Given the massive outpouring of condemnation and disgust toward Rodrigo Duterte’s “I should’ve been first” rape remark (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nY8IlKL74-M), one might reasonably think that the Davao city mayor’s bid for the presidency is well and truly sunk. Efforts at damage control from him and his team have not been particularly clever: first, they asserted that the comment was meant to be regarded as a joke but changed their minds. Second, Duterte vacillated over whether or not to apologize. When he did decide, he said he was “sorry in general,” whatever that means, and put the blame on his uncontrollable mouth and temper. He next attempted to use machismo as his justification: “that’s how men talk,” and his supposed working-class, street-smart slang style: “di naman ako anak ng conyo” I’m not a child of a conyo. He then shockingly dressed down his own daughter and former Davao city mayor, Sara Duterte-Carpio, after she publicly admitted that she had been raped. His dismissive response was to call her a “drama queen.” He has told foreigners, notably the Australian Ambassador, to stay out of Philippine politics, and his latest reaction to complaints filed by women’s groups and the Commission on Human Rights was a defiant “Go to hell!”
In the face of national and international outrage, a presidential candidate who has any shame at all and any respect for the office to which he aspires would, by now, be figuring out the best face-saving exit. But not Duterte. Even when his words are at their vilest. Where from does such astounding egomaniacal confidence, or is it total indifference, spring?
A few months ago, an oath-taking ceremony of local Liberal Party officials in Laguna culminated in a lewd performance by young women dancers who wore only bras and briefs. The dancers were, reportedly, a ‘birthday gift’ from MMDA Chair Francis Tolentino to Laguna Congressman Benjie Agarao. The appreciative recipient saw nothing inappropriate in the gift, saying he was, after all, a manly man.
Commonplace casual sexism such as this is fuelled by strong misogyny. Antonio L. Sanchez, former mayor of Calauan, in Laguna, also appreciated his gift. In 1993, six members of Sanchez’ entourage, one of whom was his brother and two policemen, abducted a teenage girl and her companion, both students at the University of the Philippines, Los Baños. The girl was presented to the mayor. After raping her, the mayor returned her to his men. “Salamat sa regalo ninyo” he said, “bahala na kayo diyan” (Thank you for your gift. Do what you will now). Mary Eileen Sarmenta was then raped by each of the men and murdered. Allan Gomez, her friend, was also killed. The legal files make shocking and harrowing reading.http://www.lawphil.net/judjuris/juri1993/nov1993/gr_111771_77_1993.html http://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/jurisprudence/1999/jan99/121039_45.htm
Sanchez attempted an audacious cover-up. The rape-murders were initially blamed on the victims’ fellow student and an innocent boy was subjected to trial by media. Sanchez evidently could turn to friends in high places. He allegedly paid P10 million to Joseph Estrada, then vice-president and head of the Presidential Anti-Crime Commission (PACC), plus P10 million to chief investigator Panfilo Lacson of PACC Task Force ‘Habagat.’ Further, mere months after the killings, just as the case was being heard in court, a movie that conveyed the mayor’s side of the story was released. Humanda ka mayor! Bahala na ang Diyos starred Kris Aquino as the rape victim.
Despite these machinations, Sanchez was convicted. He received what amounted to 360 years in prison and was permanently barred from public office. After serving eight years in jail, however, he preened before the media, claimed to be a victim of political persecution and hinted that he anticipated receiving a full pardon.
Former congressman of Zamboanga del Norte, Romeo G. Jalosjos, liked to treat himself to gifts. In 1996, over a period of several weeks in June, the congressman sexually molested an 11-year-old girl who was pimped by her stepfather. Jalosjos brushed off the child’s protests with the flesh-crawling solicitude of a true pedophile: “Daddy mo naman ako,” (Sure, I’m your daddy). The child’s pimp-stepfather received P5,000 and P10,000 each time he delivered her to the congressman. The details in the case file are stomach churning.
Jalosjos was found guilty of statutory rape and sentenced to several lifetimes worth of imprisonment. Nevertheless, he managed to orchestrate two political campaigns from behind bars, winning in the 1998 and 2001 elections, before his appeal was finally quashed by the Supreme Court in 2002. In the maximum security prison in which he was incarcerated, he was permitted to construct a tennis court, a basketball court, establish his own bakery, and build himself a little, private cottage. “I don’t see why we should insist on democratizing suffering,” he said, “that if one suffers, all of us should suffer.” In 2007, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo commuted his sentence to 16 years. In 2009, Jalosjos walked out a free man after serving just 12 years of jail time.
Duterte lays claim to a gregarious, rough-and-tumble frontier culture and a putative working-class background to justify his obscenities, his gratuitous insults, and his cruel jokes. But his boasts of vigilante-style extra-judicial killings and his ugly rape remark come from somewhere darker. Foul-mouthed messages endorsing murder and rape find their roots deep in our culture of impunity and a misogynistic mentality.
If there is any hope to be had, it lies in the tide of public denunciations. The press here and abroad have harshly criticized his remarks. Global netizens on social media, civil society groups, and government officials of every political stripe, are unified by outrage and the demand for decency and respect toward women. Will this condemnation continue up to polling day? If voters have any sense, it must.