She had to recount her ordeal in court over and over again while being questioned by defense attorneys whose aim was to destroy her credibility. She was called a “bad person”, a “whore”, an “adulteress”, and an “extortionist” by the Davao media. And after several years of an excruciating uphill battle, she lost her case in court. But she was undeterred.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA — Women who muster enough courage to seek justice for the violence committed against them would have to face many obstacles and difficulties, including laws and courts that are biased against women, social stigma, family pressures, ridicule, among others. Many give up along the way. But to face defeat in local courts and yet, still have the determination to seek other venues for redress, is the epitome of courage. One such woman is Karen Vertido.
In 1996, Karen Vertido, then 42 years old with two kids and working as executive director of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI), filed rape charges against Jose Bautista Custodio, a prominent businessman in the city who was then the organization’s president. So many difficulties came Karen’s way. She had to recount her ordeal in court over and over again while being questioned by defense attorneys whose aim was to destroy her credibility. She was called a “bad person”, a “whore”, an “adulteress”, and an “extortionist” by the Davao media. And after several years of an excruciating uphill battle, she lost her case in court when Custodio was acquitted in 2005.
Excerpts from Judge Virginia Hofileña-Europa’s ruling on the case read: “While this Court is not unmindful of the fact that the Supreme Court has, on more than one occasion, ruled that the failure of the victim to try and escape does not negate the existence of rape these rulings cannot apply to the case at bar. Considering first, the fact that, the testimony of the private complainant shows that she had the courage to resist the advances of the accused, second, the fact that the private complainant does not appear to be a timid woman who could easily be cowered and finally the fact that there is no clear evidence of any direct threat of grave harm coming from the accused, this Court cannot understand why she did not escape when she appeared to have had so many opportunities to do so.”
Seeking Other Venues for Redress
In Nov. 2007, Vertido filed a complaint or a “communication” under the Optional Protocol of the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women or OP-CEDAW. With the help of her legal counsel Evalyn Ursua, Vertido’s case became the first individual complaint from the Southeast Asian region that was filed under the OP-CEDAW.
The CEDAW was passed in 1979 by the UN General Assembly. The CEDAW is an international human rights treaty that focuses on women’s rights and women’s issues worldwide. With the CEDAW is the “Optional Protocol that creates mechanisms to ensure the implementation of CEDAW by providing an opportunity for specific redress in individual cases when a State violates women’s rights and allows the Committee to highlight the need for more effective remedies at the national level.” The Philippines is a signatory to the CEDAW.
“Vertido was re-victimized with the acquittal of Custodio, she was denied her equal protection of the law and a just and effective remedy for the violation and harm she suffered,” said the Women’s Legal Bureau (WLB) who led the effort of organizing the submission of Vertido’s communication to the CEDAW Committee.
A portion of Vertido’s complaint, as quoted from a December 10, 2010 article of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, read, “I hold this state, the Philippines, accountable for rape… happening within its boundaries. I hold my state accountable for a judge who at best is ignorant about laws and the realities of women, and who may be corrupt at worst. I call on my state not to put such people to become judges, but only people who are truly capable of trying women’s cases. I claim every inalienable right and every right this country promised to me as its citizen, from protection of my body, my livelihood, to protection of my honor. I claim restitution for having been violated first by one depraved man, and then later by a society that says it is okay to rape women…”
According to the WLB, the Philippine government failed to comply with its obligation as State Party to the CEDAW to address gender-based stereotypes that affect women particularly in law and in legal institutions. “It showed no effort at exercising due diligence to punish, in accordance with national legislation, acts of violence against women, particularly rape,” the WLB said. “The acquittal of Custodio on the grounds of gender biases clearly violates women’s rights against discrimination, as enshrined in the CEDAW and from which the OP (Optional Protocol) derives its mandate.