Blaming the Victim: Bishop's
Accuser Becomes the Accused [Philippines]
Downloaded June 10, 2003

ACCORDING to Father Gerry Tapiador, Saint Peter's Church parish priest and Bishop Teodoro Bacani's deputy, in a published interview, Bacani's accuser is a "whiner, insecure, plain-looking and wears scanty clothes to get attention. He also added that from his logical understanding (if we could really find logic in it), the victim is just doing all these to compensate for her inadequacies.

Her being not married at the age of 34 or "matandang dalaga" [spinster] was also a point raised against her.

Yet as of now, what we have heard and read about the victim are just second-hand accounts. She hasn't given a statement or granted an interview to any reporter. Ironically it was not she who exposed the controversy to the public, it was the bishop himself.

While the bishop has not admitted his guilt out rightly, what he did has demonstrated how the system works to the detriment of the woman victim of violence.

Father Tapiador's statements, no doubt have placed the blame squarely on the victim. In a most "classic" sexist fashion, he has laid down the "defense" for the bishop's actions.

As the victim contemplates the dangers of public exposure undoubtedly fearing the pressure of becoming the accused instead of the accuser, the bishop has the full authority and support (plus) resources of the Catholic Church to enjoy the luxury of fleeing to the United States until the controversy blows over.

The victim gets publicly exposed without any sense of how or if at all justice will be rendered and the accused gets a vacation abroad.

Our country is not only known for being the only Christian and predominantly Catholic population in Asia, but the Catholic hierarchy is also known for its powerful political influence over State affairs.

While a strong Catholic presence in communities facilitated the growth of the human rights and anti-dictatorship movement in the Ferdinand Marcos era, the Catholic hierarchy's long-standing alliance with the State and powers that be in Philippine society, dates back to Spanish colonization.

What the Catholic hierarchy says usually passes off as state policy. The present administration has demonstrated this fact even more unambiguously than any former regime since Cory Aquino's.

For instance, both the administration and the Catholic Church hierarchy have singled out the proposed Reproductive Health Care Act as unacceptable because it provides an array of reproductive health care and family planning services that include artificial contraceptives contrary to Catholic dogma that equates artificial contraception to abortion.

Ironically, the Reproductive Health Care Act integrates a human rights approach to health and well-being. It even integrates the issue of Violence Against Women (VAW) as an issue of reproductive health.

Indeed, how many women and girl children who are victims of sexual exploitation are put in jeopardy of an unwanted pregnancy simply because they do not know about emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy?

Emergency Contraception is a method of contraception after unplanned intercourse or in the case of VAW survivors, rape. Taken within 72 hours after sexual contact, it contains the chemical found in regular birth control pills (levonorgestrel) in higher doses. It prevents pregnancy by inhibiting ovulation (same as the pill) but cannot harm an existing pregnancy or cause abortion because it contains progestins (estrogen extracts).

It is not RU 486, the French pill called mifepristone, which is an abortifacient (because it has antiprogestins), but the Catholic Church has been known to make no distinction between ECP and RU 486.

Emergency Contraception is in fact at the center of the most current debacle epitomizing the classic separation of Church and State issue.

Women's rights and reproductive health advocates are challenging the Department of Health's integration of Catholic dogma into its reading of the Constitution. The issue is considered important because outlawing ECP (levonorgestrel), the same stuff of which regular birth control pills are made of, places the Philippines in danger of going down the path of religious fundamentalism (akin to a Catholic Taliban) by regulating and limiting women's family planning options.

Women's sexuality is not a particularly a strong card for the Catholic Church. The negative treatment of women's expression of sexuality is in fact at the core of cult of virginity and the hymen. Women's manner and mode of

dress, sexual experience and even being "matandang dalaga" (unmarried if otherwise not a nun) is taken against them.

With the latest church controversy involving a well-known and highly influential Catholic leader, it is not surprising that the victim is suddenly the accused.

In the Philippines, Catholic priests exercise a lot of power and influence, just as they have had for centuries. For years, abuses in the Catholic Church against women and children have been downplayed. It never comes easy to challenge a priest, let alone a powerful bishop.

As of now, the victim has not even dared file a criminal charge against the bishop and has opted to be quiet and rely on the church's investigation.

Her situation calls to mind the usual way the cases of Catholic priests have been treated in cases of sexual indiscretion and abuse -- a mere slap on the wrist.

In this case, the first step taken by the church hardly even comes close to a "slap on the wrist." It's a vacation abroad. (We hope we, the Catholics aren't paying for it) Meanwhile, the victim lies fully exposed and at risk of public condemnation and media attention.

This issue should serve as a wake up call to progressive elements of the Catholic Church. The church should not serve the ends of its abusive leaders but instead represent the best interests of its members. Bacani's accuser as well as other women and children victimized by the Catholic clergy and hierarchy deserve justice in this life as much as the here after.

--CAROLINA S. RUIZ-AUSTRIA, LARA C. JAVIER, Women's Legal Education, Advocacy and Defense Foundation, Inc. (WOMENLEAD)


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