By Rey Panaligan
The Supreme Court (SC) in effect, abandoned its 58-year-old “women’s honor” doctrine in rape cases which states that a woman who is a victim of sexual abuse would not admit she had been abused, unless the incident is true, out of a “natural instinct to protect her honor.”
In a decision issued last month, the SC ruled that the “women’s honor” doctrine has put the accused in rape cases at an unfair disadvantage and creates a “travesty of justice.”
The SC said that doctrine handed down in 1958 is a “misconception” at this present time as it acquitted two men whose conviction for rape by the trial court in 2012 had been affirmed by the Court of Appeals (CA) in 2016.
Acquitted by the Supreme Court , in a decision written by Justice Samuel Martires, were Juvy Amarela and Junard Racho for an alleged rape in 2009.
The “women’s honor” doctrine was handed down in 1960 in the case of three armed robbers who took turns in raping a woman.
In that 1960 decision, the SC ruled: “It is a well-known fact that women, especially Filipinos, would not admit that they have been abused unless that abuse had actually happened” due to the women’s natural instinct to protect their honor.
But the SC, in the Martires decision handed down last month, said that that doctrine is no longer applicable today and that the High Court cannot be stuck to the “Maria Clara” stereotype of a demure and reserved Filipina.
“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,” the SC said.
“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. In this way, we can evaluate the testimony of a private complainant of rape without gender bias or cultural misconception,” it said.
The SC pointed out that for the court to affirm a conviction of rape it should be based on credible, natural, convincing testimony of the victim which should also be consistent with human nature and not merely rely on the “women’s honor” doctrine.
Amarela and Racho had been sentenced to a prison term of up to 40 years by the Davao City regional trial court (RTC). On appeal, the CA affirmed their conviction. They elevated the case to the SC.
In acquitting them, the SC said that the prosecution miserably failed to present a clear story of what transpired and that whether the victim’s story is true or not.
The SC said:
“Her claim that she was forcibly brought under a makeshift stage, stripped naked and then raped seems unrealistic and beyond human experience.”
“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.”
The alleged rape victim claimed she was watching a beauty pageant in Calinan, Davao City. She alleged that when she went the restroom, Amarela suddenly punched and pulled her under a makeshift stage where she was raped.
She claimed she was able to flee when three men came. Later she hid in Racho’s house. She alleged that Racho also raped her.
The SC pointed out doubts on the credibility of the testimony of the victim, including the gaps in her testimony, differences between her affidavit-complaint and court testimony, a supposed inability for her to have identified one of her assailants because the crime scene was dark and she allegedly saw him for the first time, a lack of material details on some events in the alleged rape incident, to medico-legal findings that raised questions on whether she had consented to sex after all.
“Although we put a premium on the factual findings of the trial court, especially when they are affirmed by the appellate court, this rule is not absolute and admits exceptions, such as when some facts or circumstances of weight and substance have been overlooked, misapprehended, and misinterpreted,” it said.