MARRIAGE does not give the husband the right to own his wife’s body,says Justice Bienvenido Reyes in writing the first Supreme Court decision in the Philippines upholding marital rape. Such striking line speaks volume not only of the need to liberate Filipino women from subordination to men, but also of the legal principle that women’s right to liberty over their bodies is not lost by reason of marriage.
The Court’s decision (People v. Jumawan, G.R. No. 187495), promulgated on April 21, 2014, originated from the Regional Trial Court’s (Cagayan de Oro, Branch 19) ruling in 2002 which sustained the version of the prosecution based on the spontaneous testimonies of the couple’s daughters regarding the crime of rape committed by their father against their mother. The ruling was affirmed by the Court of Appeals because the carnal knowledge using force and intimidation was established beyond reasonable doubt.
In some societies including the Philippines, it is still a common view among patriarchs to regard coital congregation as a responsibility of their spouses, and thus is not subject to the latter’s consent. True enough, one of the defenses raised by the husband in this case is that it is his wife’s duty and responsibility to sexually please him. The High Court did not share this opinion rather saying that: “Husbands are once again reminded that marriage is not a license to forcibly rape their wives. A husband does not own his wife’s body by reason of marriage. By marrying, she does not divest herself of the human right to an exclusive autonomy over her own body and thus, she can lawfully opt to give or withhold her consent to marital coitus.”
The Court cited the constitutional right to equal protection by not creating a distinction between marital rape and non-marital rape because the definition of rape in Republic Act No. 8353 or the Anti-Rape Law of 1997 pertains to: rape as traditionally known; sexual assault; and, marital rape. The lack of distinction on the elements of marital and non-marital rape means that the same elements should apply. The Court stressed that it does not see the need to uphold a different standard for marital rape cases. The defense of the absence of resistance on the part of his wife was also raised by the accused but the Court reiterated the well-established rule in rape cases that resistance is not an element of rape. This is consistent with R.A. No. 8353, which does not require the victim to prove resistance.
In People v. Jumawan, it was ruled that sexual intercourse, albeit within the realm of marriage, if not consensual, is rape. The Court cited the policy of the State in Section 266-A of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by R.A. No. 8353. Further, the implied consent theory associated with sexual intercourse within the realm of marriage has already been superseded by global principles for the equality of rights between men and women. The Court cited widely accepted human rights instruments like the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Womenas its legal bases from international law. These international documents discussed the forms of gender-based violence which included marital rape as a species of sexual violence.
Indeed, this decision, promulgated during the term of the first female chief magistrate in the country, is a reflection of the evolving and growing recognition of our legal system to the principle of gender-equality and of women’s rights. It is the first and yet a crucial step which the courts need to take to safeguard fundamental rights of women which have long been brushed aside by common misconceptions brought about by a highly patriarchal worldview.
It must however be noted that most cases of marital rape are still left unreported—reflecting the sad truth that we still live in a society where some people equally look down upon the rape victim and the felon; where women remain to be powerless, and that despite violations of their fundamental rights, silence is still a viable option. Despite this option to remain silent and forego a fundamental right, it is noteworthy that People v. Jumawan is a victory for the Filipino women who prefer to speak up and uphold the core values of choice and womanhood, as it legitimized the view that “a marriage license should not be viewed as a license for a husband to forcibly rape his wife with impunity.” P