SC: It takes courage for women to testify against men who abuse them

Lian Buan

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SC: It takes courage for women to testify against men who abuse them

LeAnne Jazul

High Court says that 'lustful acts of men are often veiled in either the power of coercive threat or the inconvenience inherent in patriarchy as a culture’

MANILA, Philippines – In increasing the jail time of a convicted child abuser, the Supreme Court (SC) also took the chance to clarify the woman’s honor doctrine, more popularly called the “Maria Clara doctrine”. This entails taking into consideration a patriarchal culture when deciding cases of abuse and rape against women.

In affirming the conviction for child abuse, the SC Third Division applied to an extent the woman’s honor doctrine, which presumes an abused or raped woman credible because “women, especially Filipinos, would not admit that they have been abused unless that abuse had actually happened.”

“In many instances, it does take courage for girls or women to come forward and testify against the boys or men in their lives who, perhaps due to cultural roles, dominate them,” according to the SC Third Division decision penned by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen.

It is a clarification of a past decision which Leonen also concurred with.

Culture of patriarchy

In February this year, the SC Third Division acquitted two men who were accused of raping one woman on the same day for finding the woman’s story too unbelievable.

The SC decision did not apply in that case the woman’s honor doctrine.

Associate Justice Samuel Martires wrote the ponencia, which said “we simply cannot be stuck to the Maria Clara stereotype of a demure and reserved Filipino woman.”

In this new case, the Third Division affirmed the lower courts’ child abuse conviction of a 19-year-old man who “mashed the breasts and inserted his finger into the vagina” of a 12-year-old girl.

Leonen said that the Martires ponencia was correct in saying that Filipino women must not be generalized as being all demure.

“[The girl] was no Maria Clara. Not being the fictitious and generalized demure girl, it does not make her testimony less credible especially when supported by the other pieces of evidence presented in this case,” the decision said.

But Leonen clarified that even though women must not be stereotyped, the Court must continue to acknowledge that patriarchy exists, and be “sensitive to the power relations that come clothed in gender roles.”  (READ: That thingy called rape culture)

“Courts must continue to acknowledge that the dastardly illicit and lustful acts of men are often veiled in either the power of coercive threat or the inconvenience inherent in patriarchy as a culture,” Leonen said in his ponencia.

Facts of the case 

The abuse happened in 1998, when the 12-year-old girl said she was cornered by 19-year-old Pedro Perez in the kitchen of a common friend’s house.

“After drinking [water], Perez “kissed her on the nape and simultaneously told her to keep silent.” Then, Perez slid his finger in her vagina while mashing her breasts,” court records said. (READ: #BeenRapedNeverReported: Rape victims speak up online)

“Because she was very afraid, she failed to fight back. Perez succeeded in his sexual advances, which lasted for around ten seconds. He then told her not to tell anybody about what happened,” the records said.

The girl told another friend about the incident, which reached her parents, and an action was taken immediately after. A medico-legal officer testified that there were lacerations on the girl’s vagina, but that the lacerations could have also been a result of a consensual act.

Perez’s defense included the following:

  1. The girl told him she was 16 years old, and had expressed her interest in him
  2. The girl’s story was “not in line with common human experience” since the girl was wearing tight cycling shorts, and therefore it would have taken time to insert his fingers into her vagina
  3. Many people were inside the house when the incident happened, therefore “it is impossible that nobody noticed what was happening”
  4. If indeed the incident happened, he was only guilty of lascivious act and not child abuse

The SC dismissed all this, saying the cycling shorts would not have prevented a man of his built to exert power over a girl to make sure he accomplished what he wanted to do.

On the argument that the girl did not resist, the SC cited past rulings which recognize that people react differently to similar situations, therefore “there is no standard form of human behavioural response when one is confronted with a startling or frightful experience.”

The SC also did not give merit to the excuse that there were many people in the house at the time, saying that in other cases, the rapist abused the victim even though another person was lying next to them.

“This Court cannot emphasize enough that lust is no respecter of time and place,” the SC said.

The Court said that because Perez could not present a witness to say that the incident did not happen, “positive identification [of the victim] prevails over denial and alibi.”

The SC affirmed the conviction under Republic Act No. 7610 or the Special Protection of Children Against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act, and increased the penalty from jail time of 8-14 years to 14-17 years.

Third Division members Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr, Lucas Bersamin, Samuel Martires, and Alexander Gesmundo concurred with Leonen.–

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.