MANILA, Philippines — He has been accused of being a sexist and a misogynist but President Rodrigo Duterte heaped praises on women Wednesday, calling them heroes who have contributed significantly to society.
In his message for the International Women's Day, Duterte said generations have been witness to the "amazing ways" by which women have transformed societies as mothers, workers, intellectuals, educators, caregivers, soldiers, activists, artists and leaders.
"Indeed, women are heroes," the president said.
"The entire world can look up to women — for their creativity and imagination, for their courage and boldness, for their self-sacrifice and charity," he added.
Duterte said the Philippines is fortunate and grateful because it is a "fertile ground for outstanding women in various sectors."
"The Philippines ranks high in the Asia Pacific region and in the world in terms of gender equality," the president said.
"My administration shall strive to maintain this distinction as well as continue to recognize their invaluable contributions in sports, science, governance, education, public service and the arts," he added.
Critics have labeled Duterte a sexist and misogynist for his remarks that supposedly degrade women.
Before he became president, Duterte made a controversial remark about the rape and murder of Australian missionary Jacqueline Hamill in Davao City in 1989.
He said the late missionary looked like an actress and as mayor “he should have been first.”
Despite the outrage over his statement, Duterte did not apologize, saying he was just expressing his anger over the incident. He said that he meant the mayor "should have been first" to rescue her before she was killed.
Duterte was also criticized for supposedly slut-shaming his critic Sen. Leila de Lima, whom he accused of having an affair with a married driver who has alleged ties with drug lords.
The president also drew flak from Vice President Leni Robredo for what she described as "tasteless" and "inappropriate" remarks about her knees and her outfit at the commemoration of Typhoon Yolanda in Tacloban City.
He said in response to criticism that his comments were meant to lighten the mood and were appropriate.
"Do not cast aspersion sa mga biro ko. Kasi ako hindi ako heneral, politiko ako. Natural samin ang magpatawa lalo na after magalit," he said then. He said he was angry at the slow progress of rehabilitation in Yolanda-hit areas.
Duterte is hopeful that the International Women's Day, which commemorates women's historic struggle for equality, will spur awareness and inspire changes in attitudes in families, communities and the country.
"Together, we can make change work for women and women can make change work," the president said.