Victory or not, it is worth talking about

Posted: December 8, 2006 in Rants

I heard the news about the verdict on the Subic Rape Case during a birthday party I attended. That night, as I was busy trying to finish off one piece of chocolate cake in the porch of my colleague’s house, I heard TV patrol broadcast the news and immediately rushed into the sala to watch the report. As expected, I made a mental note to celebrate later in the night for such victory.

The Task Force Subic Rape Case site released a statement the day after the verdict was announced prounouncing the victory of Nicole and the Filipino people:

“It is with deep pride and humility that the Task Force Subic Rape and the “Justice for Nicole Justice for the Nation” campaign join Nicole, her family and relatives, supporters and the entire nation in welcoming the decision of Judge Benjamin Pozon of the Makati Trial Court. “

On the same day, one editor from a news agency emailed to everyone in the loop encouraging us to gather opinions from different sources (people we know) about the conviction of the primary suspect in the case and the acquittal of the three other accused.

Yet still on the same day, most of the people I work with in school, including students, were mum about the issue. Nobody wanted to talk about it, perhaps, because the whole case was often considered as a touchy issue—controversial even especially considering its nature. More often than not, nobody wants to talk about rape in the Philippines, especially when rape involves American servicemen. As an observation, it is surprisingly, even closer to being a taboo topic among academics. Until now, I’m really wondering why but I do have a hunch. Because if one starts to talk about a rape case or other similar issues, then that person is at risk of being called a “party-pooper” or someone who takes life too seriously. Or worse, be called a grim determined activist.

So it was such an effort to even hear comments about the case and the verdict without getting a bit anxious. When I brought up the news about the verdict, I heard comments like “saying, Smith (the convicted servicemen) was cute” or “that’s a very serious case, I don’t wanna talk about it,” or “it’s so hard to prove that she was raped because she went with the men…” and so on. I mentioned difficult to deal with comments like these because they are in the first place, against my feminist beliefs (to be self-reflexive about it). And of course, I knew the case well (not too well like lawyer) but pretty well since I have been following news about it, reading about it different media and talking to my lawyer friends about it, to make an informed opinion.

But I cannot rant about other people’s opinions because they have a right to their opinions. My only hope is that time will come when people in this country will stop perceiving rape as merely a sex crime, because after all, more that it being about sex, it really about power. Rape is a crime against person. To rape someone is to exercise power or dominion over a person. The reason why women are often the victims of rape is that they are often perceived as weak, passive, and submissive in a patriarchal society that privileges phallocentric/sexist/macho world view that women do not own their bodies. Women’s bodies have always been perceived as the battleground for control, colonization and protection from and by other entities other than themselves.

If someone chooses to go with a group of people it does not follow that he/she has allowed herself/himself to be raped, and all the more, it does not constitute consent. That is non sequitor even in countries such as the United States. If we look at our laws and educate ourselves we will find out that there’s even such a thing as marital rape. A typical person would ask, “How do you prove that? They are husband and wife, married. Rape doesn’t happen in marriage.” Apparently, it does. In fact, the first conviction happened in Davao City. This shows that even in intimate relationships (which somehow implies consent) rape happens. How much more in cases when you have just met, became friends, then went out together in one of your friends’ car.

But I digress.

When I told my Malaysian friend about the verdict, he replied: “nobody is actually a winner in cases like that,” He is probably right. Come to think of it, I was too quick in raising my glass and celebrating for a victory because the next day, I had to watch and read another battle between my country and the US over the custody of Smith. My heart literally sank deeper after reading the news as I had just finished poring over the details—the sentence of reclusion perpetua for Smith, and the acquittal of the three others, etc. Honestly, I would have wanted the three others jailed too. But since, our Justice Department has literally compromised the case (sorry I have to be blunt) and reduced the sentence for the three other accused, I had a gut feel that they would be set free.

As expected, the whole thing didn’t end with a conviction. While I still can say my Malaysian friend is wrong because after all, I was celebrating for the victory of justice, there is also a part of me that admits that it’s not yet over. Obviously, I still grieve for Nicole who has to bear the burden of picking back the broken pieces of her life. It is not easy to go through a traumatic experience such as that, and to somehow go through it again as the trial went on. To even recount the entire thing, is like living it again, every moment, every second. How agonizing it must have been.

To a certain extent, I also grieve for the life of Smith who is equally as young as Nicole. He had thrown away his life for a night of aggression. Yet, I do not really feel anything more than wanting him jailed, punished for what he has done. Because that is manifested justice for me.

This then brings me to the question of custody, which for me is another touchy issue. I look at this issue as something that goes beyond the courtroom because now it involves the Visiting Forces Agreement (which for me, is useless to begin with) between my country and the USA.

We cannot avoid this. It will eventually come to this. It is naïve to even say that the case is not about countries but of two individuals. Because after all, from the very beginning, the whole thing was really about two countries—even when the case was filed, the VFA was cited as something that should be considered. Should the case affect the relationship between the Philippines and the USA? Some people asked right away. Now that the verdict is in, and the battle for custody begins, most of us are still asking the same question.

To put it simply, this issue will no longer remain as an issue of custody but it will most likely transform into an issue of sovereignty. When will my country draw the line between honoring the VFA and crying foul over decisions that will undermine its sovereignty?

Can my country even assert itself against a “super power?” Or will it expectedly buckle under pressure and find loopholes in the agreement that would justify turning over Smith to his country?

We will find out in the next days to come.

  1. fish says:

    I can’t help but think Edward Said when he said that the “orient” exist for the west and “orient women” according to the west are women who are eager to be dominated and strikingly exotic. Hence making the West the conqueror and the “orient inferior”, a sense of nationalism at play.

    anyway bla bla bla…i don’t know where am I going with this but here here, I agree.

  2. hmmm.. hence the orientalist world view. good comment fish. yes, i wrote about nationhood in my other entry about this case. and for me, i look at the players of this case as symbols of said’s concepts. while bhabba would make this more complex, i’d rather look at it from the lens of said.

    very well said. i like it when you post comments like this in my blog. coz we know you are not a blond. hehehe…

  3. sam says:

    Well, it seems that international politics would probably be above justice… Will the you-know-who administration avenge in other ways?

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