If you’re having girl problems, I feel bad for you son
I got 99 problems, but the bitch ain’t one.
– Jay-Z, 99 Problems
The Black Album, Def Jam Records (2003)
There’s an old saying that goes, “Don’t shoot the messenger.” In the case of Nicole – the victim of the Subic rape case – there’s a lot of shooting going on. Not bullets, not a movie in the works, but barbs from everywhere, There are people who agree with what she did, and there are people who don’t agree with what she did. Retracting the events of her rape, as it seemed, was enough to galvanize many Filipinos into forming an opinion about it. For a hundred thousand pesos, a green card, and peace and quiet, Nicole is off to the United States, leaving the Subic rape case as yet another black eye in the annals of the Philippine justice system.
Pardon me, ladies and gentlemen, I just have to vent.
I’m not a lawyer, I’m not a judge or jury, but it seems that all this hatred for Nicole is “unwarranted.” Thanks to women empowerment and a more educated understanding about rape, we’re beyond that “Just lay back and enjoy the ride” attitude that has sort of defined rape for generations. Women being sexually violated are no longer condemned to the rest of their lives to the whore’s tent at the edge of the village, but rape survivors become spokespeople for the crusade against gender bias and women’s oppresion. That rape, as a crime, demanded restitution and retribution. Rape demanded justice.
To the tune of a hundred thousand pesos, to the tune of a green card, the Subic rape case was the swan song of our justice. The funeral dirge. Somehow, we might as well bury it. Meh, right?
“There is no justice in the Philippines,” says Nicole’s mother. Somehow, we’re wont to believe that. We’re wont to believe convoluted plotlines and conspiracy theories that could probably make the Subic rape case fit perfectly in between pages of a Tom Clancy novel, but it’s not. It seems that rather than to understand and pity Nicole, and perhaps make a more sensible explanation out of connect-the-dots – like the Obama phone call, the Visiting Forces Agreement, and everything about US-RP relations – a lot of people are outraged and incensed. Not because of a conspiracy, not because of a convoluted plotline, but because for just one case, justice made sense around here. Justice ruled in our favor. Justice meant something.
We’re wont to believe that nothing will happen. We’re wont to believe that these courts, the justice system, these won’t do a damn thing. Yet here’s the catch: Daniel Smith was convicted. Daniel Smith was guilty, so say these courts. That one thread we have left of our faith in the justice system was kept alive. Never mind that Daniel Smith spent a few days in jail. Never mind that the sentence was carried out in a haphazard manner. What mattered was that a victim of rape, a rape survivor, a Filipina, a woman who was gang-raped at the back of a van, had the backbone to stand up to the justice system and say, and be proven right in saying:
“I was raped. Rape is wrong. I demand justice.”
It would seem imprudent to talk about Nicole, that we’re better off leaving her in peace, yadda yadda yadda. I don’t think so; when something like this can affect us so much, so much to the very marrow of our bones, I think we should be outraged. I think we should be mad. I think that we have every right to be angry, disappointed, shamed, embarrassed, pensive, snarky. Whatever emotion is in that gamut of feelings we have, if we have them.
For one, it seems that the very fragile definition of rape – a fragile definition that protects women – was given up in the name of the almighty dollar. Nicole was raped. The evidence, circumstantial as it may be, all pointed to the conviction and sentencing of Daniel Smith. Granted that not everyone agreed with the decision and still thought of Nicole as a class A prostituted woman, but Smith was, in the eyes of the court, a criminal. For that one second, it seemed that we triumphed over something here, that every gripe we had against American military presence and the whole race of rapists in our country was, at the very least, vindicated by the fight of Nicole.
For that one second, it seems that every woman had a standing chance against a rapist. It may be some creepy guy who fits every trope of the rapist, or a really powerful and rich fellow that does not fit the description of a run-of-the-mill rapist. Finally, the justice system has gone beyond the “lay back and enjoy the ride” chauvinism and sexism that makes women afraid to cry “rape.” Nicole fought the good fight. For three years, every Filipina who was raped happened to have that one hope that, like Nicole, justice will be served to them.
Hounded she was by the media; if you’re the poster girl for rape victims, you grow uncomfortable with the situation. So it is with the sensational, so it is with graphic and vivid and lurid descriptions of forcible sex, that people start to ride on a whirlwind of emotions. Rape is a crime so base, so banal, so low, so more human-than-human, that people make all sorts of judgment calls. “Did you enjoy it?” “How was it?” “How could you not have expected it if you were wearing that miniskirt and tube top?” “How could you not have resisted?” Bollocks? Of course it is.
I’m not blaming Nicole; I’m not a moralist in a pulpit demanding repentance. While it was distasteful and disgusting to take P100K and a green card and heaven-knows-what to retract and to hightail it out of the Philippines, it just goes to show that something so noble and something so beautiful as justice has a price. It’s submission to a cynicism that you can only have principles that you can afford. Practical? Yes: it takes people off her back, and it feeds whomever relies on her. These are trying times. “Let’s give her a break.”
Rape is chronic. Rape is repeated. Rape is a metaphor: raped by thoughts, raped by conscience, raped by media, raped by public opinion. Rape is everywhere, in the metaphorical sense; it is when rape is translated into the forcible entry of the penis into the vagina that things become clearer, more vivid, more lucid. The crime is as human as it is animalistic.
The unintended consequence of this, in my view, is that rape is here to stay. With Nicole gone, with a poster girl for justice gone, with people still picking up the pieces of whatever remains of justice, rape victims will look at Nicole’s recant as an antecedent and a prophecy to their fate when they take it to the courts. Whatever – or whomever – moved Nicole to make that retraction is saddled with being the catalyst of tragedy.
The rape victim who seeks justice, and is willing to fight for it, will be weighed not in the merits of her case or the weight of the attack. She will be weighed on the basis of what would it take for her to recant, to shut up, to be the unwitting example that the long, narrow, rocky path to justice is irrelevant compared to money. Even for something as base and as banal as rape. It’s cynical, but more and more women will have to be added to the list of rape victims, where we could sift through them, look for another Nicole, get one of them to be strong enough to face stigma, and say:
“I was raped. Rape is wrong. I demand justice.”
Which begs me to ask… why? Perhaps I’ll never know, perhaps we’ll never know. After three years, when some semblance of justice is finally here, when some semblance of the Filipina being more than just female analogues of a chauvinistic, sexist preconception of things beyond these shores, there’s nothing more permanent in rape than shame. And so it goes for all of us to realize that maybe – just maybe – there will be no answers to this travesty and embarrassment, now that Nicole is gone. Now that justice has died on us again. Now that we kill it again, and again, and again. Now that we’ve all been shamed.
Now that we’ve all been raped. Ouch. It’s not a judgment, it’s a frustration.
It’s wrong and callous, perhaps even uncharacteristic of me to say this, but in a few places in this country, the words of Jay-Z hold true: 99 problems, but the bitch – for all intents and purposes of lyrics – ain’t one.