[OPINION] When kissing becomes an issue of public interest

The recent "kissing incident" involving Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and a woman from the audience during the President's official function in South Korea raises questions about the proper conduct of public officials, a woman's exercise of agency before an act of chauvinism, and holding power to account through shaming. 

Whatever intimate or sexual acts the President or the woman he kissed does in private is no one's business. They can kiss, flirt, or do anything privately as they please according to their chosen moral/ ethical standards. That's their life and they are adults. It's a waste of time to control or dictate matters of that nature because people who are not family to those concerned simply can't.  

However, because the kissing happened in a public space during an official function, this makes the kissing a public concern, a public interest issue. The public interest issue on this matter may include: did the act have a detrimental effect on the common good or general welfare of Filipinos and the country? Did the President abuse his authority? Are there rules or laws on behavior of public officials violated with such an act? (READ: Gabriela on Duterte kissing OFW: 'Disgusting theatrics of a misogynist')

On one hand, the President, the woman involved, and Malacañang all said it was nothing, it was just for fun and completely acceptable to Filipino culture. On the other hand, critics say it disrespects or demeans women and/or sets a bad example. (READ: #BabaeAko campaign: Filipino fight back against Duterte's misogyny)

This is up for debate. And the answer is not based on might nor numbers alone. What clearly needs to be underscored is the point that a public official's actions in public and during official functions are subject to the standards of what is good and right according to Filipino public interest and general welfare. Mr Duterte, especially, is not exempted from that.

Malacañang should stop evading the issue

The stand taken by the President, the woman involved, and Malacañang evades and belittles the issue. They say it is simply a stunt to make the audience laugh. They assert that the act is consistent with the prevailing culture, which means for Malacañang, the act simply perpetuates the status quo.  (READ: Malacañang defends Duterte's kiss: OFW was 'honored' by it

Still, this does not argue whether the act is good or bad for the common good and general welfare or if the President is not violating any law or rules.

Perhaps if the President, Malacañang, and the woman involved try to answer this question, they can be guided better. This way, their actions and words in the future will be more considerate of the public and not only of themselves and how they opt to have fun.

For one, Republic Act 6713 that provides for the code of conduct and ethical standards of public officials and employees is focused more on anti-corruption measures. Emerging gap in the protocols governing public officials is the emphasis on respect for women and a more elaborate definition of basic decency. 

Gender sensitivity and anti-Violence Against Women and Children (VAWC) policies need to still be mainstreamed more explicitly in the protocols governing the conduct of public officials. That is basic, but given this presidency, it is clearly a necessary policy update.

The woman had agency 

Meanwhile, I also have a problem with how some of my feminist friends criticize what happened, underscoring the asymmetry in power in such a situation, which hence, according to them, puts all the blame on the President.  

The President is a powerful j*rk. Let me say that first. But even in the midst of the most powerful j*rk, anyone, especially a woman, has the innate power to say "no" or "yes." 

The irony is that by putting the blame completely on the President, we are stripping the woman of her exercise of agency. We only see apparent power, but there are other sources of power which everyone has, including the woman involved, in any situation. Everyone has a choice. Even a choice at the expense of one's life is a choice. Is the choice or consent of the woman kissed by Duterte a perfect choice, a perfect consent? Maybe not. But is there such a thing? And does that make a choice/ consent any less? 

The point is that the woman could have said "no," but she didn't. She said yes and participated in the act. That was her choice, an exercise of her agency. After the incident, in an interview, she said she did not regret what happened and said happily that she knew what she was doing. 

Did the President take advantage of his position of power? Yes, he did. A man like that would. And the woman consented to it. Whether the woman thought it was worth it or not, that was her own calculation and she made that choice, consequences for which she should be ready to face. 

You cannot shame the shameless

In the same way, the President must face the consequences of his abuse of authority. Clearly, acts like that for whatever reason, have no place in an official function. For one, it diverts the attention from the important matters at hand and makes mockery of the interaction between the people and their servants, which in a democracy, must be governed by relationship of accountability. (READ: Duterte, the 'benevolent sexist'?)

Finally, let me speak of holding to account people in power like this President. Shaming works for those who can still be shamed. For a shameless chauvinistic mysogynist person like the President, no amount of shaming will work. 

You want to stop the President from acting the way he is acting, there is only one way: he must be stripped of his authority. – Rappler.com

Joy Aceron is convenor-director of Government Watch and a research fellow at Accountability Research Center