MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) called out President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday, December 7, saying that using humor as an excuse for openly undermining the dignity of women is "simply unacceptable."
The CHR's statement was in response to Duterte's recent admission of "playfully" spanking the bottoms of policewomen assigned to Malacañang.
In a speech delivered during the alumni homecoming of his alma mater, San Beda College of Law, last November 26, Duterte had explained that he was such a "jokester."
"Eh ako palabiro ako. Pati 'yung mga babae na pulis pinaghahampas ko ang puwet, ginaganyan ko, diyan sa Malacañang," he said. "'Pag mainit ang ulo ko, dala ko folder ko."
(I'm a jokester. Even the female cops, I hit their butts in Malacañang. When I'm angry, I carry a folder.)
Duterte's actions, according to the CHR, can be considered sexual harassment – a form of violence against women (VAW). The way the President talks about it, added the commission, also makes it appear that VAW is normal.
"His admission normalizes the objectification of women and makes acceptable acts which degrade and invade women's bodies and which diminish her autonomy over her body," the CHR said.
The commission added that as the chief executive, Duterte should ensure that no woman suffers any form of violence.
"As the highest official of the land, the President is supposed to lead the campaign against VAW and the State's commitment to eliminate all forms of violence against women – not become himself a perpetrator of violence," the CHR said.
"While the President is immune from suit, the Commission holds him to account for acts of violence, and we challenge him with the role of the state actors as set forth under [the] Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Violence Against Women (CEDAW) not only to protect women from violence, but for state actors themselves not to be perpetrators of."
This is not the first time that the CHR has criticized Duterte for his remarks against women.
Duterte, however, called Commissioner Chito Gascon an "idiot" and accused the agency of "nitpicking."
Zero tolerance for VAW
"We have to see that there is a continuum of violence, a culture that is growing, and one which we cannot afford to tolerate," the CHR said. "We have to condemn, we have to break the silence, and we have to hold persons into account."
It added that the public cannot "react to violence in isolation" as discrimination against women and girls persists in various forms: sexual harassment, online attacks, and slut-shaming.
The CHR also urged government agencies, especially the National Bureau of Investigation, the Office of the Ombudsman, and the Civil Service Commission, to "exact accountability where accountability is due, conduct investigation, and ensure access to victims of violence" – whether the erring party is a private individual or a public official.
"Let us refuse to normalize violence and discrimination, let us speak out against all forms and instances of VAW wherever they may occur, whatever form, and whoever the victim-survivor or perpetrator may be," said the commission. – Rappler.com
Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.