June 19, 2018, 6:37 am
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No more Maria Clara?

THE Supreme Court’s Third Division has abandoned the “women’s honor” doctrine as it acquitted two men convicted of rape because of doubts on the integrity of the victim’s testimony.

The doctrine suggests a woman who is a victim of sexual abuse would not say she had been abused unless it is true, out of a “natural instinct to protect her honor.” It came about in 1960 when the high court upheld the conviction of three robbers who were said to have taken turns raping a woman.

The Third Division, in a decision dated January 17, reversed a guilty verdict issued by a Davao court in 2012 against Juvy Amarela and Junard Racho in a rape that took place in 2009. The Davao court’s decision was affirmed by the Court of Appeals in 2016.

The January 17 decision penned by Associate Justice Samuel Martires said the court could no longer rely on the doctrine. 

“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,” the decision said.

“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. In doing so, 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,” it also said.

Gabriela party-list Rep. Emmi de Jesus group slammed the decision and said it is not the first time that women have to prove that sexual abuse occurred.

She also said the decision “reflects the macho culture and anti-women mindset perpetuated no less by the Chief Executive.”

Records of the case show the victim was watching a beauty pageant in Maligatong, Baguio District in Calinan, Davao City when she felt the need to go to the rest room. On her way, she said Amarela punched and pulled her to a makeshift stage where she was raped.

She said Amarela stopped and fled after three men came. The men then took her to a hut but she was able to escape. She then hid in a neighboring house and then to Racho’s house.

She said Racho’s mother asked her son to take her victim to her aunt but Racho took her to a nearby shanty where he punched and raped her.

The Third Division said it found circumstances that cast doubt on the credibility of the testimony of the victim, including gaps in her testimony, differences between her affidavit-complaint and court testimony, her supposed inability to identify one of her assailants because the crime scene was dark, lack of details in some events in the alleged rape incident, and to 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.

Though the high court clarified that 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,” it added.

The Third Division added the prosecution “miserably failed to present a clear story of what transpired,” leaving it no recourse but to reverse the findings of the trial and appellate courts.

“But here, we cannot ascertain what happened based on the lone testimony of the victim. It should have been the prosecution’s duty to properly evaluate the evidence if it had enough to convict Amarela or Racho,” the ruling said.
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