Gabriela dismayed by court?s junking of sexual harassment case

In a press statement dated August 3, Gabriela noted that after a five-year court battle, the court, through Judge Antonio Laolao of MTCC Branch 6, acquitted Prof. Melvin Mende of the University of Southeastern Philippines (USeP) of the crime of sexual harassment against Dr. Jelieta Ruca in a decision dated June 21, 2006 but released only last week.This, even as USEP's Committee on Decorum and Investigation (CODI), which handled the Ruca vs. Mende Administrative Case, in a decision dated June 29, 2006, declared Prof. Mende guilty of sexual harassment and recommended his dismissal from service, Gabriela noted.

“The Committee took into consideration the general assumption that no woman in her right mind would expose herself to humiliation if her allegations are not true,” Gabriela quoted the CODI decision as saying.

Gabriela hailed the CODI decision as “one of the rare situations where women are listened to and their courage to report similar incidents are encouraged and determination to fight the battle is sustained.”

Mende was Ruca's thesis adviser while completing her Masters degree at USEP in 2001. Ruca graduated from her doctoral studies this year and has been writing “Tingog Mandaya” (Voice of the Mandaya) for MindaNews.

Mende was slapped with both criminal and administrative cases for allegedly sexually harassing the latter on November 6, 2001.

“What we in Gabriela find objectionable and enraging is the logic employed by the court in coming up with the decision. Stripped of its technical and legalistic verbiage, the 13-page document glaringly reeks of anti-women bias,” it said.

Gabriela pointed to two major assumptions “that evidently clinched the court’s decision.”

The decision said, “Indisputably, a woman will instinctively do every action she can to repel, resist or stop any unlawful attack by any man against her womanhood.”

The decision added that allegations that “Mende suddenly approached her, kissed her lips and fondled her breast are grossly contrary to the natural and ordinary human behavior, to the natural and ordinary course of things and to the common human knowledge, observation and experience which erodes belief on such claim.”

Gabriela said years of studies on and experience with women survivors of violence “have debunked this line of reasoning as fallacious and quite outdated. Conditions such as the post-traumatic syndrome and the battered-woman syndrome are medically recognized phenomena that explain victims' lack or absence of resistance against ‘attacks on their womanhood.’”

It added that the court’s “skewed logic” presupposed that Ruca's “absence of ‘instinctive’ action bolstered the theory that she fabricated her harassment claims or, conversely, that she welcomed the sexual advances. Apparently, it only succeeded in passing the blame on the victim.”

“We absolutely agree that sexual harassment, by any standard, is contrary to acceptable human behavior. But it happens. It happens at most unlikely times and places. And done even by people least expected to commit it. In the case of Dr. Ruca: by her masters’ thesis adviser; inside the university graduate studies office; around 6 in the evening. What is so incredible with this set-up that it ‘eroded the court's belief on such claim?’”

“It is precisely the obvious gender power and authority relations between the two that give more credence to the harassment case. Dr. Ruca was at that time technically under the authority of her adviser, who is supposed to recommend whether she could push through or not with her thesis defense. Instead of exploring this substantive angle of the case, the court has contented itself with nitpicking on the definition of authority from the Webster International Dictionary. The court in effect tried to demolish the element of moral ascendancy, which is one of the case's bases,” Gabriela said.

“The sexual offense committed against Dr. Ruca is definitely unwanted and has led her to a state of emotional distress. With faith in the legal system still intact, she sought relief only to reach rejection with the acquittal of the perpetrator. Hers is no different from those of other women-victims of violence whose cases drag on or are gathering dust in court dockets all over the country. Yet hundreds more of cases remain unreported and undocumented as women continually contend with stigma and the prospect of expensive court battles.  It comes as no surprise therefore that women are increasingly losing their belief in the Philippine justice system,” Gabriela said. (MinadNews)