Catcalling: Duterte broke the law in own city

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Catcalling: Duterte broke the law in own city

Photo by: Manman Dejeto/Rappler

(UPDATED) A Davao City ordinance, signed by Mayor Rodrigo Duterte in 1994, says whistling at a woman can be considered sexual harassment

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED)  – While vowing to implement the law with an iron fist, President-elect Rodrigo Duterte broke an ordinance in his own city when he catcalled broadcast journalist Mariz Umali during a press conference on Tuesday, May 31. 

The Women Development Code of Davao City, or Davao City Ordinance No. 5004, says whistling at a woman can be considered sexual harassment.

Davao City Ordinance No. 5004 classifies the following as sexual harassment: “Cursing, whistling, or calling a woman in public with words having dirty connotations or implications which tend to ridicule, humiliate, or embarrass the woman such as ‘puta (prostitute),’ ‘boring,’ ‘peste (pest),’ etc.”

The ordinance defines sexual harassment as “a form of misconduct involving an act or a series of unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature, made directly, indirectly, or impliedly.”

Sexual harassment can be punished under Republic Act 7877, or the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995, and the provisions of the Revised Penal Code on Acts of Lasciviousness.

RA 7877 penalizes sexual harassment with imprisonment of one to 6 months, a fine of P10,000 to P20,000, or both.

Under the Revised Penal Code, acts of lasciviousness would mean imprisonment.

Ordinance signed by Duterte

The Davao City ordinance, which Duterte broke, was approved on October 14, 1997, and signed by the long-time Davao City mayor himself.

The Women Development Code is considered a landmark piece of legislation. (READ: Davao’s policies on women clash with Duterte’s macho lingo)

Rappler is still trying to reach Duterte’s incoming presidential spokesman, lawyer Salvador Panelo, on the catcalling incident involving Duterte and Davao City’s Women Development Code.

In an earlier interview with ABS-CBN News, Panelo said Duterte was not disrespecting Umali when he whistled last Tuesday.

“Mayor Duterte is a very kind, playful individual,” he said.

Panelo explained that if Duterte whistles, it means he is fond of the person. “Ibig sabihin, mahal ka niyan, kaya ka binibiro. Hindi po isang pambabastos ‘yon,” he said. (That means he loves you, that’s why he’s joking with you. That’s not a form of disrespect.)

Panelo added, “On the contrary, the receiver of that should be complimented.”

Duterte’s chosen head of the Philippine National Police, Chief Superintendent Ronald dela Rosa, was asked in a press conference on Thursday, June 2, about the catcalling incident.

Dela Rosa said they in the Philippine National Police do not do that, “even without an ordinance.” 

When it was pointed out that Duterte himself did that, Dela Rosa said, “You want me to criticize the President?”

Laughing, Dela Rosa said, “Sa kanya na ‘yan. Siya na mag-explain para doon sa ginawa niya.” (That’s his call. He himself can explain what he did.)

Reporter not seeking apology

The catcalling incident happened when Umali, a reporter from broadcast giant GMA-7, asked the president-elect about his Cabinet appointees in a press conference in Davao City on Tuesday.

Duterte, 71, interrupted Umali’s question with a light-hearted comment about her trying to get his attention. The president-elect then whistled and broke into a short serenade.

Umali continued trying to ask her question as Duterte smiled and some other reporters laughed.

In an interview on GMA-7 on Thursday, Umali described Duterte’s remarks as “improper”, but said she would not ask for an apology. 

Umali’s husband, GMA-7 reporter Raffy Tima, earlier criticized Duterte for the incident. “Catcalling my wife is wrong [on] so many levels,” Tima wrote on Facebook on Wednesday, June 1.

“Some jokes are funny and should be laughed at, but disrespecting women is definitely not one of them,” he said. 

Duterte is touted as a women’s rights advocate because of initiatives such as the Davao City’s Women Development Code. At the same time, Duterte has also admitted he is a womanizer– with reports from Agence France-Presse/

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email