MANILA, Philippines (ViaNews) – Despite his official spokesperson’s repeated pronouncement that the Philippine president is serious about upholding women’s rights, Rodrigo Roa Duterte continues to be under fire for his notoriety over misogynistic remarks that span from rape jokes, threats to have women guerrilla fighters shot in their vaginas, to unfounded and biased claim that women are incompetent.
Filipino women activists are not taking this sitting down.
Over the past few weeks, women’s rights advocates have been running their social media campaign titled #BabaeAko (I am a woman). Filipino social media influencers, journalists, and activists actively led the online campaign, with the likes of Senator Leila de Lima, a staunch critic of President Duterte’s war against drugs who is presently behind bars over her alleged involvement in illegal drugs trade, and former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Serreno, who was recently ousted in what appeared to be a concerted effort to pave for the president’s authoritarian rule, joining the fray.
The campaign culminated in a protest action on June 12, in time for the Philippines’ commemoration of its independence from Spain. Over a thousand women marched in the streets of Manila, chanting, “Duterte is afraid of women.”
It is not clear when President Duterte began issuing sexist remarks in his public pronouncements. This only came both to national and international attention when, in an electoral campaign speech in 2016, he detailed the rape and killing of an Australian missionary nun back in 1989.
“I was angry she was raped, yes that was one thing. But she was so beautiful, I think the mayor should have been first. What a waste,” he said in Filipino.
This earned the ire of many, pressing for a public apology from the then-presidential aspirant. He was adamant at first but eventually apologized a week later.
But the rape jokes still kept on coming.
For one, at the height of protests over possible human rights violations under the martial law rule in Mindanao, President Duterte told soldiers to “just do your job I will take care of the rest” and that he alone will be responsible for the consequences.
“If you had raped three, I will admit it, that’s on me,” he said, virtually telling them that they can commit rape with impunity.
In the past, soldiers have been accused of raping trusting and innocent women in communities where they are deployed. Back in 2011, one of the rape victims who came out to protest sadly suffered from mental health disorders.
President Duterte also earned the ire of women activists when it bowed to the demands by the Japanese government to take down a statue in memoriam for women sex slaves by their troops during the Japanese occupation instead of upholding the nation’s dignity, according to a Bulatlat.com report.
Shoot the vaginas
President Duterte’s seeming spite for women did not end with derogatory rape jokes.
In a speech before alleged rebel surrenderees back in February 2018, President Duterte gave a virtual marching order on what to do with female members of the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP): “We will not kill you. We will just shoot you in the vagina.”
The human rights community in the Philippines were quick to condemn the president’s statement and an affront to the binding agreement titled, “Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Law,” which the Philippine government signed in the peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
Both the CPP and the NPA are allied organizations of the NDFP.
“We hark back on the President, as a colleague in the legal profession, that it is a basic rule, so basic even a struggling freshman in law school would already know, to protect lives, human rights and dignity, be it in times of peace or war,” said the women members of a group of human rights lawyers, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL).
Amid the backlash, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque then urged the public not to take President “literally” but rather “seriously.”
Ironically, Roque worked as a private prosecutor in the infamous Ampatuan Massacre back in 2009, where 22 out of the 57 victims were found to have been sexually mutilated.
The most recent of President Duterte series of apparent attacks against women was the contemptible kiss he asked from a married overseas Filipino worker during his speech in South Korea.
While the president reportedly received cheers from the audience, Filipino netizens and women’s rights activists were not at all thrilled. A women’s group Gabriela said it was a “disgusting theatrics of a president who feels entitled to demean, humiliate, or disrespect women according to his whim.”
“Very repulsive,” wrote human rights lawyer Josalee Deinla in her Facebook post, “I barf and cringe as I imagine how this can further wheedle sexism and misogyny. But I also rise.”
A matter of policy
Roque has already asked the public to not take President Duterte’s words “literally,” adding that there is a “distinction between his language and his policies.”
Gabriela secretary general Joms Salvador told ViaNews that all anti-people policies that this administration is implementing are but anti-women as well, including the controversial tax reform program that has led to the unprecedented price increase of staple goods and services.
Under the neoliberal economic framework, Salvador cited the administration’s continuing push to privatized health care services even as maternal mortality rate continues to increase over the years from 94 back in 2008 to 114 in 2015, according to World Health Organization.
Not deserving of the presidency?
Reacting to the #BabaeAko campaign, President Duterte said that while he believes in the competence and capability of women, they “cannot stand threats and intimidation.”
Gabriela Women’s Party, a sectoral party-list group on women’s rights, said “there are jobs that should never be occupied by misogynists and tyrants” and that this includes the presidency.
“By using his stature to propagate the view that men are superior to women, President Duterte is spitting on the gains of women’s movement in the country – including his much-touted pro-women ordinance in Davao City. He spits, too, on every female soldier and police officer who have willingly offered their lives to Duterte’s bloody war against the people. And ironically, he also spits on his mother who was never prim and proper in fighting the Marcos dictatorship,” Gabriela Women’s Party said in a statement.