Oh, Cristina

Sylvia Estrada Claudio
Many times, despite what their wives may hope, the abusive person can be both a womanizer, a fascist and a thief

Cristina Ponce Enrile claims that her husband is not a thief, merely a womanizer. As someone who has given free counseling services to women victims of violence for the last 25 years, I add another term into the mix: abuser. Abuser, as defined by the Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act or Republic Act No. 9262. 

But first, a disclaimer. Cristina Ponce Enrile has never been my patient. No one in her family, nuclear or extended, has been. If she had been, I would not be writing about this. Most people are aware of psychologist-patient confidentiality. My observations are based solely on media reports.

Her high-profile interview compels me to speak out. Cristina Ponce Enrile may give the impression that serial womanizing is morally better than plunder. As a woman’s rights advocate I disagree. It is another one of those judgments that require gender sensitivity. If we were to take into consideration the hurts and aspirations of women, then we should rank hurting someone you love with such callousness as equal in evil as plunder.

In any case, what Cristina’s husband has done falls under Section 3,C of RA 9262 that defines psychological abuse as: “’Psychological violence’ refers to acts or omissions causing or likely to cause mental or emotional suffering of the victim such as but not limited to intimidation, harassment, stalking, damage to property, public ridicule or humiliation, repeated verbal abuse and mental infidelity.”

Love and vulnerability 

When I started counseling, I thought infidelity was not a big deal compared to the other forms of abuse. Physical violence is the form often highlighted when we talk of partner abuse and it can be quite horrendous. It is also the most common form of abuse that leads to death or severe disability. Physical abuse is, of course, also psychological abuse. 

But I have also seen pure psychological abuse and the most common form of this is womanizing. Even a single affair usually causes great mental anguish. There are very few people in our lives to whom we give the privilege of being able to devastate us with their actions. Our partners are one of the privileged few. Gender relations being what they are, women in heterosexual relationships are far more honorable in this matter than men. They are less likely to willfully behave as to crush those hearts which are given into their hands to hold.

Don’t get me wrong. I have saved a couple of marriages where one party made a mistake and had an affair. I am not so incompetent as to think that good people are not capable of making really bad mistakes. One of the greatest gifts given to a counselor is to see the infinite capacity of human beings for recompense and redemption. This is a different situation because even if the psychological hurt is the same at the start, the process towards resolution (whether separation or rebuilding) is very different and abuse is not the final diagnosis. In this case healing is still difficult but it starts with the unfaithful person owning up to it, being truthful about it, and bearing with the long and difficult road the aggrieved one must go through in order to regain trust.

According to Cristina, her husband had his first affair six months after she gave birth to their first child. For good persons, the birth of your child reinforces lessons learned about protection and vulnerability. A child given into one’s care makes a person realize that absolute and mutual vulnerability is one of the greatest of life’s gifts. It reinforces the fact that such a gift demands that all privilege be given up and that power be used to nurture and protect the other. Mutual vulnerability is also only possible when there is an equal right to protection for both parties. This is one feminist definition of love. How I wish that these standards drive what is considered romantic. 

When infidelity becomes abuse

But the serial abuser never intends to be faithful. He (or she, but mostly it’s he) has no compunction at all about crushing the heart of someone he has sworn to protect. 

For Juan Ponce Enrile, it is not merely that the infidelity started at a time when a moral man would find it incomprehensible. It is also that it was done so repeatedly and so brazenly. Typical of the abusive personality he has also repeatedly denied that the abuse is occurring, blaming the victim  (he claims these accusations are products of Cristina’s extreme jealousy) and denying the consequences of this abuse. Typically, too, the abuser must have absolute control over his victim. Control is, after all, the bully’s response to vulnerability. A coward’s response. Thus, Johnny would not allow Cristina a way out. As she said, she stopped divorce proceedings because he was only going to give her a divorce over his dead body. 

Indeed Cristina’s failed attempts to end the violence is also typical of women in abusive relationships. They fight, they return; they fly, they return. I take her tell-all interview as yet another sign of her continuing attempt to find peace. I can attest to the fact that it is women of the upper class who are most burdened with the need to keep silent in order to protect reputations and social standing. I commend her and condemn anyone who would give her anything but admiration for what she has done.

I know, I know. She is not completely innocent. But the victim of abuse is hardly ever a saint. Sadly, women often lose in court because many judges demand that women meet certain standards of purity before they can find men guilty of abusing them. 

But I do have a piece of advice. I think Cristina should stop hitting Gigi Reyes and instead hold Juan Ponce Enrile accountable. I do not believe, as Cristina says, that all the 38 women threw themselves at Johnny. From my clinical experience, and knowing his record during martial law, I can’t even be sure the 38 all started as consensual, although I am certain some did. I do not find Gigi innocent either, but it is not she who is primarily responsible to Cristina in this matter. (READ: The boss and Gigi Reyes)

My clinical experience tells me that abuse tends to come in complexes. The serial womanizer is also likely to be abusive in other ways. I am burdened by the ethical caveat that keeps counselors from naming the perpetrators of intimate violence. If we could only speak, we could alert society to the predators among us long before they are able to implement martial law or steal their PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund). 

Many times, despite what their wives may hope, the abusive person can be both a womanizer, a fascist and a thief. – Rappler.com

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