Sunday, February 02, 2014

He said, she said

PINK and red, the tote sports a quote that screams headlines.

The tote is by Kate Spade; the quote, from Dorothy Parker: “I don’t care what is written about me so long as it isn’t true.”

And the headlines: pick any woman who screams rape.

Right now, the woman in the hot seat happens to be Deniece Millet Cornejo.

Cornejo claims Vhong Navarro attempted to rape her. Navarro denies the crime, claiming instead that Cornejo’s friends led by Cedric Lee beat him, extorted P1 million and threatened his family.

The case is in the courts. Its outcome hardly rests on the slow turning of the wheels of justice. Public opinion is quickly assigning the guilt.

Netizens, housewives, professionals, columnists and taho vendors have no need for “evidence”. The case is being decided upon the strength of whose view is favored.

Students of journalism learn that the weakest stories rely only on the “he said, she said” angle. Some 30 years ago, a group of women also thought pitting the accuser against the accused was pitiful evidence with which to seek justice.

Today, violence against women is not just an acronym. VAW is ascribed a permanent niche in the law, medicine, media, academic studies and culture. There’s even a “9262 Club,” of which Vina Morales, mother of Lee’s child, said she is a member.

Morales is referring to Republic Act (RA) No. 9262, also known as the Anti-violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004.

Punishing all forms of violence (physical, sexual and psychological) and economic abuse, the law is the refuge of women blackmailed by an ex posting intimate photos on Facebook, whose child has been abandoned by its father, or who are simply the battered halves of “tough-love” Romeos.

Before RA 9262, before gender equality and women’s empowerment became trendy enough to embellish Kate Spade’s “call to action” line of overpriced totes, there was just “family trouble”.

According to a paper published on, “family trouble” was often blamed as the reason why women creditors defaulted on their loans. But no one, from Nairobi to the Philippines, knew what it exactly meant.

Lihok Pilipina, a Cebu City non-government organization (NGO) advocating for women, asked around in barangay centers, hospitals and police stations. Based on the testimonies of women placed by “family trouble” in these places, the term was a euphemism for domestic abuse. A Lihok Pilipina survey established that six out of 10 women said they were battered within a year.

Probing more, the NGO found out that it was not just the law that was silent about domestic violence. Authorities did not want to get involved with “family trouble”. Barangay captains advised couples to kiss and make up. Women were reminded to “take care” of their partners. Victims went home to another round of abuse. To escape the vicious cycle, women had to be removed from their homes as bodies.

Female victims endured recounting their ordeal to men, from the barangay to the police station and hospital. The police did not want to blotter the complaints, which rarely ended in court and only added to their list of unresolved cases. Social workers were threatened with violence by partners angered by their “meddling”.

Doctors often told a rape victim to spread her legs in the presence of other people since she had been raped anyway. Journalists added to the trauma by squeezing victims for a blow-by-blow account of how the rape was carried out. Live, on air, with music and sound effects.

When Lihok Pilipina organized Bantay Banay in Cebu City on Jan. 31, 1992, it had little resources. But the women came.

Through the family/community watch project, women wouldn’t stop knocking on doors and shouting until a batterer stopped abusing a victim. Women created space behind cabinets to hide a victim. They pitched in for food and fare.

The first victim helped by Bantay Banay was a mother who brought her eldest, aged nine, with wounds still bleeding from being beaten with a wire by her partner. The mother didn’t ask for a lawyer. She only wanted the battering to stop.

Between this woman and the members of today’s sensational “9262 Club,” the realities may differ. But let the evidence speak. And stop the abuse.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Feb. 2, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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