Nicole, and the road back to anger

March 22, 2009 at 3:28 am 2 comments

I am the history of rape

I am the history of the rejection of who I am

I am the history of the terrorized incarceration of

my self

I am the history of battery assault and limitless

armies against whatever I want to do with my mind

and my body and my soul and

whether it’s about walking out at night

or whether it’s about the love that I feel or

whether it’s about the sanctity of my vagina or

the sanctity of my national boundaries

or the sanctity of my leaders or the sanctity

of each and every desire

that I know from my personal and idiosyncratic

and disputably single and singular heart

I have been raped


cause I have been wrong the wrong sex the wrong age

the wrong skin the wrong nose the wrong hair the

wrong need the wrong dream the wrong geographic

the wrong sartorial I

I have been the meaning of rape

I have been the problem everyone seeks to

eliminate by forced

penetration with or without the evidence of slime and/

but let this be unmistakable this poem

is not consent I do not consent

~From Poem About My Rights, June Jordan

It is when highly unexpected events happen that our personal opinions are most truthfully tested. It easy to feel or galvanize towards anger when old players play out old roles, even if in carrying them out they create such shocking scenes of horror that some roles are redefined. Just a couple of weeks back, when suspected military men abducted, raped, and killed Rebelyn Pitao, the whole of Davao City was so incensed its mayor suddenly took up the cudgels for human rights. This raised the eyebrows only of a few, such as the Philippine Daily Inquirer, which in an editorial chose to nitpick on Rodrigo Duterte’s local vigilantism instead of zeroing in on Gloria Arroyo’s national policy of wiping out leftists. Most understood that everyone can and should condemn state forces that are the only ones to be blamed, and that Rebelyn needs nothing less than a strong and resounding chorus for justice if such crimes are to be prevented from happening again, especially to innocent women.

But then here come’s Nicole with her “recantation”—I would like to say reinterpretation would be more accurate—of the events that transpired in the back of a van one night in Subic November of 2005. It was a shock, too, in a way that Rebelyn’s death was. But it was one that gave way to much confusion and dismay because the one cast in the role of the victim suddenly didn’t seem to be much of a victim anymore, if one were to read superficially the sworn statement Nicole gave to the court before leaving for the United States, as those who were behind its construction intended it to be read.

Those who have intelligently attempted to deconstruct the statement found that it did not remove the fundamental element of rape and that it in fact strengthened it by underscoring that she was too drunk to have given Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith her consent for sex. In fact, those who bother to read the situation in which it was produced would figure out that it was probably not Nicole speaking but Smith’s lawyers who notarized it for her. Unfortunately, all that many chose to see is the self-doubt that a rape victim made apparent after the pressure of three years of waiting for justice from a government that from the start treated her merely as an inconvenient PR disaster for its subservient relations to the US, of standing up to a foreign power that pounced on her every vulnerability, of living in a hometown where the likes of Smith freely roam with masks of benevolence. For those who had symbolically invested in Nicole the fight against US military presence in the country and violence against women, her recantation seemed an act of betrayal of their trust in her person. It elicited a lot of immature, knee-jerk reactions that is painful to watch, especially because it was led by the supposedly rational media, which chose for the first time to splash her true identity in front pages and primetime TV even if nothing about the case had changed to merit such vindictive disrespect for victims of violence against women. Then came a deluge of the same set of opinions that the progressive women’s movement had struggled with at the start of the Subic rape case trial—that she was a loose woman who got what she was asking for, with one columnist even going as far as saying that she wore skinny jeans that Smith couldn’t have taken off without her help. The sensational news headlines of old (“Nicole wants to have more sex”) have been rehashed into softer opinion pieces (“Deconstructing Nicole”) or subtler editorial treatment that nevertheless consist of the same victim-blaming mode. Except that now, starting a new life on foreign shores, Nicole is beyond feeling the hurt that anyone in this country with the compulsion can inflict. It is only we who are left to grapple with the remaining struggle as both the Philipine and US governments are poised to justify the continuation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the thorny issue of a US soldier’s rape of a Filipina expected to be extracted from its side.

