Soap opera-loving and gossip-crazy Filipinos were stunned when the popular wayward daughter of former Philippine president Corazon Aquino revealed on national television her lurid and violent love affair with a married politician.
An emotional and shaking Kris Aquino accused Joey Marquez, mayor of the suburban city of Paranaque, of beating her up and poking and cocking a gun at her during a heated argument in their love nest before she walked out on him.
The younger Aquino also admitted that Marquez had given her a sexually transmitted disease during their 18-month relationship.
While the shocking confession, aired live on national television, was mostly a treat for soap opera fans and rumor mongers in the Philippines, the bittersweet love story has become a banner case for women's rights advocates.
"Kris has broken the Filipino women's culture of silence on domestic violence," according to women's group Gabriela. "We admire her courage and we hope more women will learn to fight back against their abusers."
Activists also noted that Kris was able to bring to the limelight the suffering of many women in the Philippines, who bear in silence the philandering ways of their husbands and even infections with sexually transmitted diseases.
The melodrama hit the spotlight when Kris, together with her elder brother Congressman Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino Junior and a battery of lawyers, rushed to the police headquarters to file a report on the gun-poking incident.
Raymond Fortun, Kris' chief lawyer, said the Aquinos were still considering what case to file against Marquez, who is also a popular comedian and a known womanizer.
"We are still discussing this together with her family," he said.
The 32-year-old Kris, herself, is not a spotless character, having had affairs with several married or separated local celebrities, including action and drama actor Philip Salvador, with whom she has a seven-year-old son.
"I am not a perfect person. I have many shortcomings as a daughter and a mother. I have violated many commandments of the Church. But I am not a liar," she said in her tell-all interview, dismissing insinuations of Marquez that she was not telling the truth.
Kris said she loved Marquez so much that she ignored the advice of her mother and brother who both strongly opposed the relationship.
She humbly admitted that she was "so stupid" to continue the affair even when Marquez demeaned her person and cheated on her openly and even brought another woman along while they were on vacation in the US in December last year.
"I don't know what he has that I loved him to this extent," she added. "I don't know why I became so stupid. He would often tell me that no other man would love me. That I should be grateful that he was putting up with me."
Psychologists and lawyers who work with battered women noted that Kris' experience epitomizes the helpless situation that victims of violent relationships often face.
Kris said that during her fight with Marquez, which began with a fit of jealousy over another woman, she grabbed at his genitals and set fire to their bed -- acts that psychologists described as desperate moves of a battered woman.
"I admit, they are saying I grabbed at his genitals, I did," she said. "I wanted to crush it."
The Kris-Joey fight has become such a national fanfare that it has hogged the headlines of even major newspapers for several days, pushing to the sidelines economic and security problems facing the country.
"I scolded our editor for having bannered the Kris & Joey melodrama, saying conjugal battering shouldn't take precedence over the ills of our battered country," said Max Soliven, publisher of Philippine Star newspaper.
"He [the editor] bowed his head, but, judging from his mischievous smile, I realized he was unrepentant," he added. "Later on I was politely informed the issue had sold out."
While some Filipinos have expressed disgust with the way the love affair has been publicized, women activists and lawmakers stressed that it was about time the public realize that violence against women is not a private matter.
"Domestic violence is a reality we cannot ignore or sweep under the rug," Congressman Ted Failon said in his radio program. "We need to confront this issue as vigorously as we confront other issues facing our country today."
According to estimates by non-government organizations and women's rights groups, at least six out of 10 women in the Philippines suffer from domestic violence, considered by law as a private matter best left for the couple to resolve.
Police records show that on average, one woman is battered every two hours in the country. From January to June alone this year, a total of 2,381 cases of women battering has been recorded by the police.
Only a handful of the victims, however, filed criminal charges against their husbands due to lack of financial independence, fear for their children's welfare and social stigma that battered wives are to blame for the violence.
And since only victims can file charges, unless they are killed, concerned relatives, friends and even policemen often watch helplessly as they return to their husbands.
Lawmakers in both the Senate and the House of Representatives have filed bills to make domestic violence a public crime, requiring law enforcers to act on an incident even if victims do not complain and allowing other parties to file criminal charges against an abuser.
The proposed law, however, remains in limbo and proponents are hoping that Kris' expose would give it a much needed boost.
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