ZAMBOANGA CITY — Gemma (not her real name) went home crying and traumatized after securing a barangay clearance at the Barangay Hall of Maasin last week.
The 10-year-old Grade 10 student in one of the public schools here said she was sexually molested by the barangay captain.
She reported the sexual assault allegedly committed by Maasin Barangay chairman Rodolfo Genturalez to her father. The family reported the case to the police station and filed a lawsuit. Gemma’s case ended with a report of acts of lasciviousness, but the suspect managed to post bail.
Gemma’s family has since been receiving death threats, and the father believes the threats were coming from the accused.
Police Captain Shellamae Chang, spokesperson of the Zamboanga City Police Office, confirmed that Gemma was sexually molested by Genturalez, 56, on March 1 at around 9 a.m. inside the Barangay Hall of Maasin.
Last February, another girl was raped by her own grandfather, a barangay councilor, and her father. The police identified the suspect as Alexis Ortega, who is now at large.
Mohammad Taha Arakama, city director of Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), confirmed the two cases of sexual assault perpetrated by barangay officials in the city.
“There are two cases this year — one involves a barangay chairman of Maasin, this Genturalez; and another one, a case committed by a barangay kagawad of Ayala, this Ortega,” Arakama said.
The DILG official said these were the only cases brought to his attention where the suspects were barangay officials.
Genturalez managed to post bail after the family of the victim reported the incident to the police and filed appropriate charges.
“A case of acts of lasciviousness was filed against him [Genturalez]. He was already inquest, and there was a warrant issued against him and he accordingly posted bail,” Arakama said.
Meanwhile, a warrant for Ortega’s arrest has been issued, but he is at large and considered [a] fugitive from justice, according to Arakama.
Presumption of innocense
Arakama, however, clarified that despite the cases lodged against the two suspects, “they are deemed innocent because it has to go through due process.”
He explained that in Ortega’s case “there is a temporary vacancy as far as his office is concerned because of his physical and legal incapacity as barangay kagawad (councilor) to perform his function.”
“Despite the no permanent vacancy on his post, we still obey the rule of presumptive innocence, besides he is not yet convicted,” he said.
In Genturalez’s case, the presumption of innocence will also be observed while he is out on bail.
“Everything will be defined in court; the criminal prosecution is in court. If convicted depende na sa (depending on the) evidence, he will be terminated. Right now, he enjoys provisional liberty, all his duties and obligations and rights as a citizen is restored momentarily,” Arakama said.
Dr. Ederlinda Fernandez, retired Vice President of the Western Mindanao State University and an advocate for women’s rights and equality, expressed anger over the continuous reports of women’s exploitation.
“It is sad that after decades of work on violence against women advocacy, incidents like these happen, even increasingly and with greater impunity, it seems,” Fernandez said.
“Sadder that this form of sexual violence seems to be abetted by the casual remarks, even flippant attitude of those who the citizens should expect to be in higher moral grounds,” Fernandez said, after discovering that barangay officials were behind the abuse.
Fernandez is calling on Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle Salazar to intervene. “I expect our Mayor, who counts GAD (Gender and Advocacy) as one of her priority advocacy to take the time to see to it that the victims are assisted in obtaining justice,” she said.
She also demanded accountability on how local or village officials utilize their GAD budget.
“ I wonder how the funds were used,” she said /ee
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