Trash-talking Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte has warned that he is prepared to cut diplomatic ties with the United States and Australia after their ambassadors criticized his supposed joke about the jailhouse rape of a missionary.
Duterte told the ambassadors to “shut their mouths,” as controversy continued to rage over his comments in which he said he wanted to have been the first to rape the Australian woman who was brutalized and murdered in a 1989 prison riot.
“If I become President, go ahead and sever it [diplomatic ties],” Duterte, 71, said on the campaign trial on Wednesday night, referring to the relationships with the US and Australia, two of the Philippines’ closest allies.
“Australian, American ambassadors, shut your mouth,” he added. “Do not interfere because it’s election time.”
Duterte said he is not afraid if his statements will affect the country’s relationship with its strong allies.
“This is a democracy. Freedom of speech is a sacred right. Nobody can question my mouth. Huwag mo akong kontrolin [Do not control me]. This is my freedom of expression,” he added.
Duterte, who while campaigning has called the pope a “son of a bitch” and promised to kill thousands of criminals, recounted at a recent rally the riot events as part of his tough-on-crime pitch to voters.
“They raped all of the women… there was this Australian lay minister… when they took them out… I saw her face, she was beautiful and I thought, ‘Son of a bitch. What a pity… they raped her, they all lined up,” he told the crowd.
“I was mad she was raped but she was so beautiful. I thought, the mayor should have been first.”
Duterte was at the time mayor of Davao, a major city in southern Philippines where he is accused of running vigilante death squads that have allegedly killed more than 1,000 people.
He has at times on the campaign boasted about running the death squads, claiming they killed 1,700 people, but also denied any links to them.
Duterte has similarly offered varying responses to the rape comments, with his media team releasing a statement in which he apologized.
But on the campaign trail, he has repeatedly told reporters he would not apologize.
Australian Ambassador Amanda Gorely criticized his remarks, saying in a statement on Twitter: “Rape and murder should never be joked about or trivialized. Violence against women and girls is unacceptable anytime, anywhere.”
US Ambassador Philip Goldberg later agreed with her, saying in a television interview that “statements by anyone, anywhere that either degrade women or trivialize issues so serious as rape or murder are not ones that we condone.”
A US embassy spokesman said there was no immediate response to Duterte’s remarks about the ambassadors. An Australian embassy spokeswoman said there would be no comment.
The Philippines and the US have a long-standing relationship. The two countries just finished holding the yearly Balikatan (should-to-shoulder) military exercises.
Australia, which supports the US position on China’s unilateral moves in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), has also a good bilateral relationship with the Philippines for the past 70 years.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), meanwhile, played down reports that Filipino workers in Canberra were affected by the controversial remarks of Duterte.
An unnamed Filipino working in an Australian firm was quoted by the Philippines Defense Forces Forum Facebook page as saying that at least 50 Filipino workers may lose their jobs because of the uproar.
The post said the “owner of the company we’re working for is a very devout Christian and she felt insulted by Duterte’s comments against her fellow Aussie, our supervisor already told us today that the contracts of all of us 50 Filipino workers will no longer be renewed, that we will be replaced by Pacific Islanders.”
In an interview with The Manila Times, DFA Assistant Secretary Charles Jose said he believes that Australia will not magnify a “petty” matter.
“Hindi naman ganoon ang Australia. Napaka-petty naman nu’n [Australia is not like that.
The issue is very petty],” he said. “The comment of Australia is not about the government policy. It’s about a presidential candidate. It’s not interfering in internal affairs.”
The DFA official pointed out that the controversy should not be treated as a national government issue.
Jose, however, said he understands the sentiment of Australia and the US.
There are 304,093 Filipinos in Australia as of June 2015, most of them permanent residents.