No more Maria Claras? Supreme Court clears 2 men in rape case

Edu Punay - The Philippine Star
No more Maria Claras? Supreme Court clears 2 men in rape case

The Supreme Court (SC) made this observation as it recently acquitted two men accused of raping a woman in Davao City in February 2009. 

Michael de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines — No more Maria Clara stereotype.

The Supreme Court (SC) made this observation as it recently acquitted two men accused of raping a woman in Davao City in February 2009.

“Today, we simply cannot be stuck to the Maria Clara stereotype of a demure and reserved Filipino woman. 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,” read the decision of the Third Division of the high court.

“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,” read the 20-page ruling penned by Associate Justice Samuel Martires.

This latest ruling was viewed by court observers as an abandonment of the “women’s honor” doctrine, established by the SC in the 1960 rape case of Herminigilda Domingo. 

“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. However, this misconception, particularly in this day and age, not only puts the accused at an unfair disadvantage, but creates a travesty of justice,” the SC held.

The SC division reversed and set aside the conviction of the two accused by the Davao City regional trial court in June 2012 in the separate rape cases, which was upheld by the Court of Appeals in February 2016.

It cleared the accused, Juvy Amarela and Junard Racho, and ordered their immediate release from jail due to failure of the prosecution to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt and also due to doubts on the testimony of the complainant.

“The prosecution in this case miserably failed to present a clear story of what transpired... (Here) we cannot ascertain what happened based on the lone testimony of (victim). It should have been the prosecution’s duty to properly evaluate the evidence if it had enough to convict Amarela and Racho,” read the ruling.

The high tribunal found inconsistencies in the complainant’s testimony, particularly the gaps in her narration, differences between her affidavit-complaint and court testimony, her supposed inability 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 and the medico-legal findings that raised questions on whether she had consented to sex after all.

“Her claim that she was forcibly brought under a makeshift stage, stripped naked and then raped seems unrealistic and beyond human experience,” the ruling said, adding the medical examination of the victim also failed to indicate any physical injuries consistent with being raped by the two accused.

Though the high court clarified that medico-legal findings are not controlling, it cited studies showing the “most common laceration sites” for rape victims.

“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 SC added.

Records of the case showed that the victim was watching a beauty pageant in Calinan, Davao City. She claimed that when she went to the restroom, Amarela suddenly punched and pulled her under a makeshift stage and raped her.

She said Amarela only stopped and then fled when three men came, adding that the men then took her to a hut but she was able to escape and hid in a neighboring house and then went to Racho’s house.

Racho’s mother Neneng asked her son to take the victim to her aunt. But Racho took her to a nearby shanty where she was punched and raped again. 

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