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Pia Cayetano: Duterte has done a lot for women's rights

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Pia Cayetano, a staunch advocate of women's rights, said she does not condone Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte's remarks about rape, but understands where he is coming from.

"I’ll make that clear Maria, because we're gonna get people who'll say, 'Wow, Senator Pia, you understand? It's okay?' No, it's not okay," she told Rappler's Maria Ressa in an interview on Friday, May 6.

"But I understand and I'll tell you why. First of all, there is never an excuse for the language that he used, never. But on that note, his point was, 'I was there in the middle of a hostage-taking, I put my life on the line, I gave the order to kill these people who were killing, who were raping, so if I have a foul mouth, sorry.'

Cayetano is the sister of Alan Peter Cayetano, who is Duterte's running mate. She is well known for promoting women's rights, having championed the controversial Reproductive Health Law, among others. 

A two-term senator, Cayetano is now running for Taguig City representative. 

Social media users asked the senator how she felt about Duterte's numerous controversial remarks and jokes given her own advocacies for women, and why she continued to support him despite these.

Previously, the mayor joked about wanting to rape a murdered Australian missionary, and called his daughter a "drama queen" for talking about being sexually abused. 

Duterte has also bragged about his Viagra-fueled serial adultery, told lawmakers he would shut down Congress if they did not follow his orders, and vowed to kill tens of thousands of criminals then pardon himself for mass murder.

"Ganun siya, you know what I mean, may pagka-sarcastic. 'Sorry, madumi 'yung bibig ko. Pero this is what I had to do on the ground.' (He's like that, you know what I mean, a bit sarcastic. 'Sorry, I use foul language. But this is what I had to do on the ground.') And again that doesn't excuse it. I'm not giving him excuses and neither has Senator Alan. I gotta speak up for my brother, because he's the person I know personally and well. I mean, I know Mayor Duterte, too. But Alan never said it was okay, either. But we're just saying, we understand what he was trying to say.

"Having said that, he's apologized, and I've also said to him, let's just apologize... This guy, honesty and transparency, he's really like, what you see is what you get, including the foul mouth. Which like me, and any other mother, would prefer that he starts working on," she said, adding that her brother's more formal demeanor would help smooth out the "rough edges" for the tough-talking mayor.

Asked whether she believed that Duterte would truly protect women and women's rights should he win, she had this to say: "What I've seen in Davao is the most amazing local executive when it comes to women's issues. I cannot downplay what he has done for Davao. This would be a disservice to this man who has stood for everything women empowerment in Davao City…I understand how confusing it would be to the general public. 'Bakit ganyan 'yung bibig niya?' (Why would he say things like that?) 

"And the closest I can come to an explanation is his weakness is, he said so himself, he's a womanizer. But having said that, that's his business. Does it affect his ability to handle peace and order in Mindanao? Does it affect his ability to bring together the decades-long problem we've had with communism, with religious extremists in Mindanao? I don't think it does. I've thought long and hard about this, what happens is, it's a distraction, and I've told him that," she said. 

The senator also addressed criticism that she's stayed "silent" about the issue, explaining that she would rather not rush to social media and express her thoughts there. 

"Everyone who knows me, who has seen how I have fought for women's issues, know that I will never turn my back, I never change my position, and neither do my standards change," she said. 

"Can you imagine if somebody like me who has a direct line to Mayor Duterte started bashing him online, joining my fellow women in saying, 'That's foul,' which I have, I have said 'it's foul' – do you think I'm the first person he wants to come to for advice? Nope.

"This guy is a front-runner. Do I want to be a positive influence on his life, or do I just want to be one of the bashers? I've always been supportive of any president who has been elected by this country, whether I ran with that president or not. My objective is always to be effective, that is what I am. I am an effective leader. I may take flak for it in between, but at the end of the day, I'm effective." – with reports from AFP / Rappler.com