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COMMENT: Duterte’s Rape Joke

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, May 2¸ 2016 – One for the book — presidential candidate Rodrigo R. Duterte’s April 12 joke on the Australian missionary who was taken hostage by prisoners in Davao Penal Colony then raped and murdered in August 1989 rocked the nation, its tremor felt across two oceans. First going viral in You Tube, it hit the national media headlines on April 17, condemned and sensationalized within the week following.

The instant question: “Can Duterte weather the fury of the backlash?”

The almost instant answer: “The fury signified serious questions on Duterte’s integrity and his moral and mental fitness to be president but the backlash meant nothing.”

Two voters’s preference surveys (Pulse Asia, April 16-20 and Social Weather Station, April 18-20) showed Duterte gaining big — his rivals losing or just maintaining — points; ahead of his closest rival, Grace Poe, by 12 and 11 percentage points, respectively; and leading in Metro Manila and among all social classes, A, B, C, D, E. In the Pulse Asia April 19-24 survey published April 30, he was still 11 percentage points ahead of Poe.

Ridiculously unbelievable! Damning reports were not only in the Manila media but in The Washington Post, Sydney Morning Herald and BBC. How can this be explained?

Two Envoys Outraged

Australian Ambassador Amanda Gorely criticized Duterte: “Rape and murder should never be joked about or trivialized. Violence against women and girls is unacceptable anytime, anywhere” – and more.

US Ambassador Philip Goldberg: “Statements by anyone, anywhere that either degrade women or trivialize issues so serious as rape or murder are not ones that we condone” – and more.

Australian Foreign Ministry: “Australia strongly condemns such comments that make light of rape, which is a violent crime. Rape, or any form of sexual abuse, should not be trivialized.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson said in his Twitter account: “Disgusting endorsement of sexual violence by #Philippines pres contender Duterte should be utterly condemned. Why is it every time #Duterte says something revolting, he & his supporters claim it’s a joke? Rape is not humorous!”

Catholic Bishops, Too

Activist priest Robert Reyes: Duterte’s rape joke was “morbid and bordering on necrophilia.”

Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles: The mayor’s statement revealed the country’s “misfortune of having no real respectable leader.” He advised voters not to vote for him.

Calapan Bishop Warlito Cajandig: Duterte’s style is “unacceptable … we also have conventions and standards.”

Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) asked Filipino voters to judge for themselves whether Duterte was the right choice for the presidency.

Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma: “When we elect people in power, we expect them to serve, but at the same time they should also relate with other people in many parts of world … Are we happy with what he (Duterte) said? Do we agree with it? Some say it’s OK. Other say otherwise …The future of our country depends on the votes we make. The electorate should discern and decide.”

Retired Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez: “It would be good to know what is in the video to help them in deciding.” He urged voters should strive hard getting to know all the candidates before casting their ballots on May 9.

Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz: Duterte “rude and crude,” … may have forgotten that his crass language and “jokes” that are acceptable in the province will not be given the same reception elsewhere. “I cannot say that he is a bad person but definitely he does not belong to the people with good manners and right conduct …I find it hard to vote for him.”

Women Groups

In a Miriam College forum of peace advocates and women groups, Trish Kaye Leone, a rape survivor challenged Duterte to undergo psychological evaluation for his joke … “It seems to me there is something amiss with your psychological health because of your perpetual habit of making sexist remarks and rape jokes.” Among the forum speakers were former Sen. Leticia Ramos Shahani, columnist Paulynn Sicam, Sr. Mary John Mananzan, Aurora Javate de Dios and Renee Karunungan.

The group also drafted a complaint against Duterte for violation of the Magna Carta of Women to be filed in the Commission on Human Rights. It was based not just on the rape joke and other Duterte’s actions showing “callous, derogatory and insulting treatment of women” like kissing them and making them sit on his lap during campaign sorties. The complainants included Woman Health Philippines, Kasarinlan para sa Kalayaan, Sentro ng Manggagawa ng Pilipinas, Labor Education and Research Network, and Sagip-Ilog Pilipinas.

The women’s group, Gabriela, also filed a complaint against Duterte in the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) over the rape joke, accusing the mayor of violating a law that protects women’s rights and eliminating all forms of discrimination.

Irate Netizens

YouTube user Norie Bordaror said Duterte doesn’t have respect for women. “My God! Walang respeto sa ating mga babae (He has no respect for us women)!” Lea Schmea described the mayor’s statement as disgusting. Ryan Mendoza said “rape is not a funny joke,” citing the trauma victims have to undergo after the incident. Ezekiel Franco slammed Duterte for his platform against crime, yet he easily jokes about rape.

Political Bashing

As expected, Duterte was denounced and vilified by his political opponents.

Senatorial candidate Leila de Lima following a long diatribe: “He has become a monster…  There has to be concerted actions (against him).”

Presidential candidate Jejomar Binay, calling Duterte’s remarks “simply revolting”, fumed: “You are a crazy maniac who doesn’t respect women and doesn’t deserve to be president,”

Presidential candidate Senator Grace Poe called his comment “distasteful and unacceptable, and reflects his disrespect for women”.

Presidential candidate Manuel A .Roxas II said that rape is a serious problem and anyone who laughs at the ultimate assault on the dignity of women should not be allowed to wield power. “Women have rights, they are not played with. This is not a laughing matter but something beastly.”

Vice presidential candidate Francis “Chiz” Escudero: “Duterte’s recent comment about an Australian rape victim should be denounced and deplored.  His frequent use of women, regardless of their circumstance, as subject or object of his jokes during his presidential sorties is foul and offensive.”

Defiant: “So What?”

