Rosario Baluyot: How the Failure to Protect a Child Victim of Sexual Abuse Paved the Way to Legislation Reforms Regarding Age of ConsentRead Now
In 1987, the story of Rosario Baluyot's abuse and torture at the hands of an Austrian physician sparked outrage all over the country. She lived in Olongapo, or what was known as "Sin City" back then due to rampant prostitution in the area.
It was on October 10, 1986, when Austrian physician, Heinrich Stefan Ritter, brought Rosario Baluyot and Jessie Ramirez, another child, to a hotel room in Olongapo. Ritter then inserted a foreign object inside Baluyot. The following day, Ritter gave Baluyot 300 pesos and Jessie 200 pesos.
Baluyot would eventually die from a severe infection in her cervix due to an electric vibrator stuck inside her vagina for over 7 months.
During the trial, because of the lack of proper documents to prove Baluyot’s age, as well as lack of evidence to link Ritter to her death, Ritter was acquitted.
Rosario Baluyot was the youngest of eight children. She grew up without a family; thus, prompting her to become a street child at just eight years old. She ended up at the U.S. Naval Base where there were millions of children just like her, just trying to get by.
One night in 1986, Baluyot was lured by Austrian physician, Heinrich Stefan Ritter, along with another child, Jessie Ramirez, to the MGM Hotel. They were chosen by Ritter among the many street children in the area. Ritter promised both children money and food. Instead, they ended up being sexually abused.
Upon arriving at the room, Ritter ordered them to take a bath. Ramirez went first, then Baluyot. While she was in the bathroom, Ritter ordered Ramirez to lay down on the bed with him. He then started masturbating Ramirez, and guided the young boy’s hand for him to be masturbated as well. When Baluyot came out of the bathroom, she was told to remove her clothes and join them in bed. Ritter placed himself between the two children and started fingering Baluyot.
Ramirez was already sleepy when sexual abuse happened; thus, when he saw Ritter trying to penetrate Baluyot, he was not able to do anything as he fell asleep. Ritter had sex with Baluyot and even inserted a vibrator into her vagina. It eventually broke while lodged inside Baluyot's cervix. For seven gruelling months, Baluyot suffered in agonizing pain due to infection before she died.
The following day, Ritter gave Ramirez and Baluyot P200 and P300 respectively. Both of them described Ritter as “American,” which will make for a significant point during the trial. When Ritter left the room, Baluyot told Ramirez that the “American” inserted something in her, but couldn’t do anything about it because he had already left. Neither of them reported the incident to the police.
On Baluyot’s gravestone in Olongapo, it was stated that she died at only 11 years old, but there was no confirmation on what her real age was. This uncertainty over her date of birth would prove to be a significant factor during the trial later on.
Discovering Rosario Baluyot
On May 14, 1987, defense witness, Gaspar Alcantara, while garbage scavenging near the U.S. Naval Base saw Baluyot’s body in a foul-smelling bloody skirt. He took pity on Baluyot so he brought her to the Olongapo City general hospital. He was listed as Baluyot’s guardian while she was sent to the emergency room. He filled out the necessary details regarding Baluyot’s personal information such as name, age, and residence. During the trial, he claimed that he already knew who Baluyot was for over a year because he had seen her go to the house of his twin brother, Melchor Alcanta, who was also his neighbor, to be with Nora who was in the custody of Melchor.
During her stay at the hospital, Baluyot did not have any relatives who visited her. Instead, three good samaritans, Jessica Herrera, Fe Israel, and Eva Palencia, during one of their missions in the hospital, found out about Baluyot’s case. They decided to help her by providing her with medicine. It was Israel who was able to know Baluyot’s name and age from Baluyot herself. For Israel, knowing Baluyot’s age was crucial because their program only assisted patients who were up to 13 years old.
The OB-Gyne who attended to Baluyot, Dr. Barcinal tried to remove the object inside her vagina through forceps, but failed, because it was so deeply embedded and covered by tissues. She ended up suffering peritonitis, or a bacterial/fungal infection within her abdomen. A surgical operation was scheduled on the evening of May 19, 1987, to be conducted on Baluyot by Dr. Rosete, the hospital director, when the initial surgery two days prior was aborted.
The foreign objects left inside Baluyot were fragments of the vibrator, coated with pus and blood. Baluyot’s operation was a success, and she was able to live for almost a day. She was pronounced dead in the afternoon the following day, May 20, 1987. Her death certificate stated that the cause of death was a cardio-respiratory arrest, secondary to septicemia caused by the foreign object lodged in her vaginal canal.
Through the help of Alcantara, the grandmother of Baluyot was found and informed about what had happened to her granddaughter.
