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Duterte is not sorry


DAVAO MAYOR and now “presidentiable” Rodrigo Duterte recently declared that he touched a woman because “the woman was really very, very beautiful that if you do not touch her, you will die.” He said he was just saving his life. If more men reasoned this way, women would be in deep trouble.

This is not the first time that Duterte admitted to his cavalier treatment of women. Last December, he confessed to having two wives and two girlfriends, and even called himself a certified womanizer. For him, there is nothing wrong with having two wives and two girlfriends for as long as he does not use government money in supporting them. He admitted that he has a “fascination for women” and did not mind being photographed with women on his lap.

While one may be impressed by his nonchalance and candor that sometimes border on arrogance, one should look at women the way all persons, men and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) included, ought to be seen—as entitled to be treated with dignity and equal importance. Reacting to Duterte’s remarks, the women’s group Gabriela and its party-list representatives said these were “distasteful and unacceptable,” and reminded him that “womanizing and treating women as objects are an affront to women and … should not be flaunted.”

People who want Duterte to become the next president of the Philippines give these reasons for their choice: he is a man of his word; he enforces the law and in doing so has made Davao the peaceful and secure city that it is now; he is not corrupt, as opposed to other politicians; and lastly, the supposed achievement that has made him most (in)famous—he makes sure that justice is served, by whatever means possible.

Many seem convinced—as indicated by trending topics in social media, random conversations with taxi and jeepney drivers, and most importantly, his rating in the surveys even before his declaration of a presidential run—that he is a strong candidate to occupy the highest public office in the land.

Some argue that his being a confessed womanizer has nothing to do with how he would run the country, or that this flaw is not as bad for the country as being corrupt. After all, some argue, we need a president who can deliver on his promises. But the belief that his attitude toward women has nothing to do with his leadership is a very dangerous thought.

I am in no position to say whether the things Duterte is said to have done for Davao are true or not. But one crucial point for consideration is how a “presidentiable” regards women, who after all comprise half the nation’s population.

One academic has argued that the gender situation in the Philippines is “characterized by sharp contradictions” because while there are advances in the status of women (e.g., in politics, professional life, legislation), the society is still dominated by a largely traditional concept of women as the weak sex and as objects. This view of women seems to be shared by Duterte. His admission of touching a beautiful woman without regard to how she would feel about it is proof of this mindset.

Women’s groups and advocates in the Philippines have been working tirelessly to change this traditional concept of women and to protect them from violence, acts of lasciviousness included. The fruits of this battle are a number of laws passed under the current Constitution, such as the Gender and Development Law, the Party-List Law (regarding women as one sector for representation), the Anti-Sexual Harassment Law, the Women in Nation-Building Law, and in 2009, the Magna Carta of Women. In the latter, “The State affirms the role of women in nation building and ensures the substantive equality of women and men.” This equality between men and women “entails the abolition of unequal structures and practices that perpetuate discrimination and inequality.” Our political leaders, and a head of state no less, must epitomize adherence to the values and ideals enshrined in our laws.

How would citizens think and act if their highest official espouses beliefs detrimental to women in our society? If Duterte is elected president, can we trust him to be a model for according women the respect and dignity they deserve and vigorously implementing the laws that aim to protect them against violence?

If the way he treats women may not be sufficiently unsettling to others, then perhaps his alleged violation of human rights will be more startling. The Commission on Human Rights and Amnesty International, on several occasions, called his attention and that of the public on his human rights record and alleged links to the vigilante group that has killed suspected criminals in Davao, the “Davao Death Squad.” Last December, Duterte responded to the red flags raised by Amnesty International with a statement that it might have miscalculated the number of persons he had killed: It should have been 1,700 instead of 700. And more recently, he said at a forum in a university that “there’s no such thing as bloodless cleansing” in fighting against criminals in our country.

People who see Duterte as the hope of the nation should seriously consider if voting for someone with a low regard for women in particular, and a lack of respect for human rights in general, may undermine the gains already won by generations of women and men in our country in their battle for equality and the protection of human rights for all.

Sadly, for everything Duterte has done and said that violated the dignity and rights of women—and possibly of men—he is not sorry.

First published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

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