Anria, my second cousin, it’s such an irony how I only got to know more about you now that you’ve passed away. We lived in the same barangay. Our houses were no more than three kilometers away from each other.You were just four years older. We could have made more childhood memories together. But we were never close. I occasionally saw you during extended family gatherings; maybe we exchanged hellos. But I already forgot those times. We weren’t even Facebook friends! We never talked, never took pictures together. We co-existed but never bothered. But that fateful night, it came like a horrible surprise. You became a victim of gang rape and murder. Worse, these monsters threw your body in a watery field. As a TV news writer for Unang Balita and 24 Oras, I have become desensitized to all sorts of crime stories. I have seen the goriest videos of the most heinous crimes. I actually do that for a living. And you know what? I never had emotions for them. I never felt pity nor abhorrence nor sadness for all those victims of crimes in the hundreds of news items I wrote. But I never imagined that one morning, I’d have to write about the rape case of my own cousin. The picture of the crime scene will haunt me forever. It felt like losing someone you never even had to begin with. Yours was the most painful crime story I’ve ever had to write.
More than a News StoryAt 26, you were like most people your age. Like them, you liked to party; I did, too. You wore revealing clothes and routinely posted pictures on social media. You were a very pretty girl, “hot” to be more descriptive, but you were classy and definitely not a deserving target for those fools. Nobody is a deserving target — no matter how they look, or what clothes they wear. In news interviews, your mom said there were times you were stubborn and did not follow their rules. But everyone did that. At one point in our lives, some of us went home drunk. That’s normal for us, twenty somethings. But even when you were mischievous, I’m sure you were still your parents’ favorite. They couldn’t resist letting you go out and enjoy life even if they are against it. Your cousins also love you so much. You also traveled a lot. Maybe we could have explored places more when you were still alive. You had all the potential to travel some more and make it big in life. But all these opportunities were taken away from you so suddenly. Senselessly, wicked men deprived you of your dreams.
Rape in the PhilippinesYour story is not unique in the country. Just weeks before you, GMA News reported the rape and murder of an 11-month-old baby. Authorities recovered her body under a passenger jeepney. High profile rape cases are also part of our history: Rosario Baluyot, Marijoy Chiong, Carmela Vizconde, Maggie Dela Riva, and more recently, Suzette Nicolas of the Subic rape case. It’s disheartening how rape is now a common household concept due to the prevalence of its cases. Maybe the frequency of media reports about rape makes people think it’s just another crime — no different from simple pickpocketing. Vice Ganda even joked about rape. Yes, we’ve come that far into domesticating this highly fragile issue. According to the Philippine National Police, there were 874 reported cases of rape nationwide from January to March 2014. That amounts to ten people getting raped each day during the first quarter of 2014! To reduce rape stories to mere statistics would be dehumanizing. Each of these cases was a unique story of struggle, weakness and pain. Not all victims died like you, Anria. But everyone endured the same terror and helplessness. I believe this number is still very small. There are more unreported cases because of the stigma it brings. There are also thousands, if not millions, of wives who suffer marital rape (sex without consensus under the bounds of marriage) every night.
The Culture of ImpunityThere are two laws that protect Filipinos from rape: Republic Act 8353 or The Anti-Rape Law of 1997 and Republic Act 8505: The Rape Victim Assistance and Protection Act of 1998. Depending on the acts and circumstances, penalties for rapists range from six to forty years. But will these be enough? I personally think even the death penalty cannot bring back stolen dignities and lives! According to the Philippine Commission on Women, the culture of impunity in the country is perhaps the main reason why cases of rape continue to rise. We’re in a country where criminals escape their acts unpunished. There is no way to justify rape — even when a woman wears a skimpy dress, when she drinks until the wee hours or when she goes home alone in the dark. Even if a woman decides to walk nude in public, no one has the right to force sex and violence. Yet the end goal is not to put all rapists in prison. It’s too unfair for our women to always live in danger and fear, suspecting that all are rapists. The end goal is to live in a society where there is no rape.
The Rape CaseAuthorities arrested and inquested three primary suspects in the rape case of Anria Espiritu just days after our family knew about the incident. As I went to my usual newsroom routine, it’s with pain and regret that I had to write: “Posibleng makalaya ang isa sa mga pangunahing suspek sa panghahalay at pamamaslang kay Anria Espiritu. Umatras kasi ang isang testigo sa kaso. Kaya ang kanyang pamilya, dismayado.” (One of the prime suspects in the rape-slay case of Anria Espiritu may be set free. One of the witnesses backed out of the case. Espiritu’s family is dismayed.)
Justice for Anria EspirituAnria, you’re one more case to the hundreds of rape victims in the Philippines. But more than that, you are my cousin. It’s the first time it happened in the family. Probably, it’s also the first time it happened in the entire village. How sure are we that you’ll be the last victim to fall into the hands of rapists? My sister, my other female cousins, my nieces, my female friends — all of them are vulnerable. And I’m just helpless. The most I can do is to pitch your story to our news desk and make sure it has enough media coverage, hoping that the suspects will not evade conviction. It’s even more pitiful that I had to rely on our media reports to know what happened and what will happen. As a second degree relative, I feel it’s imperative for me to grieve your passing. I couldn’t even be there for our family. I think much more has to be done than merely putting your story on television screens. The fight for justice is far from over. But for now, my cousin, rest in peace. Paalam.
About the Author
Jervis Manahan is a News Reporter for PTV 4. He is also a Contributor for SubSelfie.com but is part of the original roster that founded the site. He was previously a News Writer for 24 Oras and Unang Balita and a News Researcher for State of the Nation with Jessica Soho. Broadcast Communication 2012, UP Diliman. Read more of his articles here.