Of the ambassadors: “It was not a joke when I uttered it (in 1989). They took it as a joke when I narrated it. These ambassadors are stupid. I was mad when I uttered it. When I narrated it, I was not angry anymore,” Duterte told reporters after a rally attended by 6,000 supporters in Kalibo, Aklan province.

To the ambassadors: “You’re not Filipinos. Shut up. Do not interfere because it’s election time. … It will show that you’re politicking. If you want, you call me. I will not apologize. I will not go to you for any talks. I am a Filipino and I will chart the [future] of my country. … If I become the President, go ahead and sever it (diplomatic ties).”

Duterte dismissed the complaints filed with the CHR as “silly”. To Gabriela: “You are crazy… dumb. Go to hell.” He suspected them of having been paid to file the complaint.

To the CHR, calling it “stupid” for issuing summons to him less than three weeks before the election: “I am a candidate for the presidency. Why are you summoning me and what is your ground?” With expletives, “there’s nothing more I can do about your stupidity.” He said he would not answer the CHR summons.

The issue: Invoking his right to free speech, he said that his foul language was not an election issue. “The issue should be corruption. Where is the people’s money?”

Apology: “I apologize to the Filipino people for my recent remarks in a rally. There was no intention of disrespecting our women and those who have been victims of this horrible crime. Sometimes my mouth can get the better of me.” 

No apology: “However, I will not apologize for the things I’ve done to protect our people, especially the weak and defenseless, from crime. I know what it can do to the victims and their families. The anguish and pain they cause. The trauma that can’t be erased. I have witnessed these myself numerous times.”

Duterte said he would not apologize to any individual or group even if it means losing the presidency, commenting on the appeal of Gabriela women’s party for him to issue a public apology.

Duterte said his publicist prepared a statement of apology but he did not agree to it because there was nothing to apologize for. “It was street slang belittling the act of rape. As a matter of fact because of the rape, I killed 16 people.”

His pledge: “I promise to all of you that I will protect our women, children and families from the horrors and disorder of crime. I will do this even if I lose my life, my honor and even the presidency. … I am a man of many flaws and contradictions. But when it comes to securing the lives and future of our countrymen and women, you can trust me to do the right thing. I will fight for the people until my last breath.”

To Binay and Roxas: “If you do not like people who talk like this, sorry. Be with the English spokening (speaking), the coño (socialites), the thieves who do nothing. What did you do with your courage? Binay, you only stole. Roxas, you are very fussy, get yourself hostage.”

Of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines or Catholic Bishops, asking them to go slow in castigating him and condemning him for his “gutter language”: “I thought that all the while, I was doing my duties to humanity. And now they are castigating me for my mouth?”

To the voters: “If the CBCP is correct don’t vote for me. If you obey the CBCP, fine go with them but for me ‘they’re dumb as they don’t understand what I said.’ It was slang.”

Will he stop making offensive jokes? “I will not. I do not care. I am just a mere human being on this planet, which is finite. I have acquired my own identity on this planet. I will not change it for anything. Otherwise, I will not be Rodrigo Duterte.” His mouth was keeping the peace in Davao by instilling fear in criminals.

Seeing Through

Despite the outrage, the condemnation, the denunciation and vilification especially from the Catholic bishops, the women’s and human rights groups and the US and Australian ambassadors, Duterte widened his lead in poll survey rating – the latest, April 19 to 24. How can this be explained? He will likely be elected president on May 9.

First, evidently, Duterte’s legion of supporters view the “rape joke” differently from how his critics see it. Call it differences in culture, sensitivity, moral values. Duterte and most of his supporters are in rapport through the language of the street that his critics don’t understand but disdain as coarse, indecent, revolting – unfit for a president.

Second, some Duterte supporters were disappointed with his “rape joke”. But that he is anti-woman they don’t believe. They cited what he has done for women and children in Davao City which no other cities in the country have done.

Third, his supporters admire his defiance as the trait of a strong leader. President Aquino is disturbed by Duterte’s dare to the US and Australia to break diplomatic ties should he become president. How many of his supporters are concerned about diplomatic ties?

Fourth, political pundits want a president elected according to the criteria of integrity, empowerment, experience or competence – the same guide for voters in all past elections. Yet, crime, corruption, smuggling and drugs have continued plaguing the country. Only Duterte has made issue with these plagues and his assurance to eradicate them has rabidly endeared him to his supporters.

Shall we junk the sterling criteria of a president and elect Duterte who is offering strong leadership tending toward dictatorship and who is manifestly lacking the integrity, finesse of language and character of the president?

Of course, NOT!

But the conditions conducive for a revolution through the ballots are rife. Duterte has emerged to lead that revolution. Blame the cynic, the disenchanted, the discontented, etc. for rallying behind him?

In the latest voters’ preference surveys, he led among all social classes A, B, C, D, E. This shows the extent of cynicism, disenchantment, discontentment, etc. in the Aquino administration.

The classes A, B and C are composed of political, economic and industrial elite together with the middle-income class employed in the government and private sectors. They are front row witnesses to, if not victims of, the plagues of crime, corruption, smuggling and drug. Duterte supporters among them must have seen the hypocrisy of “Daang Matuwid” and the weakness in the other presidential candidates to do better than Aquino.

The classes D and E are below the middle class; they are the rural people, the subsistence earners, rural and urban poor. Duterte supporters among them must have been suffering in silence the social unjustness of the touted economic progress.

The shocks of the “rape joke” have not stemmed the tide carrying Duterte. Unless the storm being precipitated by the exposé of vice presidential candidate Antonio Trillanes IV on the alleged hidden bank accounts and property of Duterte can dissipate or turn back the tide in the remaining seven days before May 9, the ruffian Duterte will leave drifting far behind his elitist, genteel, erudite and good-mannered rivals in their race to Malacñang.

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