SC: 'Maria Clara' doctrine alone not sufficient for rape conviction

Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 20 2018 09:57 PM | Updated as of Feb 21 2018 06:26 AM

Gone were the days when a rape victim's testimony is sufficient to convict the alleged rapist, solely because of the belief that a typical Filipina, a "Maria Clara," would not testify that she had been raped if it did not actually happen.

The Supreme Court (SC), in a decision on January 17 penned by Associate Justice Samuel Martires, acquitted two men previously convicted of rape by a trial court, and affirmed by the appellate court, because the testimony of alleged victim, alias "AAA," a housemaid, proved incredible.

The so-called ‘Maria Clara’ or “women’s honor” doctrine became part of Philippine jurisprudence in the 1960’s in the case involving the conviction of three armed robbers who toork turns raping Herminigilda Domingo.

The high court then "hinged on the impression that no young Filipina of decent repute would publicly admit that she has been sexually abused, unless that is the truth, for it is her natural instinct to protect her honor."

In the recent case involving an appeal by Juvy D. Amarela and Junard G. Racho, where the two allegedly raped "AAA" in two separate instances, one after the other, in Davao City in February 2009, the high court said "today, we simply cannot be stuck to the Maria Clara stereotype of a demure and reserved Filipino woman" so as to "evaluate the testimony of a private complainant of rape without gender bias or cultural misconception."

The high court explained that the times have changed, and with it the Filipina. 

"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. 

"It is important to weed out these unnecessary notions because an accused may be convicted solely on the testimony of the victim, provided of course, that the testimony is credible, natural, convincing, and consistent with human nature and the normal course of things," the high court said in its decision, as it stressed that for a conviction of rape to rise, the victim's narration and testimony must be believable beyond reasonable doubt," the SC said.

VICTIM'S TESTIMONY NOT CREDIBLE

In the case of "AAA," the high court ruled that her testimony cast a doubt on its very credibility and she was not telling the truth in her narration. The following circumstances were pointed out in the decision: (1) AAA's version of the story in her complaint-affidavit differed materially from her testimony in court; (2) "AAA" could not have easily identified Amarela because the crime scene was dark and she only saw him for the first time; (3) her testimony lacked material details on how she was brought under the stage against her will; and (4) the medical findings did not corroborate physical injuries and are inconclusive of any signs of forced entry. 

AAA's complaint-affidavit indicated that Amarela pulled her away from the beauty contest stage to the daycare center, where the rape occurred. However, in court, "AAA" testified that Amarela grabbed her when she was on the way to the comfort room.

"[T]he version in AAA's affidavit-complaint is remotely different from her court testimony. At the first instance, AAA claims that she was pulled away from the vicinity of the stage; later, in court, she says that she was on her way to the restroom when she was grabbed. By this alone, we are hesitant to believe AAA's retraction because it goes into whether it was even possible for Amarela to abduct AAA against her will," the SC said.

As for Racho, the high court said that "[s]ince we doubt AAA's account on how she was raped by Amarela, we have to consider her testimony against Racho under the same light."

Racho was instructed by his mother to accompany "AAA," after the supposed rape by Amarela, to her aunt's house against his will. "AAA" alleged that instead of performing the task, Racho took her to a shanty and raped her. 

The high court said it was inclined to believe Racho's narration that he and "AAA" parted ways when she insisted she wanted to go home instead of going to her aunt's house, since her home was in another town.

"To begin with, Racho did not even want to bring 'AAA' to her aunt's house nearby. If he had the intention to have sex with 'AAA,' Racho would not have declined her mother's instruction. His reason for leaving 'AAA' to go home alone is supported by the fact that he was able to immediately come home right after he left with 'AAA,'" the SC said.

Further, the high court noted that 'AAA's' lacerations were only at the 9 o'clock and 3 o'clock positions of the hymen, and not in various directions which could have established non-consensual sex, according to studies. 

"Considering the locality of these lacerations ('AAA's' case), we cannot completely rule out the probability that 'AAA' voluntarily had sex that night. Moreover, the absence o f bruises on AAA's thighs - when she said she was punched there twice-reinforces the theory that 'AAA' may have had consensual intercourse," the SC said.

Rape is essentially a crime committed through force or intimidation, against the victim's will, the high court stressed. 

The high court pointed out that it was the prosecution's duty to properly evaluate the evidence against Amarela or Racho, and what actually happened could not be ascertained based on the testimony alone of "AAA."