The uneven power relations behind Duterte kissing a married Filipina on stage

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — When videos of President Rodrigo Duterte kissing a Filipina worker in South Korea circulated online, there were people who blamed the woman for agreeing to be kissed on the lips by the chief executive.

In a separate video, the woman even defended the president, saying there was no malice in the kiss, which was done during an official government function.

“Si president tinanong niya ako kung single or married. Sabi ko married ako sa Koreano, merong dalawang anak. Yung kiss, twist lang ‘yun. Pampakilig sa audience. Walang ibig sabihin ‘yun. Promise. Walang ibig sabihin sa akin, sa kanya (The president asked if I was single or married. I said I was married to a Korean and have two children. That kiss was just a 'twist', something to get the audience giddy. It didn't mean anything),” she said. 

After the kiss, Duterte even told the crowd, who had cheered and egged the two of them on, to not take the act seriously, dismissing it as “a gimmick to make the people happy.”

READDuterte draws flak for kissing woman on stage at South Korea meet

But for women’s groups and other individuals appalled by the president’s action, his latest fiasco in South Korea manifested grave abuse of authority and was an awful display of sexism even if the act was consensual.

They stressed it was the president—the most powerful man in the nation—who initiated it.

“He just wants everyone to know that he can do what he pleases especially to women whom he has never viewed as real people but merely as objects like all the other perks,” Every Woman, a women advocacy group, said.

“It was not a meeting of two consenting individuals on equal terms. Uneven power relations were clearly at play. And President Rodrigo Duterte took advantage of that severe power disparity,” Sen. Risa Hontiveros added.

Women’s group Gabriela, in an e-mail sent to Philstar.com, said that it is inappropriate for a public official, more so for the nation’s leader, to commit such an unethical act meant to entertain an audience “at the expense of a woman who couldn’t seem to say no to, or decline the wishes of the president.”

Consent from women as solicited by a powerful man can be shaped by factors, which include “socialization in a patriarchal society that views machismo as the ‘ideal’ of masculinity,” Jean Enriquez, executive director of Coalition Against Trafficking in Women-Asia Pacific, said.

Hontiveros appealed to the public to not pass judgment on the Filipina.

“President Rodrigo Duterte, being the head of the state, should have acted with great restraint, respect and judiciousness—something which is expected of the position he holds, especially a leader dubbed by his defenders as ‘tatay,’” the opposition senator said.

The Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees mandates that all government officials and employees should perform and discharge their duties with the highest degree of excellence, professionalism, intelligence and skill.

Duterte has a longtime partner, Honeylet Avanceña, with whom he has a daughter, Veronica. He also has three children with his former wife Elizabeth Zimmerman—Sara, Paolo and Sebastian.

READGabriela: Duterte’s kissing of Filipina in South Korea a ‘disgusting theatrics of a misogynist’

How Duterte encourages male entitlement over women’s bodies

Women’s groups emphasized that Duterte’s kissing of a Filipina encourages male entitlement over women’s bodies and influences societal norms.

“It encourages taking advantage of one’s superior position or popularity to access women’s bodies,”  Enriquez told Philstar.com.

“He is the highest official of the government, whether he likes it or not, Duterte’s actions are reflective of his governance, influences societal norms, helps shape public perceptions and discourse and worse, could even be considered as policy pronouncements,” Gabriela said.

Duterte's past remarks about women

Duterte has been heavily criticized over his controversial actions toward and remarks against women.

Duterte, when he was still campaigning for the presidency, talked about an Australian lay minister rape victim whom he described as beautiful. The then-mayor was heavily denounced for saying that he should “have been first.”

At the height of the fighting in Marawi City, the president told soldiers that he would answer for the consequences of military rule in Mindanao, including cases of rape by soldiers.

When he was in India last January, the chief executive joked of using virgins to lure tourists to the Philippines.

In February, he ordered soldiers to shoot female New People’s Army rebels in the vagina.

Just last month, Duterte said that the next ombudsman should not be a woman and that some jobs are not for women, implying that they cannot withstand threats and intimidations.

“So from subtle taking advantage of women to outright sexual violence, he showed that his views on women are as sexual objects to be used for entertainment, sexual gain or advantage not as full human beings of dignity,” Enriquez said.

Duterte's defenders say that the president loves women — his spokesperson is quoted by Rappler as saying he loves them too much — and that critics should look at ordinances in his hometown of Davao City that protect women from harassment.

Among the most frequently mentioned is a policy against making women wear swimsuits for beauty pageants held in the city.

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