Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte
has been making global headlines about his portrayal of women in public speeches and interviews. This has caught the attention of women's rights groups that have called the president out for his unswerving misogynistic and sexist remarks. The pressure from civil society has been unsuccessful as Duterte continues to discriminate against women in public. His pronouncements are often packaged in forms of humor, entertainment or, as he calls it, a joke. In recent months, I have collected transcripts of his speeches to look into his portrayal of women. These speeches were delivered at formal events and in media interviews. On Feb. 20, before a group of Chinese-Filipino businessmen, the president said: "If China is a woman, I would have courted her." His interpretation of diplomatic relations with countries, specifically China
, shows how gendered he perceives relationships to be.
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The president's statement shows how he views the respective roles of men and women. By saying women should be "courted," he implies they play a subsidiary role in a relationship. This is Duterte's idyllic set-up in terms of gender relations, and one that is unfortunately absent in Philippines-China ties. Duterte perceives China as superior to the Philippines
. In the lens of masculinity, whoever possesses material wealth deserves respect. A woman is the subordinate of an entity that is perceived to hold power — men. Duterte's misogynistic pronouncements have translated into more violent, brutal and distasteful attacks on women in recent weeks. "Are there women? Are they holding guns? Shoot them in the vagina .... Tell your comrades, call them and tell them: 'The mayor has a new order not to kill you, just shoot in the vagina so, no more vagina, you're useless,'" he declared last month. This statement again represents women as objects. Duterte sees that a woman can only be significant if she is capable of reproduction, that a woman is of value in the prism of limiting her agency as mere sexual object. Duterte has imposed restrictive functions on women in society. He deliberately questioned the existence of female rebels and their role in the armed struggle. He follows the socially constructed design that arms, guns and bullets are exclusive material manifestations attributed to men. In 2016, Leila de Lima, a senator who has been openly critical of Duterte, was accused of corruption. Several of the president's allies in Congress lobbied to show during an investigation what was supposed to be a video of the senator who may have been romantically engaged with a man. In this case, the use of sex to tarnish a woman's credibility was used to silence a critic. It highlights how Duterte's strategy of employing a gender-based assault dehumanizes women. His words and actions propose an ideal description of a woman as he sits from a vantage point of power. In a visit to a military camp last year, the president told soldiers: "You cannot bring your wives [to the war zone], only your mistresses so you'll have a good time. When you bring your wives, you will only fight. Bring your girlfriends so you can make sure that it's going to be your honeymoon." "But make sure you courted her. Do not impregnate her, or else you will be discharged from office. If you get to impregnate both, that's a promotion," he added in jest. Duterte's sense of ownership of men's perceived customary actions exhibits his superiority complex. His upfront declaration that men are allowed to have affairs with other women outside of marriage is securely permitted, contained by the borders of his privileges and the illusion of moral ascendancy as a man. Sadly, in all of Duterte's speeches, where women were abandoned in the margin of prejudice and bigotry, thunderous laughter was favorably returned, some from women. The wide-ranging approval of many Filipinos, and the permission given to lambast the agency of a woman, proves what kind of government the public is worthy of. Not until silence is given as a form of resistance to Duterte's misogynistic remarks will women attain the respect they deserve. Reuben James Barrete is a development worker in Manila whose main focus is human rights, solutions to poverty and social protection. He is taking a master's degree in international studies at the University of the Philippines.