OPINION: Philippine President Duterte Era to Women: Put Up or Shut Up

Image credit: Illustrator Sasha Martinez

Image credit: Illustrator Sasha Martinez

Duterte Era to Women: Put Up or Shut Up

Has government embraced a policy of undermining the authority of women elected into positions of power?

By Christine Lao

During the public commemoration of the third anniversary of Typhoon Yolanda in Tacloban City, President Rodrigo Duterte publicly criticized the length of Vice President Leni Robredo’s hemline, joked about checking out the Vice President’s legs, and asked her about rumors that he claims to have heard about her “love life.” The President defended his objectification of the Vice President, saying it was necessary to “make people laugh.” Vice President Robredo herself dismissed the matter, saying that, although the remarks were inappropriate there were “larger and more urgent issues we confront as a nation”—mainly, the Supreme Court’s decision to allow former President Ferdinand Marcos to be buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

Shouldn’t we take the President’s conduct toward Robredo more seriously? During his state visit to China, the President was accompanied, not by Robredo, but by Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., who had lost the vice presidency to Robredo and currently occupies no government post. The son of the dictator, Marcos Jr. has a pending electoral protest against Robredo. In China, the President told an audience of Filipinos in Beijing that if Marcos, Jr. wins his protest, “maybe we’ll have a new vice president.”

Likewise alarming is the manner in which government is conducting its investigation into Senator Leila De Lima’s alleged links to the drug trade. The ongoing investigations in the House of Representatives, where President Duterte’s party has secured a “super majority,” are an embarrassment and an outrage. At last Thursday’s hearing, congressmen asked demeaning questions focused on De Lima’s personal affairs and private life, and not on her alleged drug links at the New Bilibid Prison.  We must not forget that it was the President himself who announced that he had a sex tape of Senator De Lima and a former member of her staff. Nor should we forget that this announcement was preceded by a Senate probe on extrajudicial killings, which De Lima had initiated as chair of the Senate Committee on Justice.

All these suggest a pattern of behavior that demeans women to undermine their presence in the public realm and ultimately, exclude them from it. To be a woman and occupy public office is to have one’s body parts ogled at by the other men in the room, or be dismissed as a joke. To be a woman in public service is to risk having one’s private life being trotted out and discussed salaciously if you say something out of line. The message is: put up or shut up.

Sadly, the highest leaders of the land, appear to have modeled this behavior all too well.

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News story from Esquire Magazine Philippines