In its editorial, the PDI enumerated judgments on Nicole that have crystallized over the past few days. “She was the victim of government neglect”; “she was a flirt who couldn’t handle her drink”; “she was in it for the money or the visa”; “she was a Filipina who wanted to live the American dream.” It said that her sworn statement “may tell us more about her than we are ready for.” I say that the way we have reacted to her sworn statement tells us more about ourselves than we are ready for. Despite centuries of oppression and exploitation, in which many of our women have been abused by colonial and neo-colonial powers led by the US, we still haven’t learned how to recognize victims that could be ourselves, our mothers, our sisters, and our daughters, much less treat them well and nurture that which compels them to stand up and fight. We had rallied behind Nicole because she had the courage it took to file a case that the government itself had ensured wouldn’t send her rapist to jail, to sit in court under the glare of many who couldn’t be moved to believe her, and to endure pressures that we can never know of or even be bothered to imagine. But now that her courage ran out, we had failed to exhibit the same. Instead of turning our ire on the old players that with gusto played out their old roles—Philippine government as US lackey, US government as foreign bully—we instead embarked on a misdirected crusade to discredit the role that Nicole played, however inadvertently, as a champion for women’s rights and national sovereignty but in the end just couldn’t sacrifice a “normal life” for. What Nicole did was understandable; what we are doing is not.

Our voices are falling through the age-old cracks of patriarchy, thus rendering our chorus for justice weak and dissonant. It the Arroyo and the US government succeed in once again ramming the VFA down our throats (and god knows what else into the lives and bodies of our women for decades to come) at this exact point in history where we are in the best position to call for its junking and yet chose not to simply because we judged a woman in a way that no woman should ever be judged, we will have nobody to blame but ourselves. This particular issue must push us to recognize the sophistication of the ways of the enemy. Sometimes it is downright brutal as in the case of Rebelyn. Sometimes, though, as in the case of Nicole, it simply spawns and feeds on existing prejudices in a society still very much steeped in a culture that habitually and insidiously devalues women. The former arouses the senses; the latter deadens it. Both are equally foul play that deserves nothing less than our highest collective condemnation.

In an interview last 2006, Nicole’s therapist Dr. June Pagaduan-Lopez said that her client was on the verge of chronic post-traumatic stress disorder. This was a condition, she explained, wherein a rape victim can’t regain her confidence and self-worth. “I alone cannot nurse her back to health. At the right time, she should join an organization that will carry the same struggle. It is the only way for her anger to be constructive; the only way to empower her,” Dr. Lopez added. It takes no degree in psychiatry to understand that Nicole’s “recantation” was one of the many roads that are open to rape victims who do not so easily reach the place of dignity, or who lose empowerment along the way. As for us who had felt injustice not only as witnesses to a single crime against her person, but also as historical victims of imperialist aggression whose implications go far beyond women’s issues and lie at the very heart of national independence and sovereignty, there should only be one dignified road to take, and that is the road back to anger. Anger for rape, both individual and systemic, actual and symbolic. Anger for those who enjoin us to think in the manner of rapists and their coddlers whose sense of unchallenged power lead to human rights violations of the most offensive order. Anger that is constructive and empowering because it is organized towards a just end, with or without Nicole to act as its symbol.

The struggle against the VFA is far from defeated. The role of those who can and should partake in it has only been redefined to include becoming harbingers of human compassion and political astuteness at this period of shock when a narrow sense of betrayal and classic machismo reign over our personal opinions and—like American soldiers on our soil—threaten to stay “for good.”


Entry filed under: Journalism, Politics, Sectoral issues.

Insights on the struggle of the Palestinian people

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. DJB Rizalist  |  March 22, 2009 at 11:39 pm

    For those who’ve been following closely the Subic Bay Rape Case, please read this excerpt from Republic Act 8505, which was mentioned tonight on ABSCBN’s Media In Focus tv show with Cheche Lazaro by the lawyers Evalyn Ursua and Katrina Legarda:

    Rape Victim Assistance and Protection Act of 1998.

    Section 5. Protective Measures. – At any stage of the investigation, prosecution and trial of a complaint for rape, the police officer, the prosecutor, the court and its officers, as well as the parties to the complaint shall recognize the right to privacy of the offended party and the accused. Towards this end, the police officer, prosecutor, or the court to whom the complaint has been referred may, whenever necessary to ensure fair and impartial proceedings, and after considering all circumstances for the best interest of the parties, order a closed-door investigation, prosecution or trial and that the name and personal circumstances of the offended party and/or the accused, or any other information tending to establish their identities, and such circumstances or information on the complaint shall not be disclosed to the public.

    Most disingenuously and dishonestly neither of the two Lady Lawyers bothered to mention this entirely fair and reasonable parity of rights to privacy of BOTH the “offended party” and of the “accused.”

  • 2. tyrone velez  |  March 28, 2009 at 5:11 am


    Nicole is much a victim again, unwittingly.

    Amen too on your point on Duterte. Why is PDI nitpicking on the mayor when there is a far grimmer issue of EJK done by the state?


    p.s. May new blog ago


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