It was destined to happen, like an augury from a tarot card. But who would have thought that it would be the Supreme Court that would drive the last nail in the coffin of Maria Clara as the symbol of Filipino womanhood?
And who could have expected that the nail would come in the form of a ruling on a rape case?
The recent Supreme Court ruling compels study because it is surprisingly blunt in its language, unsparing in its findings and gratuitous in its dig at Maria Clara.
In ruling on the case that was raised from the regional court to the Court of Appeals to the highest court, the Supreme Court acquitted Juvy Amarela and Junard Racho of the charge of rape. It reversed and set aside a conviction of the two accused by the Davao City regional trial court in June 2012, which was upheld by the Court of Appeals in February 2016.
The court said in the 20-page decision in January penned by Associate Justice Samuel Martires: “Today, we simply cannot be stuck to the Maria Clara stereotype of a demure and reserved Filipino woman. We should stay away from such mindset and accept the realities of a woman’s dynamic role in society today; she who has over the years transformed into a strong and confidently intelligent and beautiful person, willing to fight for her rights…
“More often than not, where the alleged victim survives to tell her story of sexual depredation, rape cases are solely decided based on the credibility of the testimony of the private complainant.”
The Supreme Court in this recent case seems to disregard what it established in the 1960 rape case of a certain Herminigilda Domingo as the “women’s honor” doctrine.
The latest ruling said: “We have hinged on the impression that no young Filipina of decent repute would publicly admit that she was sexually abused, unless that is the truth, for it is her natural instinct to protect her honor. However, this misconception, particularly in this day and age, not only puts the accused at an unfair disadvantage, but creates a travesty of justice.”
The court found inconsistencies in the complainant’s testimony. It said: “Her claim that she was forcibly brought to a makeshift stage, stripped and then raped, seems unrealistic and beyond human experience.”
And then it said: “We cannot rule out the probability that she had sex that night. Moreover, the absence of bruises [after, as] she said, she was punched, reinforces the theory that the victim may have had consensual intercourse.”
The court makes plain that it does not believe that the idea of a young Filipino woman as a Maria Clara is still tenable. The image – reserved, virtuous, idealized – is frayed. Millennials do not recognize themselves in her.
It was once fancied in this country that Maria Clara, as Jose Rizal’s creation in Noli me Tangere based on his real-life love Leonor Rivera – would evolve into a symbol of Filipino womanhood as enduring as Marianne in France, who has been incarnated in the likes of Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve.
The Maria Clara fantasy was not to be: first because Maria Clara is revealed at the end of the novel as the daughter of a friar, Padre Damaso; and second, because Leonor Rivera in real life, betrayed Jose Rizal and married another man.
Or maybe, the feminine ideal represented by the mythical Maria Clara is just too weak to be comparable to the modern Filipina of today.
The Supreme Court has wisely adjusted the fantasy to reality.