It was the beginning of the year when I woke up to the news of Christine Dacera’s alleged rape-slay case plastered all over my social media. It was early morning, and I immediately felt sick in the gut, which is an instinctive physical reaction I get whenever I hear cases of similar nature. After all, Dacera—and my mother did not fail to remind me this—was just three years older than I am.
In the initial medico legal report by the Makati police, her cause of death was said to have been an aortic aneurysm, which she could have suffered because of natural causes. However, a day later, a separate report from the Philippine National Police (PNP) said the incident was a rape-slay case.
She was a reminder that victim-blaming can still exist at this day and age. Like many of my peers, I shared the horror-turned-rage that prompted a widespread plea ensuring that she would not just be a cautionary tale or another name in a long list of victims.
Soon, the names of the 11 men she spent the night with were publicized and rapidly spread across in online forums, and many were quick to throw stones at the accused. In no time, the case headlined mainstream media, and because of incomplete reports from the police, theories spread across Facebook and Twitter like wildfire.
However, shortly after, a leaked autopsy report contradicted the PNP’s claim and was consistent with the earlier reported aortic aneurysm. With the police’s hasty proclamation of “solving” the case, the contradicting and incomplete police reports, and the lack of evidence to establish how she died, from a rape-slay case, it began seeming more like a night of revelry gone wrong. When friends and family of the accused began speaking out about their sexual orientations and when the suspects themselves divulged their own side of the story, it became obvious that it was too early to draw any conclusions on the case.
The Dacera case opened up a Pandora’s box of issues, from our country’s relationship with rape culture, to the unreliability of our investigative forces, to our concept of sexual orientation, and to our own shortcomings in blaming the accused too soon. But what was most striking to me was how quickly and easily the public managed to manipulate our image of Dacera and her friends.
Our eagerness for justice—if there was any to be sought—burdened another community: her friends, who bore the mob-induced hate and were forced out of the closet in public.
Reading up on the case made me recall something model, author, and literary enthusiast Emily Ratajkowksi wrote last year. In her essay, Buying Myself Back, she details her legal journey to claim possession of her photos, which were profited off by certain photographers without her consent. After being sued over posting a picture of herself on Instagram, she realized with bitter irony that “my image, my reflection, is not my own.”
In the same manner, is Dacera’s story something she can call her own? While the nature of our assumptions were first rooted in well-meaning concern, the series of events that followed after became dangerously close to becoming a gross invasion of her privacy as a human being. And the media coverage, sensationalized reportage, and national fixation on the case did her no favors.
And this is where the difference between Ratajkowski and Dacera lies. While the former can afford to “buy” back her image, the latter cannot. Ratajkowkski wrote an essay to get her agency back. She has a platform, a voice, a chance to reclaim her power. But Dacera no longer does; she is defenseless against the unwanted and cruel speculations on her character, against what is said and being said about her.
In a time where our image and perception of others is viewed through a digital screen, it becomes a necessity to ask ourselves whom we are really speaking for. Our interpretations of events and images of people should never be a projection of our own values. It shouldn’t warrant the crucifixion of innocents, nor should it spur us to speculate on or weaponize the lives of the deceased. With the case still ongoing, it pays to remember that if what we are really trying to seek is justice, then it shouldn’t come at the expense of human dignity.