Human rights groups in the Philippines on Friday condemned President Rodrigo Duterte for joking that the alarming rate of sexual assaults in his hometown was linked to the area’s high number of attractive women.
Duterte stirred controversy after a speech Thursday night in the central city of Mandaue, where he appeared to make fun of a recent national police report that placed Davao, his southern hometown, as the city with the highest number of reported rape cases in the country.
“They said there are many rape cases in Davao. As long as there are many beautiful women, there will be more rape cases,” Duterte said.
He also appeared to have trivialized the crime, emphasizing that an offender “never does it on the first try” or when a woman fights him off.
Duterte cracked the joke after a report by the Philippine National Police found that Davao – which he had often boasted as a crime-free city – had 42 reported rape cases for the second quarter of this year, the highest number among major cities in the predominantly Catholic nation.
By contrast, the nation’s capital Manila, which had seen the most number of deaths in Duterte’s anti-drug war, recorded only 32 cases during the same period.
Duterte has a penchant for controversial comments, and this is not the first time that his racy comments had caused controversy.
When he was campaigning for the presidency, he joked about the gang rape of an Australian missionary worker during a prison riot in Davao, where Duterte grew up and later served as mayor and congressman. He said that the woman was attractive, and that as a mayor, he should have been first on queue to rape the victim.
“I was angry because she was raped … but she was so beautiful, the mayor should have been first,” he said. “What a waste.”
Last year, he told troops to rape women and that he would pardon them if they were caught and convicted. He followed this up by telling them to shoot women fighters of the communist New People's Army in the vagina, rendering them useless as a woman and a mother.
During a trip to India earlier this year, he joked about using virgins as a lure to tourists, and during a visit to South Korea, he kissed a Filipina on the lips in front of hundreds of well-wishers.
On Friday, presidential spokesman Harry Roque insisted that Duterte was only joking when he made the rape comment, emphasizing that the Philippine leader regarded members of the opposite sex highly, having appointed several women to cabinet posts.
“I don’t think we should give too much weight on what the president says by way of a joke,” he said.
He noted that the standard of what is offensive is more liberal in the south compared to Manila.
But a coalition of women’s groups, called #BabaeAko (I Am Woman), said Duterte’s comments were inexcusable, arguing that “the misogynist Duterte has added insult to the scares of rape survivors.”
“Rape is all about the exercise of power against women. Rape is a heinous crime based on entitlement, on the false assumption that women are chattels, to be owned, to be punished according to the whims of men,” it said.
Women’s group Gabriela accused Duterte of shifting the blame on women. “Women are raped because of misogynists like Duterte,” it said.
"We reiterate that rape is a crime punishable under our laws, and it occurs only because of the rapist mentality being perpetrated by no less than the president,” Gabriela said. “We strongly condemn this latest flamboyant display of misogyny, which places more Filipino women at risk of rape.”