The crime of rape is one which is so abhorred in our society that it is considered heinous. It has even become an instrument of humiliation during wars. There have been reports or observations that systematic rape has been employed by invading armies over the population they have conquered to break their spirit since it serves as the ultimate insult to the vanquished. In some African communities, the rape of men of the village over run by gangs or militia aims to break the will of the populace to resist. In the olden times, sexual intercourse against the will might not have always been frowned upon. In the history of Rome, the rape of the Sabine women was the only viable solution to increase the population of the young civilisation and secure its future. In some parts of the Philippines rape victims have been “persuaded” by members of the community to marry the perpetrator. Our Criminal Law on rape is a declaration that we cannot have a just society if this act is not penalised and deterred. At first, it was a crime against honor but now it has become a crime against persons wherein even if the victim desists or does not participate in the prosecution of the case, the same can still prosper as long as the prosecution can present other evidence to prove the guilt of the accused. In the amended provision of the Penal Code on rape, the crime can even be committed against a man. But for the longest time, our jurisprudence is full of convictions based on the “Maria Clara Doctrine ” where “women, especially Filipinos, would not admit that they have been abused unless that abuse had happened” (People v. Tano). This principle has been applied in many cases of rape and the testimony of the victim was sufficient to convict the accused of the crime.
A case was decided by the Supreme Court in 2018 wherein it overturned the conviction of the accused based solely on the testimony of the victim who claimed that she was raped by the accused. The accused were convicted by the trial court but on appeal to the Court of Appeals they argued against their conviction saying the testimony of the victim does not conform to “ordinary human experience”. In other words, her acts or behaviour during and after the alleged rape does not conform to the usual behaviour of someone who was violated. The CA sustained the conviction and the case went up to the Supreme Court on basically the same argument. The SC overturned the conviction of the accused because it found the testimony of the alleged victim to be inconsistent. The decision went on to “overturn” the Maria Clara Doctrine adhered to by trial court judges in convicting those accused of rape. Said the Court: “This stereotype cannot be applied anymore as women have transformed over the years and have become more willing to speak up and fight for their rights. There is a need to veer away from such a notion and accept the realities of a woman’s dynamic role in society today” (People vs. Amarela)
The “overturn” of the said Doctrine was met negatively by some groups saying it can embolden rapists in committing the crime and that more women might be abused. Another reaction came from legal experts pointing out that the “abandonment” of the Maria Clara Doctrine could not have been legally possible since the Amarela case was decided by a division of the Supreme Court. Our Constitution provides that “no doctrine or principle of law laid down by the court in a decision rendered en banc or in division may be modified or reversed except by the court sitting en banc” (Par. 3, Sec. 4, Article). Apparently, Amarela could not have overturned the 1960 jurisprudence that established the “Maria Clara” Doctrine and it can still be validly used by courts in deciding rape cases. Unfortunately, we will have to wait for another case that puts this matter forward in order to get a definitive ruling.