The Philipines Saddled With Prez Who Keeps Making Rape Jokes


Filipina journalist Jessica Zafra once called the incumbent Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte the“[Filipinos’] walking, talking, preening, strutting id”. “Duterte’s words are not calculated to impress the voters. He doesn’t have to calculate. He’s just saying the words that are already in your head.”

His appeal goes far beyond the promise of change that had been the cornerstone of his electoral campaign. What made him such an icon among the common Filipinos was that he was, or seemed to be, exactly the person they wanted to become. He is aggressive, blatant, and unapologetic – a definite personification of Filipino machismo. However, there is a valid reason why his persona remains something that some Filipino men can only aspire to achieve but never truly channel.

Even before he won the elections and assumed office, several rape jokes had been thoughtlessly thrown around – exactly what you’d expect from a drunk perverted Filipino man, except he’s more likely sober during press conferences.

During his presidential campaign in April 2016, Duterte talked about an Australian missionary who was raped and killed in a prison riot in 1989, saying that he was mad “because of the rape” but also because “she was so beautiful” and “the mayor should have been first [to rape her]”.

His vice president Leni Robredo isn’t an exemption to the lewd ‘jokes’ that he uses to lighten the mood. In another speech in November 2016, he publicly addressed Robredo and voiced how he ogled at her legs whenever they’d meet in office with her wearing short skirts.

In May 2017, Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao in an attempt to neutralize all terrorists in the region. He then joked that impunity would be given to soldiers accused of committing abuse, adding that they could “rape three women” and he would “personally claim responsibility for it.”

In July 2017, he stated that he did not like kids being raped, but that rapists can “mess with, maybe, Miss Universe” and that if they did, he would “even congratulate [them] for having the balls to rape somebody when you know you are going to die.”

In January 2018, Duterte flew to India for a meeting, where he “jokingly” mentioned that having “42 virgins” can be a “tourist come-on” for the Philippines – an idea he derived from what he claimed to be a belief that radicalized so-called Islamic State militants promise the same incentive to new recruits. He also noted that “one of the most (sic) is promising virgins when you go to heaven” and that he’d “like to have the virgins here, not in heaven [but] God may not allow it.”

Quite recently, when talking about rebels from the New People’s Army, Duterte said female fighters should be shot in the vagina. This sparked an uproar among local feminists, which the president’s fanatics called as an “overreaction” to the controversy.

These are only some of the remarks that seem to be manifestations of his low regard for women.

Let’s put this simply: as evidenced by the massive support that this bigoted president continues to gain from die-hard fanatics, a great part of the Filipino community continues to latch onto prejudices. Sexism remains rampant. Gender stereotypes continue to be perpetuated.

With the reign of a president who embodies toxic masculinity, what does this mean for the women of the Philippines? These so-called harmless remarks are utterly detrimental to women. Justifying these words of disrespect by regarding them as “sarcastic” and “humorous” – as the president and his trusty steeds keep on insisting – only normalizes the objectification of women.

What makes the circumstances even more alarming is how Filipinos continue to defend comments made by Duterte that are obviously insulting to the women of the Philippines. Rape jokes disguise tolerance and promotion of sexual harassment and abuse beneath the veil of humour, inevitably trivializing the weight of rape and violence against women as a crime.

If gender equity is to flourish, what we need at this point is for people to stop patronizing rape jokes and people who unapologetically make them, clearly lacking of respect for women.

Duterte will be the President of the Philippines for roughly four and a half more years. How many more rape jokes must Filipinas have to endure before Filipinos realize that they are really not jokes at all?

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