Senator Pia says Senate will heed UN Committee's ruling on Karen Vertido rape case

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/31 October) —  The Senate will heed the United Nations’ committee ruling that held the Philippine government accountable for the controversial dismissal by a local court of the Karen Vertido rape case five years ago, Senator Pia Cayetano said.

In a press statement, Cayetano said the Senate Committee on Youth, Women and Family Relations which she chairs, “will seriously take into consideration” the recommendations of the UN Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which criticized in a resolution the “gender-based myths and stereotypes” used by a Davao City court when it dismissed in 2005 the high-profile rape case filed by Vertido against a prominent local businessman.

“This issue falls within the ambit of laws that discriminate against women which are currently under review by the Senate Committee on Youth, Women and Family Relations. The recommendations of the UN body will assist our committee in reviewing and drafting measures to remove provisions in our laws that are gender-biased,” she said.

“Although the 1997 Anti-Rape Law already provides a broad definition of the crime of rape, there is still room for improvement to further protect women against discrimination and to make our laws in line with CEDAW principles, she said.

Vertido, then executive director of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce, Inc. accused businessman and past chamber president Jose B. Custodio of  raping her on March 29, 1996.

Vertido sued Custodio who was locked up in the Ma-a City Jail in Davao City until his acquittal in April 2005 in a decision by Judge Virginia Europa.

Europa said the evidence presented by the prosecution, particularly the testimony of Vertido, “leaves too many doubts in the mind of the court to achieve the moral certainty necessary to merit a conviction.”

Vertido wrote the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on November 29, 2007, claiming she suffered “revictimization” after she was raped in that acquitting Custodio, among others, was also evidence of the failure of the Philippine government  to exercise due diligence in punishing acts of violence against women, in particular, rape, and that the decision was grounded in gender-based myths and misconceptions about rape and rape victims, and that it was rendered in bad faith, without basis in law or in fact.

Vertido said the decision “was grounded in gender-based myths and misconceptions about rape and rape victims in violation of article 5 (a) of the Convention, which requires States parties ‘to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women.'”

She said the Court relied on the gender-based myths and stereotypes, “without which the accused would have been convicted.”

Vertido listed seven myths and stereotypes about rape that the court relied on:

First, that a rape victim must try to escape at every opportunity; Second, to be raped by means of intimidation, the victim must be timid or easily cowed; Third, to conclude that a rape occurred by means of threat, there must be clear evidence of a direct threat; Fourth, the fact that the accused and the victim are “more than nodding acquaintances” makes the sex consensual; Fifth,  when a rape victim reacts to the assault by resisting the attack and also by cowering in submission because of fear, it is problematic.

The sixth myth about rape, according toVertido is that “the rape victim could not have resisted the sexual attack if the accused were able to proceed to ejaculation” while the seventh myth is “is unbelievable that a man in his sixties would be capable of rape.”

The UN Committee declared her complaint admissible on July 28, 2009, sent the Philippine government a copy on September 3, requesting it to submit a written explanation on the matter by October 31, 2009.

No reply was made, prompting the UN Committee to send a reminder on  January 15, 2010, inviting it to submit additional comments not later than February 28, 2010.

The Philippines submitted its comments on July 1, 2010  ”in  which it reiterated its previous observation, that the (Vertido) still had a recourse in certiorari available.”

The UN Committee on September 1, 2010, noted that regarding Vertido’s contention that the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Philippines Rape Law is a “collection of contradictions”, the Philippines “party observed that the fact that the Supreme Court decisions vary from one case to another only proves that the Court carefully examines situations on a case-by-case basis, by appreciating available evidence, and in the light of specific scenarios and individual behaviour.”

It added that “such individualized and subjective appraisal by the Courts is consistent with the principle of the presumption of innocence. The State party contends that embracing the contentions of the author would result in a conviction of even innocent persons accused of rape. Finally, the State party noted that it would consider developing trainings on gender responsiveness for the judiciary.”

The UN Committee said it recognizes that Vertido “has suffered moral and social damage and prejudices, in particular by the excessive duration of the trial proceedings and by the revictimization through the stereotypes and gender-based myths relied upon in the judgement. The author has also suffered pecuniary damages due to the loss of her job.”

The committee recommended to the Philippine government to “provide appropriate compensation commensurate with the gravity of the violations of  (Vertido’s) rgiths.”

In general, it asked the government to “take effective measures to ensure that court proceedings involving rape allegations are pursued without undue delay;” to “ensure that all legal procedures in cases involving crimes of rape and other sexual offenses are impartial and fair, and not affected by prejudices or stereotypical gender notions.”

“To achieve this, a wide range of measures are needed, targeted at the legal system, to improve the judicial handling of rape cases, as well as training and education to change discriminatory attitudes towards women. Concrete measures include: Review of the definition of rape in the legislation so as to place the lack of consent at its centre;  Remove any requirement in the legislation that sexual assault be committed by force or violence, and any requirement of proof of penetration, and minimize secondary victimization of the complainant/survivor in proceedings by enacting a definition of sexual assault that either requires the existence of ‘unequivocal and voluntary agreement’ and requiring proof by the accused of steps taken to ascertain whether the complainant/survivor was consenting; or requires that the act take place in ‘coercive circumstances’ and includes a broad range of coercive circumstances.”

The Philippine government “shall give due consideration to the views of the Committee, together with its recommendations, and shall submit to the Committee, within six months, a written response, including any information on any action taken in the light of the views and recommendations of the Committee” as it is also requested “to publish the Committee’s views and recommendations and to have them translated into the Filipino language and other recognized regional languages, as appropriate, and widely distributed in order to reach all relevant sectors of society.” (MindaNews)