The trial of Karen Vertido

The Davao City prosecutor’s office has dismissed the rape complaint of Karen Vertido, executive director of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry,  against businessman Jose Custodio, a former president of the same organization.

The vote of the special panel of four fiscals who conducted the preliminary investigation was tied, 2-2, but Joel Hipe, the acting city prosecutor broke the deadlock and declared that the evidence was not sufficient  to warrant the filing of the case in court.

In his resolution, which an Inquirer report quotes in part, Fiscal Hipe said he considered it his job “to secure the innocent against hasty, malicious and oppressive prosecution to protect him from an open and public accusation of crime, from the trouble, expense and anxiety of public trial, and also to protect the state from useless and expensive trials.”  Very well said, but who will listen to the victims?

Cases of rape are mostly contests of credibility.  The Karen Vertido case is no exception.  It is her word against Custodio’s.  Yet, the tendency, even of the public, is to tear apart the woman’s story and point out its seeming inconsistencies.  In like manner, the city prosecutor’s resolution focused exclusively on the reliability of Vertido’s account, measuring this not against Custodio’s version but against  impressions of Vertido’s personality.

The fiscal could not accept Karen Vertido’s claim that she was too confused and paralyzed to summon her usual judgment, and escape or call for help at the time of the rape.  He thought that the account “may inspire belief if the victim is a young lass, immature and unlettered and an amateur in the ways of the world.”  But Karen happens to be “a career woman, married, above 40, highly educated and exposed to people, considering her job and background.” Therefore — she could not possibly be raped?

If Karen Vertido’s story is not to be believed, then Jose Custodio’s account must be the true one.  Let us then go over his version of the events that transpired on that fateful Friday, March 29, 1996, in the hope that we may, in the process, fill the gaps in our knowledge of the human psyche.

This seems to be Jose Custodio’s story:

That evening, he was organizing a dinner for a group of Malaysian businessmen.  He had asked Karen to join the dinner together with some officers of the Davao Chamber of Commerce, of which he had once been the president.  Though she was not admittedly his girlfriend, he had known Karen for a long time.

He offered to bring her home after dinner.  There was a third passenger in the car, Jose Morada, a friend of his.  Custodio was driving and Karen sat with him in front, while Morada, who was already sleepy, stayed in the back.  They dropped Morada first.

In the car, they talked about a forthcoming trip to Manado, Indonesia, and the possibility that Karen might be able to join this trip.  They held hands while he drove.  Because she seemed receptive to his “naughty advances”, he decided not to drive her home but to proceed to a motel.

He suggested to her that they begin “a longer relationship”, in which they “can help each other”.  Being a married woman, she said it was her first time to go out with another man.  He did not believe her, but he did not say so.  At the motel room, she promptly took off her clothes and waited for him to undress.   But what they were supposed to do “did not materialize.”  “She suggested that we get together next time, then.”

After that fruitless encounter in the motel, she became suddenly very quiet in the car.  She was disappointed that neither the Manado trip nor the proposed “relationship” was discussed again.  He was going to bring her home already, but, being upset, she insisted on taking the taxi.

But why would she file this rape case now?  Well, she was angry that the promise of the Manado trip was not taken up again.  Also, it probably had something to do with “the case I filed against her husband.”  (In 1987, Custodio filed a civil suit against DEMCOR, a company that Dam Vertido, Karen’s husband,  worked for as general manager.   That case remains unresolved.  In a letter to the city prosecutor’s office, Dam said he had completely forgotten about this case as he left the company in 1988.)

I have pieced this narrative together from the transcript of the stenographic notes taken during the preliminary investigation of the case.  I leave it to the reader to ponder its plausibility and value – if not as a fair representation of the truth, maybe as fiction.

I will only say that, clearly, it was not Jose Custodio who was on trial in Davao, but Karen Vertido.  I may not know enough about the law or the rules on evidence, but, as a sociologist, I know a little about human behavior.

Hipe concluded that it was implausible for a highly educated 42-yearold married woman like Karen  to be so stunned as to be unable to prevent herself from being raped.  I wonder if he could also explain how this same woman, a UP graduate with an obviously  aboveaverage self-concept, could be so easily lured into having sex with a 61-year-old man in exchange for a trip to the unremarkable backwaters of Manado.  Perhaps, he should also share with the public his assessment of Jose Custodio’s personality, and explain why he found his story so compelling.


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