Justice delayed is justice denied in cases against women and children

by Fr. Shay Cullen

Court House | Photo via Wikimedia Commons

We need to be reminded of the extent of violence against women and children, especially on the 25th of November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls. Senator Leila De Lima has been denied justice for so long by contrived delays, only getting bail recently after years in detention.

Everyone must sit up and pay attention to the prevalence of injustice in cases of widespread false allegations and abuse of women, especially in cases of child abuse.

This terrible, heinous crime has been kept out of the public eye for decades as if the sexual, physical, and psychological abuse of children is of lesser importance and gets less media attention than the romantic affairs of movie stars and celebrities or the revelations of corruption against politicians.

The Philippines has a population of 110 million. Forty million are children. Nearly 538 babies are born to teenagers daily, mostly 15-16. Many of the single mothers are victims of rape. That is 196,370 babies born a year to teenagers. Most of the mothers are abandoned by their fathers.

Many are victims of incest- sexually abused by their fathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers or cousins, and live-in partners of the mothers. Others are victims of human trafficking and end up raped continually in sex bars that operate with local government-issued permits and licenses.

About 80 percent or 32,000,000 Filipino children suffer from some form of violence at least once in their childhood, much of it sexual violence. Unicef research uncovered approximately 7,000,000 of these children between the ages of 10 and 18 are sexually abused every year. Twenty percent, or 1.4 million, are under six years old. While these statistics are shocking, they are generally ignored by the media.

The court trials of child victims of abuse go primarily unnoticed and unreported, yet every day, there are horrific revelations of child abuse by parents, relatives, pedophiles, and sex tourists. When good judges convict and sentence child abusers to life in prison, such vital events are hardly ever reported.

They should be as they are reminders that child abuse is widespread and penalties are harsh and severe and should be known to deter and prevent abuse. Justice is being done for some victims of the horrific crimes of child abuse.

A recent conviction in the Olongapo City Family Court delivered a life sentence to the stepfather of a 10-year-old child, Jemma (not her real name), one of many convictions. The stepfather, known as Lolo Macario, was found guilty of sexual assault on the 13th of November 2023, having abused the child several times until bleeding from her private part revealed the abuse.

The 10-year-old Jemma was in the care of the Preda Foundation and volunteered to have Emotional Release Therapy that empowered her to testify with self-confidence, clarity, and consistency. She was coherent, spontaneous, logical, and convincingly truthful during her testimony in front of Judge Gemma Theresa B. Hilario-Lagronio. The accused, Lolo Macario, was found guilty beyond reasonable doubt and will serve most of his life behind bars where he can abuse no more children.

“Delay is the much-loved tactic of defense lawyers and in cahoots with wayward prosecutors or judges who request and approve contrived excuses one after another to postpone hearing the child’s testimony for months or years.”

Then, another child abuser, Enrico Romaguera, was convicted on the 16th of November 2023 of unjust vexation brought by a child in the care of the Preda Foundation. He has already served a jail sentence since he was jailed in 2020 but will remain detained as he has yet another more severe case of child abuse to answer from the same victim.

Sitting in the private chamber and then in the courtroom of Judge Gemma Hilario-Lagronio recently was a learning experience in how swift, active implementation of the law protects children and delivers justice. There were no delays or postponements, the proceeding went swiftly, and every effort was being made to get all the evidence on the record.

The first child, Jenny (not a real name) from the Preda children’s home, was invited to the privacy of the judge’s chambers to give her testimony to the court and to shield Jenny from the gaze of her abusers- her own parents. Wise judges place the accused where they can hear but not be seen by the complaining child to prevent intimidation.

In another case, the prosecutor and the judge also asked relevant questions to the boy victim about the size of the bamboo used to beat him and about photographs of the wounds he suffered on his body and how he felt to establish the psychological wounds. This is to be sure that all the evidence is recorded in detail, and if there is a conviction, it is beyond reasonable doubt. The defense lawyer also asked him questions in cross-examination, which he answered clearly.

The following case was a hearing of the allegations of three children who were given empowerment therapy by the Preda home for abused children against their male teacher. The children reenacted the way the teacher when in the classroom, pulled them to sit on his lap behind his desk and abused them with his hand, pleasuring himself.

The three girls, in separate hearings, one by one testified and were spontaneous and self-confident in telling how the abuse was done. The accused sat in the courtroom where he heard, but they could not see him.

If convicted, he will get a minimum sentence of four years for each count of acts of lascivious conduct under RA 7610. But since it is his first conviction, if ever, he could get parole and walk free. This is a challenge for the Senate and Congress to close that loophole in the law. It allows abusers to get away with child abuse. At the same time, they can establish a law that mandates setting a children’s court that will end months of children waiting to testify.

Delay is the much-loved tactic of defense lawyers and in cahoots with wayward prosecutors or judges who request and approve contrived excuses one after another to postpone hearing the child’s testimony for months or years.

Over time, the child cannot emotionally live with the memory of abuse and tries to erase it from her memory. Then, in court, eventually, she will have forgotten the details of the abuse and can be easily confused during a severe cross-examination by the defense lawyer. The judge can then rule that there is “reasonable doubt” and dismiss the charges.

In Cagayan, a judge has planned a trial of a priest for child abuse until 2026. Some defense lawyers plan to thwart justice by causing “witness fatigue” or “loss of interest” by the victim. After years of delay, the child victim and supporters lose hope and don’t attend hearings. Then, the judge can dismiss the case for “loss of interest.”

The judges in Cebu said the children needed a protective healing home. The children are persuaded by relatives who receive payments from the accused not to testify or are not informed of the hearings. They don’t attend the court hearings, and the case is dismissed.

These tactics defeat the purpose of justice, and NGOs are making complaints to the Supreme Court. Eliminating sexual violence against children is one mighty impossible task, but healing the victims and giving them freedom from abuse and justice can be done and must be done without fear or favor.

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