Skip to content

Suzette (a.k.a Nicole) Moves On

March 18, 2009


I have to confess being a bit winded after this past week’s impassioned if not acrimonious exchanges over at about the saga of Suzette Sombilon Nicolas and Daniel J Smith.

Doing their post mortem on the case this morning. DZMM anchors Ted Failon and Korina Sanchez found it odd that Suzette, heretofore known to Filipinos as the faceless rape victim Niicole had gone away like a thief in the night, in much the same way her assailant-cum-paramour was removed in the dead of the night from the Pasay city jail to the decidedly more comfortable US Embassy.

From his frontline-soldier training as a Marine the Lance Corporal has been doing oh-so-boring clerical chores while awaiting the results of his rape conviction appeal.

It may not be wrong for his handlers to expect that with Suzette set to marry her 2-year-long American fiancé soon Daniel could soon be sprung again, this time to real freedom.

Maybe, just maybe though even justice Secretary Raul Gonzales is saying Suzette’s recantation will not weigh on the case appeal, except among Filipinos on the street.


Which brought me to think about the Filipina and how our image of her has morphed from the Maria Clara of old and recent vintage, from Jose Rizal’s mad-mother Sisa, to today’s scantily clad noontime TV go-go dancers and billboard liquor ad models.

Concern over the plight of the Filipina is no mean issue mind you. Even the US State Departnent’s 2008 Report on Human Rights in the Philippines devotes all of 716 words to narrating how women fare in our society.

Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal, but enforcement was ineffective. Rape continued to be a problem, with most cases unreported. At year’s end the PNP reported 3,549 rape cases, more than four times the 2007 figure. The increase may be attributable to improved reporting capability through women’s and children’s desks at police stations. There were reports of rape and sexual abuse of women in police or protective custody–often women from marginalized groups, such as suspected prostitutes, drug users, and lower-income individuals arrested for minor crimes.
Violence against women remained a serious problem. The law criminalizes physical, sexual, and psychological harm or abuse to women and their children committed by their spouses or partners. As of December the PNP reported 706 cases of wife battering and physical injuries. This number likely underreported significantly the level of violence against women.
A local women’s support group noted that, in smaller localities, perpetrators of abuse sometimes used personal relationships with local authorities to avoid prosecution. On other occasions women who sought to file complaints through the police were told to pay special fees before their complaints could be registered.
The PNP and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) both maintained help desks to assist victims of violence against women and to encourage the reporting of crimes. With the assistance of NGOs, officers received gender sensitivity training to deal with victims of sexual crimes and domestic violence. Approximately 9 percent of PNP officers were women. The PNP has a Women and Children’s Unit to deal with these issues.
Prostitution is illegal but was a widespread problem. Many women suffered exposure to violence through their recruitment, often through deception, into prostitution. Penalties for prostitution are light, but detained prostitutes were sometimes subjected to administrative indignities and extortion. The DSWD continued to provide temporary shelter and counseling to women engaged in prostitution. Through year’s end, DSWD provided temporary shelter and counseling to 103 women who were victims of involuntary prostitution. Some local officials discouraged the prosecution of those who exploited prostitutes. There were no convictions under the provision of the law criminalizing the act of engaging the services of a prostitute.
Sex tourism and trafficking in persons for sexual exploitation and forced labor were serious problems.
The law prohibits sexual harassment. However, sexual harassment in the workplace was widespread and underreported due to victims’ fear of losing their jobs. Sexual harassment at a shoe factory in Muntinlupa City spurred unionization and a strike in July; in November management reinstated dismissed employees and recognized the workers’ union.
Female employees in special economic zones were particularly at risk; most were economic migrants who had no independent workers’ organization to assist with filing complaints. Women in the retail industry worked on three- to five month contracts and were often reluctant to report sexual harassment for fear their contracts would not be renewed. There were reports that some firms took action against female employees who became pregnant.
The law does not provide for divorce, although courts generally recognize the legality of divorces obtained in other countries if one of the parties is a foreign national. The government recognizes religious annulment, but the process can be costly, which precludes annulment as an option for many women. Many lower-income couples simply separated informally without severing their marital ties. The family code provides that in child custody cases resulting from annulment, illegitimacy, or divorce in another country, children under the age of seven are placed in the care of the mother unless there is a court order to the contrary. Children over the age of seven normally also remained with the mother, although the father could dispute custody through the courts.
In law, but not always in practice, women have most of the rights and protections accorded to men. Although they faced workplace discrimination, women continued to occupy senior positions in the workforce. In a January labor force survey, 57 percent of government officials, corporate executives, managers, and supervisors were women. The unemployment rate for women was 6.7 percent, while the rate for men was 7.8 percent.
The National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women, composed of 10 government officials and 11 NGO leaders appointed by the president, acted as an oversight body whose goal is to press for effective implementation of programs benefiting women.

This month as the Philippines marks Women’s month, the National Commissioin on the Role of Filipino Women has picked the theme “Babae, Yaman Ka Ng Bayan [Woman, You Are The Nation’s Treasure” as theme.

This rah-rah slogan aside, the NCRFW reports:

In 2008 the number of Violence Against Women (VAW) cases reported to the police rose by 21 percent from the 2007 report. The increase caused the trend to go upward after a six-year downward trend from 2001 to 2006 and that for the past twelve years since 1997, the trend peaked at a record high of 9,132 VAW cases in 2001.

Against the backdrop of Nicole’s decision to leave behind her court battle in exchange for the promise of a materially-secure future and peace of mind, those who fought militantly for her honor must now move on. The struggle to win justice for thousands of other suffering Filipinas must still be fought.

Here’s the latest emerging facet of the issue:

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: