By Karl Romano
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte drew a barrage of criticism from women’s groups on Monday after he kissed a married Filipina on the lips during a public engagement in South Korea over the weekend.
The incident occurred when Duterte was meeting with the Filipino community in Seoul on Sunday, the second day of his three-day visit to South Korea.
The president called the woman, who said she was married to a South Korean and was the mother of two children, onto the stage and promised her a signed copy of a book by a Filipino journalist that detailed scandals within the influential Catholic Church.
“Can you tell your husband this was just a joke,” Duterte said as he proceeded to give her a kiss on the lips as the crowd cheered, according to official transcripts of the event.
The woman was just one of the estimated 68,000 Filipinos working and living in South Korea, many of them students and professionals and spouses of Korean nationals.
But women’s group Gabriela said the action was a clear display of Duterte’s display of power, and a “disgusting theatrics of a misogynist president who feels entitled to demean, humiliate or disrespect women according to his whim.”
It said the act was meant to divert the Filipinos from the real problems of the country and Duterte’s “repeated acts of machismo” were meant to entertain and distract from the fact that many people were beginning to question his policies, including his anti-drug war that has left thousands dead and corruption scandals that saw him let go of key cabinet officials.
“It is also his own perverted way of getting at his women critics, his way of proving he can dominate women at any time, and any place as he chooses,” said Joms Salvador, the secretary general of Gabriela.
“It is his way of publicly exhibiting his contempt for women,” Salvador said.
Another advocacy group, Every Woman, which was founded to combat misogyny under the regime of Duterte, said the president had never viewed women as “real people, but merely objects like all the other perks.”
Duterte criticizes UN official
Duterte’s kiss came two days after the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Diego García-Sayán, hit out at the president for moves to oust the country’s Supreme Court chief justice.
Duterte had supported moves to remove Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno – the country’s first female head of the judiciary – in Congress but his counsel instead sought to disqualify her on the grounds that she allegedly failed to disclose her net worth publicly.
Sereno denied the charges and said the move was politically motivated after she angered Duterte by speaking out about his drug war.
But Duterte, before leaving for South Korea, said of the U.N. rapporteur: “I did not have anything to do with that. Tell that son of a bitch rapporteur to go to hell.”
That response was expected, said Carlos Conde, of Human Rights Watch, who claimed the outburst was “the same tired, old rhetoric designed to frustrate attempts by the U.N. and the international community to look into thousands and thousands of extrajudicial killings by the police and state agents in the government’s war on drugs.”
Conde charged that Duterte was simply “trying to evade accountability” by subjecting his critics to relentless attacks.
“The U.N. must not be deterred and should now initiate an investigation into Duterte’s continuing drug war,” said Conde, HRW’s researcher for Asia.
Jeoffrey Maitem in Cotabato, Philippines contributed to this report.