As many as 43 street children were rounded up by Palencia and it was discovered that Baluyot was with Ramirez when an “American” brought them to the MGM Hotel. Ramirez confirmed that he was with Baluyot and an “American” sometime before Christmas. He was brought to the U.S. Naval Base where a composite drawing of who the “American” could be was made and distributed.
After gathering intel that foreign homosexuals were often seen in Ermita, Manila, authorities went to the area, along with Ramirez, in the hopes of capturing Ritter. On September 25, 1987, a male caucasian was observed to be admiring Ramirez; in which, the latter said that the adult bore a resemblance to the suspect they were looking for. Ramirez was instructed to follow the foreigner to a bar. Ramirez gave the signal, and authorities were able to arrest Ritter. He was brought to Olongapo and detained at the Olongapo City Jail. He was charged with rape with homicide.
According to the sole witness to the crime, Jessie Ramirez, whom Baluyot was also with during the sexual abuse, he did not see Ritter insert the vibrator. He also said that Baluyot told him about the vibrator being inserted in her, but she managed to remove it. However, he saw Baluyot in extreme pain days later. He would not see Baluyot again as he went to his aunt’s house to continue his studies. The court thought of Ramirez’ testimonies as contradictory and hearsay.
According to medical testimonies, it was questioned just when exactly Baluyot’s infection occurred as it could have happened earlier than 7 months. Lastly, according to the OB-Gyne who attended to Baluyot, the victim told her that it was a “Black man” who abused her. Ritter is not Black.
Ritter was immediately deported, banned from returning to the Philippines, and was able to go back to Austria and live as a free man.
Ritter appealed that Baluyot was 13 years old, which was above the age of consent in the Philippines. He also said that Baluyot was a child prostitute who lived on the streets of Olongapo; thus, she willingly submitted to his sexual demands in exchange for money. They also claimed that the suspect was described as “American” when he is actually an “Austrian,” leading them to go for a case of mistaken identity.
Another claim of the defense was how Ritter could be liable for homicide because the vibrator that was inserted in Baluyot was not a weapon of death; rather, it was for giving sexual pleasure. They also tried to pin the death of Baluyot to the OB-Gyne who operated on Baluyot in trying to get the vibrator out.
The Supreme Court ruled that the burden of proving that Baluyot was under 12 years old when she was raped fell on the prosecution. Ritter was tried and sentenced to life imprisonment for the rape and death of Baluyot. He was also ordered to pay for moral and exemplary damages to Baluyot’s family. However, Baluyot lacked any documents such as a birth certificate or any other proof of her age; which was to the advantage of Ritter.
Because of the technicality regarding Baluyot’s real age, his charges of rape with homicide were reversed. In addition, according to the penal code at that time, rape is considered to be committed when there is: 1) force or intimidation; and 2) the women is deprived of reason or unconscious. For both conditions, there was also no proof. In fact, it was stated that evidence pointed to how Baluyot willingly submitted to Ritter’s sexual demands in exchange for money.
Even back then, pedophiles such as Ritter ended up being protected instead of victims such as Baluyot. Her own country’s laws ended up betraying her; and so will others like her that followed. The poor, young, and vulnerable children in the Philippines continue to become victims of abuse by those in power and those with money, continuing the cycle of poverty and structural violence.
Child exploitation is approximately a $5 billion industry that is driven by poverty, green, and demand for sex. Baluyot's ordeal is a story that became known worldwide and became the symbol of the international movement to put a stop to child sexual exploitation. Unfortunately, Baluyot is only one of the hundreds of thousands of children that have fell victim to child prostitution and pornography; while Ritter is but one of the thousands of men from all over the world who travel to other countries to satiate their thirst for sex with minors.
Baluyot’s life story was the subject of a documentary novel entitled “Rosario is Dead” which helped in paving the way for legal reforms in the Philippines to place more emphasis on protecting children from sexual abuse and exploitation. However, when it came to the age of consent, it remained at 12 years old as it was immortalized in the penal code which was enacted in 1930.
Legislations for the Protection of Children
"This law reform is particularly urgent because the Philippines has such a high prevalence of violence against children. UNICEF and the child rights community have lobbied and campaigned actively for many years on this issue," chief of child protection at the UN children's agency UNICEF Patrizia Benvenuti said.
Currently, it is proposed to raise the age of consent to 16 years old.
The proposed legislation will guarantee that an adult who engages in sexual activities with a child under 16 will be guilty of rape. It will also remove the exemption of marriage for those who married their underaged victims. This will remove the burden on the child victims of having to testify in court that they did not consent to any sexual activity, and those under 12 years old will no longer be required to testify.
The perpetrators will now automatically face rape charges and if found guilty, will be sentenced to up to 40 years in jail.
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