High court drops 1960 doctrine in rape case
THE Supreme Court abandoned its “women’s honor doctrine” in resolving rape cases when it acquitted two men accused of raping a woman in Davao City in February 2009.
The Jan. 17 decision, released this week, was immediately condemned by the Gabriela Alliance of Women, which said the jurisprudence could open the floodgates to more rapes.
In ruling to acquit Juvy Amarela and Junard Racho of rape, the Court essentially rendered invalid its earlier “women’s honor doctrine” that puts credence on the victim’s testimonies, based on the fact that admitting the rape itself is a very difficult decision for Filipino women in a social setup that shames raped women and silently condones the attacker.
“Today, we simply cannot be stuck to the Maria Clara stereotype of a demure and reserved Filipino woman. We, should stay away from such mindset and accept the realities of a woman’s dynamic role in society today; she who has over the years transformed into a strong and confidently intelligent and beautiful person, willing to fight for her rights,” said Associate Justice Samuel Martires in his decision.
“More often than not, where the alleged victim survives to tell her story of sexual depredation, rape cases are solely decided based on the credibility of the testimony of the private complainant,” the ruling said.
Court observers agreed Martires’ ruling was an abandonment of the “women’s honor doctrine,” which was established by the Supreme Court in the 1960 rape case of Herminigilda Domingo.
“We have hinged on the impression that no young Filipina of decent repute would publicly admit that she was sexually abused, unless that is the truth, for it is her natural instinct to protect her honor. However, this misconception, particularly in this day and age, not only puts the accused at an unfair disadvantage, but creates a travesty of justice,” the new ruling held.
The Court reversed and set aside the conviction of the two accused by the Davao City regional trial court in June 2012 in the separate rape cases, which was upheld by the Court of Appeals in February 2016.
The Court ordered the immediate release of Amarela and Racho from jail due to the failure of prosecution to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt and also due to doubts about the testimony of the complainant.
“The prosecution in this case miserably failed to present a clear story of what transpired... [Here] we cannot ascertain what happened based on the lone testimony of [victim]. It should have been the prosecution’s duty to properly evaluate the evidence if it had enough to convict Amarela and Racho,” the Court said.
The tribunal found inconsistencies in the complainant’s testimony, particularly the gaps in her narration, differences between her affidavit-complaint and court testimony, a supposed inability for her to have identified one of her assailants because the crime scene was dark and she allegedly saw him for the first time, a lack of material details on some events in the alleged rape incident, and the medico-legal findings that raised questions on whether she had consented to sex after all.
“Her claim that she was forcibly brought under a makeshift stage, stripped naked and then raped seems unrealistic and beyond human experience,” the ruling said, adding “the medical examination of the victim also failed to indicate any physical injuries consistent with being raped by the two accused,” it stressed.
Though the Court said medico legal findings are not controlling, it cited studies showing the “most common laceration sites” for rape victims.
“In the instant case, considering the locality of these lacerations, we cannot completely rule out the probability that the victim voluntarily had sex that night. Moreover, the absence of bruises when she said she was punched reinforces the theory that the victim may have had consensual intercourse,” the Court said.
Records of the case showed that the victim was watching a beauty pageant in Calinan, Davao City. She said that when she went to the restroom, Amarela suddenly punched and pulled her under a makeshift stage where she was raped.
She said Amarela only stopped and fled the area after three men came, adding that the men then took her to a hut but she was able to escape and hid in a neighboring house and then went to Racho’s house.
Racho’s mother, Neneng, then asked her son to take the victim to her aunt but Racho took her to a nearby shanty where she was punched and raped again.
Gabriela said the ruling would embolden perpetrators who will abuse more women with impunity, as they can now go on rampage with the knowledge that courts will most likely dismiss rape cases.
Gabriela’s secretary-general Joms Salvador said the Third Division’s description of the women’s honor doctrine as non-sequitur can equally describe “the absurd basis for assuming that Filipino women’s position in society has improved and are no longer prone to abuse by men.”
“There is no reality-based connection to be drawn linking women’s transformed social status or even willingness to fight for their own rights to making women immune to rape and other sexual attacks. The reasoning that the Supreme Court used flies in the face of actual rise of reported and unreported rapes, sexual harassment, bullying, trafficking, and other crimes against women,” Salvador said.
“The complicated and overwhelming systems of justice, penology, investigative protocols, and services that victims face when trying to address their attackers are already loaded against women, as the legal process already forces them to prove the crimes and repeatedly relive the trauma in public,” Salvador said. “This Supreme Court ruling will surely add a very heavy layer of hardships and even higher financial and social strain especially on poor women victims, while practically giving perpetrators an easy way out.”
Salvador noted that several celebrities and women in power had better access to resources and were even supported by Gabriela yet lost in rape cases in courts and administrative tribunals. This, she said, means more disadvantages are stacked up against millions of low-income women such as the complainant from Davao, whose case was reversed by the Supreme Court.
“This sadly dovetails into the violent anti-women policies of the Duterte regime, whose frequent misogynist and cruel rape jokes are being taken as official doctrine and moral standard. We can expect even more state forces and common criminals to quote his gospel for committing sexual violence and get absolved by the courts,” Salvador said.
The women’s group challenged the Supreme Court en banc not to be a party to a worsening of “the already faulty system and desist from adding more burdens on women victims’ access to justice.”