MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) chairman Francis Tolentino drew flak on social media after he reportedly brought female dancers who gave a "lewd performance" at a lawmaker's birthday party after a Liberal Party (LP) event in Laguna on Thursday, October 1.
The dancers were hired to perform at the birthday party of Laguna 4th District Representative Benjamin Agarao, held after the oath-taking of 80 LP local officials at the lawmakers' home.
When female dancers Playgirls went on stage after the oathtaking, the emcee repeatedly announced that the performance was Tolentino's "gift" to those who attended the event, which created the impression that he was the one who hired the group.
Tolentino, who earlier announced that he will be running for a Senate seat under the LP banner, was a guest at the party.
The camp of administration standard-bearer Manuel Roxas II, who led the oath-taking ceremony, said they were surprised by the move, adding that Roxas had already left the venue by the time the dancers were on stage.
After photos and videos of the event went viral on social media and drew criticism from netizens, Tolentino posted a statement on his Facebook page denying that he brought the dancers as a "gift" for Agarao's birthday.
"Please hear my side of the story about certain materials circulating online: I was just a guest at the birthday party. I did not bring any dancers/singers. The emcee probably got misinformed," Tolentino said.
Agarao also denied that the dancers came from Tolentino, adding that he has yet to find out who among his friends brought in the group.
Michael Tupaz, manager of girl group Playgirls, also denied that it was Tolentino who booked them.
"Definitely, it was not Chairman (Tolentino)," Tupaz said in an interview on DZBB on Friday, October 1.
He said he was contacted by a booking agent at 9 am on Thursday, asking if they could perform at a "birthday event" at around noontime in Laguna.
Responding to questions, Tupaz said the impression that Tolentino hired the Playgirls for the event might have been because their group and the MMDA chief arrived at the party around the same time, or past 1 pm. The group got to the venue late as it was a last-minute booking.
Agarao: Nothing wrong with dancers
The Laguna representative appeared nonchalant about the incident, and said he found nothing wrong with having the female dancers perform for his birthday party.
Photos and videos of the event showed the female group performing raunchy dance moves with some male members of the audience.
Agarao found nothing lewd or offensive about the performance. He also stressed that it was a private event held after the official LP oathtaking event.
"Kung masagwa 'yan, ipapatigil namin (If it was a lewd performance, I would have had it stopped)," he said.
Agarao, however, also apologized to those offended by the performance.
Netizens slammed both Tolentino and Agarao for the move, saying it was "disgraceful" and "offensive" to refer to women as "gifts."
Women's rights advocate Elizabeth Angsioco hit the MMDA chief for "using women for [his] political propaganda."
"Chair Tolentino, you use women this way? This reveals your low regard for us. You are unworthy of ANY gov't position!" she said in a tweet.
MMDA Chair Tolentino, do u consider these women objects that u can give as "surprise gift"? Shame on u! #voteph2016 https://t.co/25M4Irwoe9 — GABRIELA (@gabrielaphils) October 1, 2015
Women's group Gabriela said, "MMDA Chair Tolentino, do you consider these women objects that you can give as 'surprise gift?' Shame on you."
In a statement, the group also criticized the two politicians for seemingly finding nothing wrong with the performance.
"Despite Tolentino's denials, the fact remains that he was not appalled by the incident and did not have the decency to stop the show when it was obviously becoming lewd. Even Congressman Agarao did not find anything wrong with the show and obviously enjoyed it," the group said. – with a report from Bea Cupin/Rappler.com