by Reuben James Barrete, as originally published in his Facebook account.
In recent months, I collected some of the transcripts of the President’s speeches to interpret his portrayal of women. These speeches are mostly delivered in formal events and media interviews. In February 20, during his speech at the 10th Biennial National Convention and 20th founding Anniversary Celebration of Chinese Filipino Business Club Inc, he said: “Kung babae pa itong China, niligawan ko na ‘yan.” (If China is a woman, I would have courted her.) His interpretation of diplomatic relations with countries, specifically with China shows how gendered he perceives all types of relationships. The statement he uttered clearly delivers a representation of the Philippines and China relations. The binary assumptions of what men and women should be is evident even in his formal declarations; that the latter should be “courted” in order to be the former’s subsidiary object within an established formal bond. This is his idyllic set-up of relations, which in the case of both countries’ ties is not present.
He perceives China as superior over the Philippines in the masculinist lens, that whoever possesses the material power, therefore, deserves the absence of public dissent in its dealings. That a woman, is a subordinate of an entity perceived more powerful, of men.
Mr. Duterte received enormous criticisms from the opposition for his inaction in the ongoing militarization of China in the contested islands in South China Sea, where Beijing has almost finished building military facilities in the 7 reefs claimed by the Philippine government in the Spratly Islands.
Conversely, his depiction of women continues even in private meetings, his misogynistic pronouncements further led to violent, brutal and distasteful attacks against women. “Are there women? Are they holding guns? Shoot them in the vagina. I’ll tell the soldiers. Don’t. Just watch out, 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.
This assertion of Mr. Duterte yet again represents woman as an object; that a woman only carries significance if she is capable of reproduction; that a woman is of value in the prism of limiting her agency as mere sexual object.
Mr. Duterte in this meeting has set restrictive functions of a woman in a society. He deliberately questioned the existence of female rebels, and their participation in armed struggle. The socially constructed design that arms, guns, and bullets are exclusive material manifestations to be attributed to men; and that women can also be essentialized in the narratives of strength and power – is a truth he cannot bear.
In the third quarter of 2016, Senator Leila De Lima, one of the leading critics of Mr. Duterte, was implicated in a political circus when the President’s political alliances in Congress wanted to present the Senator’s alleged private video in aid of legislation to demonstrate De Lima’s involvement in the drug trade.
The utilization of “sex” to impede a woman’s credibility was used by the Duterte administration to silence his ferocious critic. Mr. Duterte’s strategy to employ a gender-based assault attempts to dehumanize one’s agency within the boundaries of a woman’s conventional image, rolling in the edge of cultural confines. His words and actions propose an ideal description of a woman as he sits from a vantage point of power. He uses this power to resist any form of woman’s liberal freedom for his political gains.
In his visit last year in Camp General Teodulfo Bautista in Jolo Sulu, he jokingly said in an audience of military forces after the liberation of Marawi City from ISIS-affiliated rebels:
“Hindi pwedeng magdala ng asawa. Kabit lang. [laughter] Para mas maganda ang labanan. Ang asawa, away pa ‘yan. Asawa? Pagdating niyo sa kwarto mga isang oras, mag-sisigawan na ‘yan. Pero kung uyab, honeymoon talaga.” [laughter] …
“Pero ligawan ninyo ‘yan ‘ha? ‘Wag ninyong pabuntisan. Ma-discharge kayo.” [laughter] “Pero ‘yung dalawa magsabay buntis, ah bilib, promotion ‘yan.” [laughter and applause]
“You cannot bring your wives, just 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.”
Mr. Duterte’s sense of ownership of men’s perceived customary actions exhibits his superiority complex over women. His upfront and transparent declaration that men are allowed to have affairs with other women outside of their marriages is securely permitted, contained by the borders of his privileges and the illusion of moral ascendancy as a man. He purposely opt out that women are also capable of making choices of their own regardless of the consequences it call for.
Sadly, in all of Duterte’s speeches, where women were abandoned in the margin of prejudice and bigotry, a thunderous laughter was favourably returned – some from women. The wide-ranging approval of many Filipinos; the tolerance to embrace; and the permission given to lambaste the agency of a woman only proves the kind of government we are worthy of. Not until silence is given as a form of resistance to Mr. Duterte’s misogynistic remarks, will we attain respect that the women deserve; and not until we finally parade a resolute effort to call for accountability, will we only realize truthful protection of women.
President Duterte’s photo by Ace Morandante /Presidential photo.