After bloodbath day, Duterte claims admin promotes women's rights

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
After bloodbath day, Duterte claims admin promotes women's rights
This handout photo taken on March 4, 2021 and received on March 5 from the Presidential Photo Division (PPD) shows Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte holding a vial of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine during a ceremony at a military airbase in Manila, shortly after the vaccines arrived from Europe.
PCOO / King Rodrigues

MANILA, Philippines — A day after police raids in Calabarzon resulted in the death of a woman and eight other activists, President Rodrigo Duterte — who has long been criticized for his misogynist rhetoric — issued Monday  a statement for Women's Month lauding his administration's initiatives for women.  

"While there is still much to be done to completely free women from this bondage of inequality, we can nonetheless proudly claim that concrete, sustainable, and inclusive actions have been taken by our government to create an environment where women's rights are respected and their contributions to society are recognized," the statement signed by the president said. 

"Let us elevate women to their rightful place in society by empowering every Filipina to break not only the barriers that have long hindered them from reaching their full potential, but also the backward mindset that fueled a culture of gender oppression and inequality," he also said.

Duterte in his statement also mentioned "significant strides in addressing gender inequality by dealing with its cultural, institutional and historical roots," encouraging Filipinos to "acknowledge the inalienable rights of women as equal partners of men."  

RELATED: 'That's how he is': Palace defends Duterte's sexist jokes anew

Does he really reject these?

Groups such as the Gabriela Women's Party have previously called President Duterte the "the chief propagator of a culture that degrades and objectifies women, and that which exhorts catcallers, sexual offenders and even uniformed personnel to disrespect women."

Duterte's documented history of sexist and misogynistic rhetoric dates back to his campaign for the presidency, none of which he has acknowledged nor apologized for. 

Most recently, Duterte at the start of the year said that women are not fit to become president because "the emotional setup of a woman and a man is totally different."

The president at a meeting in November that was supposed to be about the government's response to the string of typhoons, quipped that one local official present at the meeting "spent all his time [sleeping around with women], and he got old. Having too many women, that makes you old.”

In 2018, he also issued what he says is a "joke" order for soldiers to shoot woman rebels under the communist New People’s Army in their private parts. 

'Not a big deal,' Palace says 

Both the president and his supporters insist that his off-color remarks about women are just part of his style and an expression of freedom of speech.

He has also spun the issue to the discredit of his critics, saying they intentionally make it appear that he hates and disrespects women. In that same event, he said he was just lecturing women communist rebels when he said he would shoot their vaginas, for instance.

READ: 'Misogyny keeping more women out of government'

“I can’t remember really na may binaboy ako (that I have been lewd to anyone). Actually, if you review the tapes, it was with a purpose,” the president said during an awarding ceremony in honor of women working in government. “You women, you... deprived me of my freedom of expression. I was not referring to you. But you criticize every sentence or word I say. But that is my freedom to express myself...even if I am just a President… do not take me away from the crowd of being a Filipino citizen.”

He disputed claims that he is a misogynist, claiming his statements were simply misunderstood. 

“I love women. You see, I have two wives. That means, I really like women. That does not mean I want to touch them. I just like women... When I say that I like women, (it does not mean) I want to despoil or dishonor. They do not get it,” he said. 

His spokespersons over his administration have been quick to come to his defense, often minimizing them to justify the tough-talking leader's behavior. 

"First of all, you’ve assumed that the president is bastos (lewd), naging bastos (that he was ever lewd). He never was bastos. When he cracks jokes, it was intended to make people laugh, never to offend," former Palace spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in July last year.

"Let's not give too much meaning to the jokes of the president. The president is really just like that, and he can't change anymore because he's already in his 70s," current Palace spokesman Harry Roque was also quoted as saying later on. 

"For the Americans, everything is given some deep meaning. But here in the Philippines, let's take a joke for what it is: a joke."

READ: Duterte sex jokes were meant to 'lighten the mood' — Palace

'Feminists, not terrorists' 

The issue goes deeper than the chief executive's casual misogyny, however. When lives are at stake and human rights are systemically violated, subtle sexism is no longer minimized to an issue of political correctness. 

This is the experience of feminists, advocates, and human rights defenders on the ground, over 150 feminists highlighted at a protest action at Plaza Miranda Monday morning under the theme “Kami ay Peminista, Hindi Terorista.”

Just the day before, nine labor unionists and activists—one of them a woman and mother—were shot and killed by raiding state forces in what rights groups call "Bloodbath Day." Police leadership was at a mass while the killings took place. 

READ: 'Bloodbath Day': Deaths, arrests reported in police raids in Calabarzon

“Five years after Rodrigo Duterte got elected as president, women’s situation in the Philippines worsened...President Duterte continues to disregard the rights of women as guaranteed by the 1987 Philippine Constitution and their important role in nation-building,” Jelen Paclarin of the Women’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau said in a statement.

“Women who criticized Duterte’s blatant remarks and wrongdoings have experienced denigration, vilification, and became the central topic of his sexist jokes to entertain people or divert the issue fired at him,” added Paclarin.

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, women including celebrities Liza Soberano and Catriona Gray experienced being red-tagged by Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., commander of the military's Southern Luzon Command and spokesperson of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.

Foundation for Media Alternatives Executive Director Liza Garcia said that online violence against women committed online spiked in 2020 by up to 165%, citing the group's data mapping results. "Women are still being targeted with sextortion, non-consensual circulation of intimate images, and sexual threats. Reports of deepfaked videos and photos of women, and disinformation against women human rights defenders also continue to surface," she said. 

To make matters worse, groups like Partido Manggagawa say that the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the existing vulnerabilities of women. More women lost their jobs compared to men, 1.7 times more in most countries, the group said. 

Yet women found to be critical of the Duterte administration are vilified for it.  According to WLB, with this kind of leadership and pronouncements, Duterte has solidified that stereotyping, shaming, and silencing women is normal and acceptable in our society. 

RELATED: CHR recognizes role of women in addressing pandemic, defending human rights

"Opposite the kind of power that the Duterte regime wields—the kind that oppresses and even kills, the kind that steps on the interest of ordinary people, mocks and manipulates legitimate grievances of the public, promotes and entrenches the political and economic elite, and the kind that betrays national interest to connive with foreign interest—is woman power, the kind that liberates from oppression, engenders social-economic and political equality, fights against all forms of discrimination and marginalization, and promotes human dignity," the World March of Women said in a statement. 

— with reports from Gaea Katreena Cabico

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