#BabaeAko: Philippines’ Duterte ‘intimidated by strong women’

Philippine president’s suggestive comments to country’s tourism chief comes weeks after threatening to ‘kiss’ IMF chief.

Philippines - Duterte
Palace officials have repeatedly defended Duterte's comments on women as 'jokes' [File: AFP]

Women’s rights advocates in the Philippines have taken to social media to call out President Rodrigo Duterte’s “sexist” statements, the latest of which include him suggesting that he make would romantic advances to the country’s tourism chief, and equating having a second wife to keeping a “spare tyre” in the boot of a car.

An advocate against domestic violence and a journalist said on Wednesday that launching the #BabaeAko (I am a woman) online campaign is their way to “push back at the misogyny of Duterte”, and send a message that women are “fighting back”.

“What is worrisome to me is that he is the president, and men are listening to him talk like that,” Noemi Dado, advocate for women’s issues, said, adding that the president’s public pronouncements breed a culture of violence against women.

“Without him setting a very good example, it sends a bad signal to everyone. That’s why there is domestic abuse in our country,” Dado said. She told Al Jazeera that because of her writing online, many female victims of domestic abuse have written to her asking for help.

During a speech at the presidential palace on Monday, Duterte singled out from the audience Philippine Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, telling her in the Filipino language: “You are so beautiful”.

In a rambling commentary, Duterte grumbled about a published photo of him and Puyat together. 

During the same speech, he also dismissed criticisms that he is anti-women saying: “I am not rude. Don’t believe those female critics of mine”.

He later ordered palace camera operators to turn off the live television broadcast, “so we can attack all these women”. 

Just days earlier, the president was quoted by a local news site as saying he is not afraid to admit that he has a second wife.

“If a vehicle, which is made of metal, would need a spare tire, how much more for us human beings?” he said.

Duterte’s marriage to his first wife, with whom he has three children, was annulled in 1998. He is now in a common-law marriage and has one daughter. 

‘Kiss her’

His statements on women were the latest in a slew of comments directed at female public figures and international officials.

Earlier this month, Duterte said that while he believes in the “competence” of women, their excellence does not apply “in all aspects of life”. 

On May 9, Duterte said that “a kiss” is all it would take for Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to change her economic outlook of the Philippines.

“You know, that Lagarde, I once saw her…Just pull her into a corner, kiss her, son of a bitch, she will change her mind,” Duterte said in a mix of Filipino and English.

In its April 2018 report, the IMF forecast projected that the Philippines faces 4.1 percent inflation in 2018 and 3.7 percent in 2019.

Duterte also said that a woman should not replace the female anti-corruption prosecutor when she retires in July. 

In March, the president faced backlash after he called the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Fatou Bensouda “that black woman”, and referred to the United Nations human rights rapporteur Agnes Callamard as “skinny” and “malnourished”.

Both the ICC and the UN have been looking into the deadly war on drugs in the Philippines, which, according to an opposition senator, has already claimed more than 20,000 lives.

‘I will fight’

He had also said that female communist rebels should be shot in their genitals and made rape jokes multiple times.

Duterte had gone after female government officials who criticised his drug war. Opposition Senator Leila de Lima remains under detention, while Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno was forced out of office.

Palace officials have defended Duterte’s remarks, saying he often makes off-hand jokes.  

Journalist Inday Espina-Varona said Duterte is “definitely” intimidated by women, “who stress accountability and insist on taking up justice issues”, such as the extrajudicial killings related to the drug war.

“He appears contemptuous, but it’s really fear. He feels women have thwarted his desires as president, resisted his autocratic ways,” said Varona, who is among the most outspoken advocate of the #BabaeAko social media campaign against misogyny.

“Whether its media, or the judiciary or the legislature, or the executive, [Duterte] he’s found that women won’t play his games, or engage in the backroom deals that seem to be the trademark of his government,” Varona told Al Jazeera.

Varona was among a group of women who recorded short video clips addressing the president directly. 

Arlene Brosas, a sectoral representative in Congress, also joined the campaign, recording a video and telling Duterte, “I am against the macho, fascist, patriarchal and feudal culture of this administration. I will fight.”

Source: Al Jazeera