President Rodrigo Roa Duterte responds to a query from the media on the sidelines of his visit to the areas affected by Typhoon Ulysses in Camarines Sur on November 15, 2020.
MANILA, Philippines — Despite already earning the consternation of the human rights commission as a “form of violence against women”, President Rodrigo Duterte’s sex jokes are, according to presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, not a big deal.
“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,” the Palace spokesman was quoted as saying at a press briefing Thursday.
“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,” he added.
He was referring to Duterte’s litany of misogynistic remarks in the aftermath of Typhoon Ulysses, which the Commission on Human Rights said: “[sent] the message that sexism in government is normal and that government take the issues of women and girls lightly.”
What the President said
At a meeting on Sunday, November 15, that was supposed to be about the government’s response to the string of typhoons, Duterte 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.”
He also joked that one man, who succumbed to coronavirus disease, “did not have enough women.”
Other government officials present at the briefing could be heard laughing, while one also joked that the Bicol region was “undersexed.”
Roque held the same defensive logic over the remarks after the meeting, telling reporters at a press briefing: “Let’s not read anything beyond the fact that the president more or less wants to lighten the mood…the entire day, all he saw was destruction.”
Republic Act No. 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, reads:
Public officials and employees shall perform and discharge their duties with the highest degree of excellence, professionalism, intelligence and skill. They shall enter public service with utmost devotion and dedication to duty. They shall endeavor to discourage wrong perceptions of their roles as dispensers or peddlers of undue patronage.
CHR: Remarks ‘inconsistent’ with human rights obligations
In a statement, CHR Commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit reminded the government that during the height of the disasters, a child was raped and was later found naked in Paluig, Zambales; a woman gave birth in an evacuation center; and many women and girls bear the brunt of disasters.
“Rather than the sexual objectification of women—seeing women’s only function is to serve men’s sexual pleasures—what should have been made visible in the briefing is the need for immediate and mainstreamed gendered responses and addressing the importance of protecting women and girls during and post-disaster,” Gomez-Dumpit said.
While Duterte and his spokesperson try to carve out “light” moments and “unload” in the aftermath of Ulysses, many Filipinos have lost homes and relatives.
Crude and irreverent remarks have become a staple over the past four years of Duterte’s administration and are nothing new.
— Franco Luna with a report from Gaea Katreena Cabico
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