Palace: People used to, enjoying Duterte's rape 'jokes' as icebreaker

Salvador Panelo
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo holds a press briefing at Malacañang in a file photo.
Facebook screengrab / Presidential Communications

MANILA, Philippines — Filipinos are used to and appreciate President Rodrigo Duterte talking about rape to lighten the mood and, anyway, nobody can tell him what he can and cannot say, top officials said Tuesday.

On Sunday, Duterte pretended to read out offenses by Philippine Military Academy cadets that the president traditionally pardons at the military academy's graduation rites. Among the supposed offenses was rape, drugs with rape and robbery, and multiple rape.

The Palace on Tuesday characterized Duterte's comments as "mischievous" and said that the president talked lightly about sexual assault to make people laugh—which they did.

"People have been so used to his jokes hence his audience always receive them with hearty laughter," presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo, who is also chief presidential legal counsel, said in a statement to reporters. 

READ: Duterte rape 'jokes' bring laughter at PMA grad rites

PNP chief: He's the president of the republic

Police General Oscar Albayalde, Philippine National Police chief, agreed that Duterte "probably wanted to make everybody happy" by joking that military cadets had forced themselves on the women of Baguio City—the actual offenses pardoned were infractions like having unshined shoes and buckles, he explained.

"But that's an obvious joke. In fairness to the president, he probably just wanted to make everybody happy or he probably wanted to make people there laugh," he said in English and Filipino at a Monday press briefing.

Asked whether he felt that rape is an appropriate topic for jokes, the highest-ranking police official said: "that's up to the president."

Albayalde, a graduate of the PMA and who was at the graduation rites on Sunday, stressed that nobody can tell the president how to act.

"That's the president of the republic. If that's how he jokes, then I don't think we can tell him what he can and cannot say," he said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Aside from women's group Gabriela, which called Duterte out on Monday and called him a "sexist president... doing his infamous rape joke in his comfort zone," it is apparent that nobody else did.

READ: Duterte justifies his rape 'joke' as freedom of expression

PCW: Sexual molestation is a crime

In January, Duterte talked about touching a sleeping household helper when he was a teen. The Palace explained then that it was "not obscene" and the president was only using the story to make a point.

"They were laughing. If it was obscene, the reaction of the audience would have been bad, they would be angry at him," Panelo said then.

The policy-making Philippine Commission on Women said then that "sexual molestation or abuse, including rape, are public crimes and a violation of human dignity."

"It is an abhorrent attack on a person’s self-worth and should never be used as subject matter to prove a point," the PCW also said. — Jonathan de Santos

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