By: Inday-Espina Varona
It was, in the parlance of negotiators, a lose-lose situation. Nicole, the woman raped by American serviceman Daniel Smith, the woman whose face the Inquirer bared cruelly on its front pages today, knew what awaited her.
And she was right. The insults, the slurs, the indignation rained as heavy as they did when PR hacks hired for the defense of Smith (and the government he serves) tried to justify a crime by painting Nicole as a woman of loose morals.
That Nicole practically damns herself the same way now does not excuse the stone throwing.
A woman of loose morals can be raped. Indeed, a woman seen by society as one with loose morals is most vulnerable to rape. A society that fumes at a woman’s attempt to live by her own rules will turn its eyes away and close its ears when men decide to impose the most humiliating punishment they can on this singular, defiant woman.
There’s a line in the Green Mile. To paraphrase: people who think themselves enlightened can perpetrate the most horrific deeds. By commission they do this; likewise, by omission.
Like many friends, I, too, would like to see a lopsided, onerous treaty provided rescinded. A country may open its doors to troops of a military ally if it helps build up its own defense capabilities; what makes the VFA unjust are the provisions clearly skewed towards the bigger power. Until the VFA treats erring American troops like erring Filipino troops, it remains unacceptable. (One might point out that too many erring Filipino soldiers have walked away scot-free but we can’t have everything and just a slight evening out of the field is enough for me.)
But yearning for a noble goal – abolition of an onerous treaty – does not mean it is right for us to drag Nicole through the mud once more. There is no more self-serving, selfish comment than to wail we’ve been had because Nicole issued an affidavit virtually clearing Smith.
So she crumbled. So she groveled before might and the power of the American dream. So what? A close reading of the affidavit shows she doesn’t say the rape NEVER happened. She just spouts what the defense wants her to say.
Many raped women have crumbled in the face of much, much less – say, the tears of an apologetic husband or boyfriend, or the pleas of a family tired of braving the sneers and leers, or just the mounting bills of a legal battle; or maybe just the pleas of one man’s mother, and/or the promise of marriage to make an “honest” woman of her — with all the subtext of she-was-asking- for-it.
We in the media and people’s organizations know of tortured folk recanting on earlier testimony. It doesn’t make them allies of evil men; it simply means there were factors heavy enough to crush determination and courage.
Was it naïve of Nicole to expect aid from the Philippine government? Maybe. But many Filipinos do expect government or government officials to help them. Why are there long lines of supplicants at the gates of mayors and congressmen and governors?
Besides, it’s not just the government. People’s orgs and NGOs – even the media – are there to succor the afflicted. But our attention spans are also as short as the public’s. We are not evil; we just have other, “more important” things to attend to.
How many times have we in media done a round of mea culpa when discussing human rights? We admit we cannot always keep the lights shining on one particular case – and that often starts the slide to defeat. That does not make us in the media bad; we know the many reasons for this situation. If we can accept this, why cannot we accept the loneliness and bewilderment of the violated, their impatience and their hopelessness?
Likewise, I have been around these circles of aid-givers enough to know that there is some residual middle-class desire to expect people we help to be docile and grateful, when in truth the task of working for justice does not guarantee good manners and right conduct among those we seek to aid.
Oh yes, there are many do-gooders who can barely mask their pinched noses as they go about giving aid, and there are those whose faces turn red and mouths turn down when they are met with less than obsequious thanks in their tours of duty or because the people they help just can’t be bothered by the higher isms of the day. That’s not to denigrate aid givers as evil; just to make them out as truly human, the same way the people they serve, Nicole included, are just as human.
The truth is, Nicole has walked a long, long way in this ordeal; longer than most women who have suffered rape.
Just a little over a week ago, I had to double check some documents from the Bacolod police because they initially seemed exaggeratedly negative. Of 36 cases of acts of lasciviousness report last year, only six were filed with the fiscal. Of 943 cases of violence against women, only 13 were filed in court. Of 26 rape cases, only six were filed. In the case minors, the ratio was nine of 34 rape cases ending up in court.
Nicole, at least, braved cross-examination and the harsh glare of the media spotlight, including the baring of her real identity name.
She mustered the strength for this because many of us supported her – whether because rape alone was enough to stir us to outrage or because she was a vehicle to reach a higher goal.
And now she has crumbled. Why are we so irate? How many friends do we know who voluntarily joined this or that cause but dropped out after sometime? Do we sneer and call them traitors? Don’t we even share meals with those who now serve the government, no matter if the thought of this government makes us puke?
How many on Facebook were once firm believers in this or that cause? Nobody pressured us to join those causes, right? Did we face a mob when we decided to leave?
Well, Nicole never volunteered for the cause. She had to be raped to join it. She never asked to be poster girl for nationalists; she was made one by virtue of rape.
There are a million and one reasons for despair and hopelessness. A noble cause cannot always hold one above the waters. Nor will a lynching make our cause more right.
Nicole is not the enemy. Let’s not treat her like one.