How to Get Away with Machismo: An Easy Pass for Duterte
AS CANDIDATE for the presidency, Rodrigo Duterte was open about his domestic affairs. His complicated marital status includes two families, one with his common-law wife and the other with his first wife who had their marriage annulled. He further admitted to having had two girlfriends at the same time as well. He did not have to be shy about his personal life. He is certainly not the first of his kind. Former President Joseph Estrada maintained several mistresses during his presidency.
His reference to his love life during a campaign sortie elicited cheers and laughter from the audience. His campaign recorded a ‘kissing spree‘ with fans, an admission of an act of lasciviousness charge and a controversial rape remark. But the tough-talking mayor of Davao is proud to claim having implemented a women development code for his city.
His behavior however shows little respect for women as equals and violates official codes of government conduct. The national government has adopted the Gender Equality Guidelines in its programs. Chapter 3, Section 5 of the Republic Act 9710, or the Magna Carta of Women identifies the State as the primary duty-bearer in the “recognition, respect and promotion of the rights of women.”
The president continues to flaunt a macho mindset – seeing women as objects and relating to them only in sexist terms that have been debunked by more enlightened Filipino males.
During his speech at the November 26, 2016 alumni homecoming of the San Beda College of Law, Duterte said in jest that had there been female students in San Beda during his time, he would have done better in class especially if these women were pretty. He also said that he playfully hits the female security staff on their rear ends with a folder, when he gets irritated by something they do.
The president also lamented that “Western mores” has taken the fun out of living in modern times because of too many restrictions. However, Duterte clarified that he knows “what is clearly sexual harassment, especially if you are a superior.”
This “spanking” statement is the latest addition to Duterte’s sexist gaffes. Unfortunately, the press still continues to report these without calling out such remarks or actions as inappropriate for any government official, and more so for the highest official of the land.
High Ranking Women Officials
It appears that nobody is immune from Duterte’s jokes as even high-ranking women officials have not been exempted from his insulting remarks.
His longstanding animosity toward Senator Leila de Lima, rooted in her investigation into the Davao Death Squad as former Commission on Human Rights chair, reached a defining point when he called her “immoral” in a press conference. Duterte then publicly said that de Lima was having an affair with her married driver, Ronnie Dayan, who collected drug money for her campaign expenses. Not surprisingly, lawmakers later felt they could focus on this relationship, which de Lima had since admitted, asking lewd questions and making tasteless remarks, probing intimate aspects of the liaison instead of interrogating the witness about what he knew that could connect de Lima to the drug trade in Bilibid.
The second-highest government official received her share of the president’s crude comments. During the commemoration of Typhoon Yolanda, Duterte admitted that he ogled Vice President Leni Robredo’s knees during a Cabinet meeting – even calling Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez to look.
Philippine Daily Inquirer reporter Marlon Ramos was chided for asking about this “knee issue.” Duterte claimed that he only said it to “break the ice” and lighten the mood of his audience, as he was angry that many Yolanda victims were still without proper shelter.
Treatment of Female Journalists
GMA-7 reporter Mariz Umali, who was wolf-whistled by the president during a May press conference held in Davao, said the act was improper but did not expect any apology. Some netizens said that it was her fault, telling her not to cover the president to avoid being harassed. Presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo, Jr. defended Duterte’s behavior, saying that his whistling is a sign of “fondness.”
Rappler’s Pia Ranada attempted to hold Duterte accountable, citing provisions of the Davao women code on catcalling and wolf-whistling. But the president invoked freedom of expression, adding that Ranada cannot stop anybody from whistling.
Duterte openly flirted with PTV-4 reporter Lala Babilonia in August, offering her durian and joking that they should get together after the press briefing.
The president has attempted to explain these offenses. He used the anger defense in explaining his April rape remark. He has attributed his behavior to his social background and upbringing. Many of his supporters also call it cultural – that Bisaya people talk and behave that way – which some Visayans have protested.
Former presidents had taken measures and initiatives to integrate gender into policy and programs. Fidel V. Ramos adopted a Gender and Development budget policy, which was initiated in the 1995 General Appropriations Act. It mandated all government departments and agencies to allocate at least five percent of their total budget appropriations to promote gender-awareness and development.
The Gender and Equality Committee during the administration of Benigno Aquino III launched three documents: Code of Ethics for Media, Guidelines to Protect Women from Discrimination in Media and Film and Gender Equality Guide, which underscored the role of media in mainstreaming gender and representing women’s issues and concerns.
Some may argue that Duterte’s record as mayor presents another side of the man, making up for his sexist offenses when he made Davao City the first Philippine city to pass a women’s development code in 1997. Davao also instituted an Integrated Gender and Development Division under the city mayor’s office.
Davao was also one of the first Gender and Development Local Learning Hubs (GAD LLHs) certified by the Philippine Commission on Women. Child-minding centers, where working mothers – and also fathers – can leave their children are in place. Reproductive health education, counseling and medical screenings can be availed by everyone, including registered sex workers, at the Reproductive Health and Wellness Center.
These services are no doubt commendable, and Duterte himself recognized last November 17 that cases of women and child abuse are rising and in need of government action.
But he has failed at consistency and coherence. Some of his actions and speech betray the goals of the programs he had set in motion in Davao. He is now responsible for steering development, not just in Davao but in the whole country. Notwithstanding laws and resolutions to uphold women’s rights, gender fairness and equality, Philippine society remains patriarchal and sexist. Along with objectifying women, victim-shaming, and rape by friends and family members, the culture still has a long way to go to achieve an environment of respect for women so they can feel secure at home or in the work place.
The press can do its part, calling out Duterte’s offensive speech and actions as non-compliant of the standards set by government’s gender policy. While audiences may find some of his macho tales amusing, many more are offended by such bad taste and the press should report these reactions as well.
Otherwise, this sexist outlook may lead the public to accept it as a new norm.