Much has changed in the Philippine judiciary in the past twenty years. Prosecutors and judges in the family courts are armed with 37 laws that mandate that they protect children and bring their abusers to swift and strict justice. Many prosecutors and judges are doing just that in Luzon. It is a big change in a changing era for the judiciary.
Finally, the judiciary is acting more swiftly and more determined to bring healing through justice for the child victims. They have cried in silence and suffered all their lives with the stigma and pain of having been raped and abused without help or justice. In Iba, Zambales, Judge Maribel F. Mariano-Beltran is holding continuous hearings all day, taking testimony of the child in the morning and cross examination in the afternoon. The child victim is not stressed by the long wait of weeks, even months, before cross-examination. In other courts, the defense is sometimes allowed a postponement, imposing more stress on the child.
Most prosecutors and judges are advanced in efficient hearing of cases of abused children and schedule continuous hearings. Other tardy prosecutors and judges are still to catch up with the demand by the public and the Court Administrator for speedy and strict implementation of the law. People in the media and the public can take heart that the tide is turning and no nonsense court trials are making the delivery of justice to victims of child sexual abuse more efficiently and more frequent. We just need more of them.
The smartest and most effective prosecutors have a resolution done in weeks and efficient, no-nonsense judges can finish a case in just a few months. In the past, the average case was completed in two or three years. The best judges do not allow or consider a recantation of testimony by a child who is obviously being intimidated by the family of the accused and pressured by the defense lawyer. In such a case, the child is forced to testify against herself. We must bring these resolved cases to the attention of the secretary of the Department of justice and the Court Administrator so the best practitioners of justice will be promoted to be able to do more justice.
The best judges deserving commendation are those that have continuous hearings, not staggered over months because the child victim loses heart. If she is in the community, she can be intimidated by the families of the alleged abuser, cannot attend the hearing and testify and justice fails. More recently, the prosecutors are petitioning the judge to refer such a child to the protection of the Preda home for children.
That is what is happening in Cebu, according to five judges who want to succeed and hear the truth from the child-victims but cannot. They are asking the Preda Foundation to set up a home in Cebu to protect, heal, and empower children so they can attend court hearings and have the courage to testify against their abusers.
Last week, Maricar, now 18 years old and who was made a sex-slave by her own family since she was 12 years old, found justice when finally her rapist father and two brothers were found guilty of raping her and sentenced to a life in prison where they cannot abuse children ever again.
Judge Theresa B. Hilario-Logronio resolved the case in more or less one year. In her decision Judge Logronio gave credence to the testimony of Maricar. She said that the ‘categorical and candid testimony of the complainant suffices and a culprit may be convicted solely on the basis of her testimony”. That is a powerful message to all would-be child abusers. When Princess heard the news that finally her older brother was convicted and sentenced to life in prison by Judge Logronio, she smiled and said “Justice is finally served.” This is what justice for children is all about, listening to them speak the truth and believing them.
There was a time before 1992, the year when the first major child protection law RA 7610 was passed, when child sexual abuse was only whispered about, no laws protected children and few perpetrators were brought to court. When a child complained, she was silenced. Justice was nowhere to be found for victims.
Another child abused multiple times by family members is Christine. She was abused by her father, older brother and a step-father. She found refuge in the Preda home for abused children and was empowered at Preda, She filed criminal complaints against all three. Her brother and step-father have been both convicted. She is scheduled to testify against her father next week again before Judge Maria Lourdes Eltanal-Ignacio in a court in Bataan. There, justice will be done yet again.
The police also recently arrested Dick and Oliver Maggay, father and son, who took turns abusing the child Marilyn. After their arrests, family members of the suspects offered to pay a settlement but the child and her mother refused, trusting more in the courts. They want justice and will surely get it.
In Malolos, Bulacan, Judge Veronica A. Vicente-De Guzman denied last April a petition by the negligent mother of two daughters to release them to her custody. She filed the petition after the children disclosed they were sexually abused by their brother.
Last week, another child, Chiara, was referred by the local social worker to the Preda Home for Girls because family members prevented her from attending a preliminary investigation being conducted by the public prosecutor. Chiara was raped by her father for several years since she was 12 years old. She is now 14. He threatened to kill her if she reports the incidents of rape and also made her believe that her mother will be angry at her when she tells her she was raped.
Depressed, she began to hurt herself. She was crying in the school when a trusted teacher saw her and that’s when she told the teacher what was happening to her at home. Perhaps having attended a Preda seminar, the teacher knew what to do. She reported the case to the principal and they referred Chiara to the local social worker. The child was brought to the Preda home.
The Preda children win an average of 16 to 18 convictions a year. In 2022, they won 21 convictions and this year, they already have won six convictions. The Preda Emotional Release Therapy empowers the children to testify.
It is vital that duty-bearers in the community listen to children tell their stories, believe them when their parents or relatives won’t, and to get help for child-victims. More commitment by all is needed to prevent abuse and protect and help children to heal and find justice.