are inherently predatory. It becomes so when unequal power dynamics are at play—like when one person is underaged, or the other a superior.
Martin first made a move on Montes when she was around 13 or 14, which would be around the years 2008 to 2009. Montes was a budding young actress then. A child actress supporting her family, she had done multiple small roles since she was five in 2001. “Mara Clara,” which made her a household name when it was released in 2010, was still a year away.
Martin had also entered the industry in 2001 at 20 years old. He was part of the Star Circle Batch along with Heart Evangelista and Angel Locsin. His breakout role was in 2005’s “Masahista,” and he was winning TV and movie awards in 2009. That year, he was 28.
In the same interview where he revealed that he made advances on her, Martin also confessed that he treated her aloofly when they started working together in “Walang Hanggan” because of the rejection. “Masungit ako sa kanya dahil feeling ko ni-reject niya ako,” he said.
“Walang Hanggan” started airing in January 2012, which meant that the taping of the show and its promotional material started in 2011. This meant that Montes was cast as his love interest when she was 16, and he was 30.
Martin is not the only person who expressed interest in Montes at that age. Enchong Dee and Montes also had something going on at the time. In 2012, a few months after their rumored split, the then-24 year old actor noted that while they were not officially a couple, they had dated.
“I was just waiting for her to turn 18 in three months’ time. Iyon na sana iyon eh, para kahit sinong magtanong, official na yes, oo, kami. Pero ang daming nagho-hold back because she is only 17. When we started going out, she’s only 16. So parang ang tagal ko talagang hinintay,” he said in an interview.
Sexualization of young girls starts early. Our culture encourages this kind of behavior. Because of her role in “Walang Hanggan,” men’s magazine FHM added her to their annual list of “Philippines’ Sexiest Women” in 2012. She was just 17.
Photo screengrabbed from ABS-CBN’s YouTube channel