Supreme Court of the Philippines

In landmark ruling, Supreme Court clarifies when rape is committed

Jairo Bolledo

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In landmark ruling, Supreme Court clarifies when rape is committed
The High Court says the 'mere introduction' of penis to the cleft of labia majora already consummates rape

MANILA, Philippines – In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court (SC) clarified when the crime of rape is considered committed through penile penetration.

The High Court, in a 40-page decision penned by Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, affirmed the conviction of a certain Efren Agao of two counts of statutory rape ruled by the Valenzuela Regional Trial Court (RTC), and later upheld by the Court of Appeals (CA).

The respondent was charged with two counts of rape in 2014 over the crime he committed against his live-in partner’s daughter. Agao was convicted by Valenzuela RTC Branch 172, which ruled that even though Agao’s private organ “only merely touched” the labia of his live-in partner’s daughter, it can already be considered rape.

This is in line with the principle of People v. Besmonte case in 2014, which states that carnal knowledge as an element of rape does not require full penetration of the male organ to the female organ. Since the CA upheld his conviction, Agao brought his case to the High Court.

When is rape committed?

In its ruling, the SC said the “mere introduction, however slight” to the cleft of the labia majora by a penis “that is capable of penetration, regardless of whether such penile penetration is thereafter fully achieved, consummates the crime of rape.” United States’ National Library of medicine defines labia majora as part of the female organ that forms the folds that cover labia minora, clitoris, among others.

The High Court also clarified that the “mere touch” of penis into the labiar majora means the slightest penetration of the vulval or pudendal cleft “however minimum in degree,” and not mere surface touch or skin contact.

“The Court stressed that such clarification is necessary, as  otherwise any nature and degree of touch of a penis of the female genitalia can be considered consummated rape, effectively resulting in all sexual assaults involving a penis and the vulva to only either be acts of lasciviousness or consummated rape, with no gradation of the attempted stage in between,” the SC briefer read.

To better explain the operative definition of rape, the SC provided a brief description and illustrations of the external parts of the female reproductive organ. It also included “a clear indication of the situs of the pertinent parts, in order to categorically delineate for the bench and the bar which physical threshold, when crossed, constitutes rape in the consummated stage.”

When applied to Agao’s case, the SC found that the Agao’s erect penis that touched the daughter’s vulval cleft “categorically shows” the minimum penile-vaginal contact between the male organ and the vulval cleft needed to prove that rape was present. But, the High Court ruled that Agao should only be convicted of one charge of statutory rape, where the crime was committed when the victim was only 10 years old.

Since the other crime was committed when the victim was 13 years old, the other charge against Agao should be reduced to simple rape, the High Court said.

In landmark ruling, Supreme Court clarifies when rape is committed
Why the need to clarify?

The High Court explained that the “lack of clarification” has resulted in some cases where the perpetrator was only convicted of attempted rape despite clear testimonies from child victims.

This was “precisely” because of the absence of clear operative definition of penile penetration that is considered rape “especially in cases of younger victims, in view of the physical natural resistance of their underdeveloped anatomy.”

In its ruling, the SC added that the use of “euphemistic but largely inaccurate descriptions” have only made the matters surrounding rape too complicated, when they should have been unambiguous and definitive. The High Court also noted that in order to refine the current jurisprudence on rape, the “euphemistic shrouds” should be peeled away.”

For victims in pre-puberty stage, “the genital contact threshold for a finding of consummated rape through penile penetration is deemed already met once the entirety of the  prosecution evidence establishes a clear physical indication of the inevitability of the minimum genital contact threshold,” the High Court clarified. –

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.