Remembering the rape of Rosario Baluyot
Rosario Baluyot died at age 12 or younger; it wasn’t very clear.
She was a street child from Olongapo – then known as “Sin City” due to its widespread prostitution mostly catering to tourists and Americans stationed in what was then the US Naval Base in Subic.
Rosario died from a severe infection in her cervix in May 1987. Parts of an electronic vibrator were stuck inside her vagina for over 7 months.
Nobody helped her until it was too late.
The man who violated her, Dr Heinrich Ritter, brought Rosario and her friend Jessie Ramirez – a young boy – to a hotel where he allegedly abused them sometime in late 1986. He paid the children P200-P300 each.
Ritter was jailed in September 1987, but was released after an out-of-court settlement of P15,000 with Rosario’s grandmother. In the same year, Ritter was rearrested when the judge nullified the settlement.
In 1989, the regional trial court (RTC) charged Ritter with rape and homicide. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and was ordered to pay Rosario’s grandmother P60,000.
In 1991, however, the Supreme Court reversed the RTC’s decision. It acquitted and deported Ritter back to Austria. He was ordered to pay P30,000 (around $1,000 at the time).
In total, Rosario’s pain and life amounted to a few thousand pesos.
‘Rosario is dead’
I first met Rosario in 2012.
She had no parents, she ran away from her abusive grandmother, and she was tired, hungry, and dirty for most of her life.
I saw her lying on the floor in a bookstore somewhere in Quezon City.
She was on sale for only P30. The book cover showed a penciled image of a girl; in bold red letters, the title read, “Rosario is Dead.”
The non-fiction book was written by Swedish journalist Majgull Axelsson; it was published locally in 1997. Axelsson documented the life of Rosario, as well as other Olongapo minors who fell prey to the voracious world of sex tourism.
After reading her story, I went online to search for the actual case and I couldn’t believe what I read in the Supreme Court decision.
I’m not a lawyer and I do not have a tight grasp of Philippine laws, but after reading Rosario’s story, I was compelled to learn more about our weaknesses as a nation.
More people need to know who Rosario Baluyot was and how her life ended so abruptly. She was just one of the many young Filipinos – girls and boys alike – who had been deprived of their rights.
Definition of rape
Rosario practically grew up in the streets alone. She died the same way.
Rosario lacked proper documents; Ritter used this to his advantage. It wasn’t proven that Rosario was 12 years old when she was abused.
The Revised Penal Code at that time states that rape is committed when there is:
- Force or intimidation
- When the woman is deprived of reason or is unconscious
The Code also states that if the woman is under 12, rape is committed even if the above circumstances do not apply. (READ: UN - 'Shocking' data on rape)
However, the court ruled that “the proof of Rosario's being under 12 years of age is not satisfactory,” hence the two conditions – force or unconsciousness – had to be proven to convict Ritter of rape. (WATCH: End sexual violence)
There was, unfortunately, no proof of these two conditions, according to the Supreme Court. “In fact, the evidence shows a willingness to submit to the sexual act for monetary considerations,” the decision read.
The other factors cited by the court for acquitting Ritter were:
- Jessie Ramirez, the only witness to the abuse, “did not see Ritter insert the vibrator”
- The court cited medical testimonies questioning the plausibility of Rosario’s infection. “Infection would have set in much earlier” than 7 months
- Lastly, the court said that the gynecologist who attended to Rosario in her deathbed said that Rosario told him that a “black man” did this to her. Ritter is not black
Ramirez testified that Rosario told him about the vibrator insertion, but Rosario later on told him that she managed to remove it. Days later, Ramirez said he still saw Rosario in pain. The court deemed Ramirez’ testimony as “hearsay and contradictory.”
The court ruled that there was not enough evidence linking Rosario’s death to Ritter.
The case ended with pedophiles like Ritter protected, instead of victims like Rosario. She was a victim of the country’s vicious cycle of poverty and structural violence. Rosario was poor, abandoned, and young – these made her more vulnerable to abuse by those with more power; in this case, those with money.
Rosario was a child, a woman, a human being. Regardless of her age – under 12 or not – she did not deserve cruelty. She did not deserve having a dildo forced up her genitals. She did not deserve to be left behind by her parents to a difficult life in the streets.
The county’s laws should have protected Rosario, instead they betrayed her and many others like her.
The Supreme Court, however, did admit that Ritter “committed acts injurious not only to Rosario Baluyot but also to the public good.” It admitted that the existing provisions on statutory rape at that time did not take into account the “influx of pedophiles taking advantage of rampant poverty” in our society.
After Rosario’s landmark case, the Philippines did strengthen its laws.
In 1992, the Philippines had Republic Act 7610 or the "Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act." The law penalized those who take advantage of children through child prostitution and other forms of abuse and exploitation.
Rosario paved the way for this law to happen. It’s sad to think that children like Rosario had to endure violent deaths before the country realized the great need to protect its children.
In 1997, the country also amended its Anti-Rape Law which emphasized rape as a “crime against persons” instead of a crime against chastity, making rape a “public crime.” It also expanded and clarified its provisions on rape.
The 2011 International Statistics on Crime and Justice, as cited by the Philippine Commission on Women, ranked the Philippines “7th among the countries with high prevalence of rape cases.” (READ: PH laws 'unfair' to women)
Violence against women
The Philippine National Police reported that rape ranked 3rd among all cases of violence against women (VAW) from 2004-2012. The Department of Health also revealed that the “most recorded victims of sexual abuse” are children aged 13-15 as of 2012.
These figures, however, only include those that have been filed. Many cases still go unreported, largely due to shame and fear – not only of the perpetrator, but of how society will view them as survivors, and of the uncertainty of whether justice will be served, and whether such crimes will be repeated. (WATCH: Stopping VAW)
Rosario is dead. Rape, however, remains alive today in the Philippines and elsewhere.
Rosario is dead, but her story must be retold. The Philippines needs to get it right this time; there’s a lot of work to be done before we can eliminate rape.
The first of the many things we should do is to get these children off the streets. – Rappler.com
Fritzie Rodriguez is a writer at Rappler.