SC acquits 2 men of rape charges

MANILA — The Supreme Court (SC) acquitted two persons who were convicted of rape in Davao in 2012.

In a 20-page decision dated Jan. 17, penned by Associate Justice Samuel Martires, the SC’s Third Division reversed the guilty verdict issued by the Davao Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 11 against Juvy Amarela and Junard Racho on charges of rape that 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 affirmed by the Court of Appeals in 2016.

Records of the case showed that the victim was watching a beauty pageant in Maligatong, Baguio District, Calinan, Davao City when she felt the need to go to the restroom. On her way, she said Amarela punched and pulled her under a makeshift stage where she was raped.

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

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

The Third Division said it found circumstances that cast doubt on the credibility of the victim’s testimony, including the gaps in her testimony, differences between her affidavit-complaint and court testimony, her supposed inability to identify 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 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 that results of medical examination on 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 high court added.

The Third Division added that the prosecution “miserably failed to present a clear story of what transpired and that whether the victim’s story is true or not”. It said that by seeking relief for an alleged crime, the prosecution must do its part to convince the court that the accused is guilty of the crime charged.

This, it added, left them no recourse but to reverse the findings of the trial and appellate courts.

“But here, we cannot ascertain what happened based on the lone testimony of the victim. It should have been the prosecution’s duty to properly evaluate the evidence if it had enough to convict Amarela or Racho,” the ruling said.
In setting aside Amarela and Racho’s conviction, the court held that the doctrine has put the accused in rape cases at an unfair disadvantage and creates a “travesty of justice”.

The “women’s honor” doctrine surfaced in the court’s jurisprudence sometime in 1960 in the case of People v. Tana.
In the case, the SC 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.

The new SC ruling said the doctrine is no longer applicable today and that the court cannot “simply 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.

“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.

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

Concurring with the ruling were Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Lucas Bersamin, Marvic Leonen, and Alexander Gesmundo.