SC sets aside ‘woman’s honor’ doctrine in resolving rape cases

A DIVISION of the Supreme Court (SC) has issued a ruling that set aside the 58-year-old “woman’s honor” doctrine in resolving rape cases.

In a 20-page decision issued on January 17, 2017, and penned by Associate Justice Samuel Martires, the Court’s Third Division held that the doctrine which suggests 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” is a “misconception” in this present time.

The Court, in the said ruling, reversed the guilty verdict issued by a Davao court in 2012 against Juvy Amarela and Junard Racho in a rape that supposedly took place in 2009.

The two were earlier meted to suffer reclusion perpetua, or up to 40 years imprisonment, by  the trial court with the decision also being affirmed by the Court of Appeals in 2016.

In setting aside Amarela and Racho’s conviction, the Court held that the doctrine has put accused in rape cases at an unfair disadvantage and creates a “travesty of justice.”

The woman’s honor doctrine surfaced in the Court’s jurisprudence sometime in 1960 in the case of People v. Tana.

In the said case the Court affirmed the conviction of three armed robbers who took turns raping a woman.

The Court, speaking through Justice Alejo Labrador, said: “It is a well-known fact that women, especially Filipinos, would not admit that they have been abused unless that abuse had actually happened.”

It added that it is due to women’s natural instinct to protect their honor.

But the new SC ruling said the doctrine is no longer applicable today and that the Court cannot be stuck to the “Maria Clara” stereotype of a demure and reserved Filipina.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 High Court stated.

“We, should stay away from such mind-set 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,” the Court added.

The SC said 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.

In the case of Amarela and Racho, the Court said the prosecution “miserably failed to present a clear story of what transpired and that whether the victim’s story is true or not.

The Third Division said it found circumstances that cast doubt 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 ark 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,” the SC declared.


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