Rape and the
By Gina Mission
She is Karen Vertido, 42,
married, mother of two kids, and, until her rape on March 29, 1996, a successful career
woman. Being raped, she said bitterly between sighs of fury before a group of women
advocates, was not a choice. She was forced to it. And even if she was the victim, she got
the raw part of the deal. Between her and her rapist, she is the "bad" person,
the "whore", the "adulteress", the "extortionist", as the
media in her own hometown of Davao have called her. In the words of French feminist Simone
de Beauvoir, between her and her rapist, Karen is the "othered" woman.
It was Beauvoir who first
discussed the concept of "other" in relation to women. In her book, The
Second Sex, she talked about how, other than those that are so blessed by man,
everything else fades to insignificance. This, Beauvoir wrote, is indicated in the common
use of "man" to designate human beings in general. "You think thus and so
because you are a woman," is a classic manifestation of this "othering"
process according to the feminist.
Such statement, Beauvoir
continued, leaves the woman in a defensive mode and say: "I think thus and so because
it is true." While seemingly logical, such declaration, she argued, removes the
subjective self of the woman from the argument. She has to go beyond just being a woman,
to assert herself. On the contrary, the author added, it is totally out of question to
reply: "And you think the contrary because you are a man," for it is understood
that the fact of being a man is no peculiarity. He is it; the woman is the
humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him
defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is
the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is he
Absolute she is the Other," Beauvoir wrote.
This concept of women as
the "other" operates at different levels in Philippine law. Or so Atty. Evalyn
Ursua, executive director of the Womens Legal Bureau, said in her keynote address, The
"Othering Process" in the Legal Profession: Implications on Womens Rights
Advocacy. She delivered her speech at the recent weeklong First Alternative Law
Conference: Lawyering for Public Interest held at the College of Law of the University
of the Philippines, Diliman campus.
in Philippine law, Ursua said, manifests in at least four ways: in the construction or
definition of legal rules according to the generic male standard; in women being
considered as the deviation from the norm and thus have subordinate rights or status; in
the construction of women and their sexuality from the male point of view; and in the
trivialization in law of womens concerns, issues and activities.
"The authority in
law is male whether the character be of a male lawyer, a male judge, a male
legislator, or a male litigant," Ursua said.
For instance, only four
of the 24 senators are, and 25 of the 206 congressional seats, are women. Women comprise
only roughly 18 per cent of the total judges and justices in the entire judiciary. In the
Supreme Court, only two of the 15 justices are women. As of February 1999, no woman sits
in the Sharia District Court and Sharia Circuit Court.
With this composition, it
is not surprising then, Ursua concluded, that mens values and ideas dominate legal
discourse. "Their court decisions and legal commentaries define legal theory. All the
erroneous assumptions about women in law are male assumptions about women. Their
priorities define the legislative agenda," said Ursua.
In the case of People
vs. Novales, (102 SCRA 86) for instance, a woman was abducted by three strangers who
poked a bladed weapon at her nape, hustled her into the back of a waiting Mercedes Benz,
and took her to a house where she saw two other men believed to be a servant and a
friend of the owner of the house. Her abductors raped her in succession. But a male
justice, Ramon Fernandez, ruled that that the failure of the rape victim to escape from or
plead with her rapists could only mean that she gave her full consent, and that she
Another male justice,
former Chief Justice Enrique Fernando, ruled in the case of People vs. Agripa (130
SCRA 185) that "the crime of rape is not presumed. Consent and not physical force is
the common origin of the acts between man and woman."
Yet another male justice,
Joshue Bellosillo, in what Ursua considered as "the most sexist statements in recent
jurisprudence coming from the Philippine Supreme Court," in 1997, opined in the case
of People vs. Salarza (277 SCRA 578), without even citing data, that:
"Experience has shown that unfounded charges of rape have frequently been proffered
by women actuated by some sinister, or ulterior, or undisclosed motive."
Given such male
orientation of the countrys legal system, it is not surprising then, that Beauvoir
had to talk what she was talking about, and Vertido had to bear truth to her words in the
process of living through the consequences of having been raped. And living to tell about
Vertido was the executive
director of the Davao Chamber of Commerce (DCC), which won the "Most Outstanding
Chamber of Commerce" under her leadership in 1995. In March the following year, Jose
Custodio, a very wealthy and politically influential man in Davao, who also happened to be
the past president of DCC, raped her.
It has been three years
and eight months since the rape, and Vertido has come to realize that legally, it would
have been a lot easier to prove her case if she had been killed that night.
In her speech, Ursua
talked of the classic rape victim doctrine in law: the
"young-innocent-unfamiliar-with- the-ways-of-the-world-probinsyana," and the
like-death-and-cry-all-the-time-after-the-rape" victim. In jest, Ursua said that
all law students know these doctrines by heart while the practicing lawyers cite these all
Speaking before the
forum, however, Vertido defies all imaginable stereotypes of what a rape victim should be,
including the legal doctrines Ursua mentioned. Articulate, well-educated, and strong, she
narrated her ordeal to the audience, during and after the commission of the crime.
"As if the initial
act of rape were not enough devastation, I was subjected to public ridicule, humiliation,
psychological lynching. There was a lot of skepticism and incredulity about my charges of
rape that led a lot of people to say all sorts of slander and calumny about me," she
When she returned to
work, the environment that seemed so much a part of her before suddenly became hostile.
Within a month, she was asked to resign. But even before that, a man had been hired to
replace her, with a starting salary offer double than hers.
"Why was that?"
she asked. "Again, the answer falls back on my otherness," she
"I could not have
been raped because I was not the shrinking violet, the mahinhin lass, the Olive
whod cry, Help Popeye, help! at every turn," she said between
suppressed tears and sarcastic undertone.
It didnt help that
Custodios three lawyers were all men. The hearings, Vertido said, generally last for
about six hours each day, and on the average, for three consecutive days each week.
"I was grilled for
five hearing dates, by three men on the defense, one after the other in cross-examination.
As if that were not enough, I was recalled to the torture throne to withstand another
six-hour day as a hostile witness during the presentation of the defense," she
Adding insult to injury,
according to Vertido, is the Davao media who were very hostile to her. "There is
something so perversely satisfying for some people to kick a dog when it has gone
down," she said in analogy. "It seemed that journalists and broadcasters forgot
about impartiality and objectivity when reporting. I was called a whore, an adulteress,
and an extortionist in one breath."
With all her brains,
Vertido didnt really have to go through all these. She didnt have to suffer
while Custodio is out on bail, free, and unmuddled, unridiculed. But she had to, because
she desired to see a world that is more accommodating to the other.
"For the sake of my
daughter and yours, and their daughters," she said. "To me this is not an ideal
situation with standards that can be scaled down with negotiations. It is a prerequisite
to any kind of development that must be attained for survival. This is not
negotiable," Vertido declared, the "othered" woman.