MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, whose rape jokes have sparked outrage in the past, drew fresh flak yesterday after signing a law against sexual harassment, with campaigners saying his role as the “misogynist-in-chief” would make implementation challenging. Duterte, who has himself been accused of sexual harassment on multiple occasions, signed the law that prohibits behavior such as catcalling and sexist slurs in April, according to the text released on Monday.
The 74-year-old was “the single most brazen violator of the law’s intent with his staple macho-fascist remarks”, women’s rights political party Gabriela said on Twitter. “Under this context, implementing the law will certainly be a challenge.” The law imposes fines and, in some cases, prison sentences for sexual harassment in streets, schools and offices, including wolf-whistling, groping, misogynistic slurs, as well as uninvited comments or gestures referring to a person’s appearance.
Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros, the law’s author, welcomed its passage saying it would plug gaps in previous legislation against sexual harassment but added it was “only as good as how it is implemented”. Duterte has stirred controversy in the past over his treatment of women. In 2016 he wolf-whistled a female journalist during a nationally televised news conference, while last year he kissed a Filipina woman on the lips onstage during a visit to South Korea in a move that prompted accusations of abuse of power.
The president last year urged soldiers to shoot female guerillas in the vagina. He also provoked fury in 2016 when he said he had wanted to rape a “beautiful” Australian missionary who had been sexually assaulted then murdered in a Philippine prison riot. Referring to Duterte as “the misogynist-in-chief”, journalist and campaigner Inday Espina-Varona said that while the law was “long overdue, his signing it only rams home the truth: he believes himself above the law”.
Duterte’s arch-critic, detained Senator Leila De Lima, said she hoped the president would not be exempt from compliance. The president had repeatedly criticized De Lima over an affair, saying she was “not only screwing her driver, she is also screwing the nation,” referring to drug trafficking charges she said were politically motivated.
“If we count all his acts and comments disrespecting women since he came to power, the penalties under the law would be sorely lacking,” De Lima said in a statement. Duterte spokesman Salvador Panelo said the president would comply with the law but rejected misogyny allegations. “When he cracks jokes, it is intended to make people laugh, never to offend,” Salvador Panelo told reporters. “You women should know that. Misogyny is different from making people laugh.”
Cutting Iceland ties
Meanwhile, Philippine President is “seriously considering” cutting his nation’s diplomatic ties with Iceland after it spearheaded a UN resolution to probe his deadly drug war, the leader’s spokesman said. Duterte bristles at any Western condemnation of his signature campaign, which has killed thousands and critics say could amount to crimes against humanity. The comments late Monday from presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo came in response to the UN Human Rights Council last week backing the Iceland-proposed resolution to review the killings.
“(Duterte) is seriously considering cutting diplomatic relations with Iceland,” Panelo said in a statement. “The adopted Iceland resolution is grotesquely one-sided, outrageously narrow, and maliciously partisan,” he added. Duterte launched the anti-drug crackdown in 2016, and since then police say they have killed over 5,300 drug suspects. However, human rights groups say the true toll is four times that number.
The UN review comes in addition to a preliminary examination already launched by war crimes prosecutors from the International Criminal Court, which the Philippines left earlier this year. Panelo attacked the UN resolution saying it “likewise demonstrates how the Western powers are scornful of our sovereign exercise of protecting our people”. Duterte’s government frequently paints international criticism as a violation of sovereignty, but watchdogs counter by saying an impartial local review is nearly impossible while Duterte is in power.
Last week Amnesty International released a report alleging the killing is “systematic” and police face very little, if any, scrutiny over the nightly slayings. Duterte has already publicly mocked Iceland over UN vote. “Iceland, what is Iceland’s problem? Just ice. That’s your problem. You have too much ice,” Duterte said Friday. “These idiots, they don’t understand the social, economic, political problems of the Philippines.”
While the Philippines and Iceland have diplomatic ties, they do not have embassies in each other’s country, said the Filipino foreign minister. Economic ties include Icelandic investment in geothermal energy in the Philippines and Filipinos working as office and factory workers and nurses in Iceland. Philippine Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin had said his nation could withdraw from the UN rights council over the vote but later said it would not do so. – Agencies