To forgive or not to forgive Duterte?

Rodrigo Duterte's scandalous remarks about raped Australian missionary Jacqueline Hamill just goes to show that a lot can happen a few weeks before the elections.

The story, picked up by foreign news groups like the BBC, Vice, and The Guardian, has sparked a fierce debate online. A scroll through my Facebook feed reveals an upheaval.

There are previously undecided voters saying they are now sure of who not to vote for and previously decided voters now thrown into uncertainty. There are Duterte supporters tearfully, sadly coming to terms with his remarks and still proclaiming their undying loyalty to him. 

Voters, the homestretch of the campaign season means the time to reflect fully and deeply about who to cast your ballot for this May 9.

It's great that many have taken to social media to explain their thought process. I picked up some interesting insights on why people have chosen to forgive or not forgive Duterte for his remark. 

It is important to note though that Duterte does not ask for forgiveness. He's "sticking to his guns," saying he was just recalling what he said during the hostage-taking incident and simply wanted to be accurate in his retelling. 

Netizens have also factored this in in their posted reactions. I searched "Duterte" on Facebook and scrolled through a good number of posts to see what sentiments dominate.

Condemn Duterte?

 1. Coming from a poor family is no excuse.

"Hindi rin po ako anak ng conyo, at hindi rin po ako parte ng 'elite' na kung tawagin ng mayor na ito. Subalit, hindi ko ginagamit ang panggagahasa (rape) bilang paksa ng biro," said someone on my social media feed.

(I am also not the son of a rich person, and I am not part of the "elite" which this mayor is talking about. But I don't use rape as the subject of jokes.)

2. A person who makes such remarks is unfit for the presidency.

This was how Malacañang chose to respond to the issue but it's also how some social media users are gauging Duterte. If Duterte can't control his manner of speaking as a presidential candidate, how can he control it if he becomes president? Can we trust such a person to represent the country and make us proud in international settings? 

3. His remark shows, at the most, tolerance for rape, at the least, insensitivity to the issue of rape.

One female Facebook user quoted the words of Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson to express her own views on Duterte. Robertson described Duterte's remark as "a disgusting endorsement of sexual violence." Voting for Duterte, said the netizen, is a vote for sexual violence.

4. He desecrated the memory of a rape victim to gain political points.

"You insulted her, her family and her co-missionaries by making her a part of your campaign speech, an object that your gullible (?) supporters laughed about," said another female Facebook user.

Forgive Duterte?

 1. His actions speak louder than words.

Netizens who feel this way cite his pro-woman programs. Davao City, under Duterte, was the first in the country to implement the Women Development Code. The local government put up a center for battered women and gives financial assistance to women who want to avail of tubal ligation.  

2. Better to have a president who makes bad jokes than one who is corrupt and incompetent.

"[I'd] rather have a President that has a bad mouth but a good heart than a President that sounds so good but their hearts are covered with mud (Hypocrites)," said one Facebook user.

People who hold this view point out the flaws of other presidential candidates: Jejomar Binay's corruption allegations, Grace Poe's inexperience, Mar Roxas' promise of continuity for the supposedly inadequate "Daang Matuwid." 

3. He was the "hero" of the hostage-taking incident.

Some netizens chose to share the uncut, unedited YouTube video of Duterte's reaction to the uproar, saying news groups are biased in their reporting. The uncut video includes Duterte recalling how he offered himself as a hostage to resolve the first hostage-taking incident involving Felipe Pugoy. He said the remark was not made in jest but in anger at the murder of Hamill. 

4. At least he's honest.

Some netizens applauded Duterte for his brutal honesty and authenticity. The mayor said he has never hidden his foul mouth, saying he picked it up while growing up in a village where people speak the same way. He felt sorry that others took it the wrong way. 

"He did apologize for saying those words and perhaps for being insensitive. But he doesn't have to apologize for who he is, because, that's who he is," said one Facebook user.

So what will it be for you?

Right now, Duterte is the front runner in the presidential race, based on pre-election surveys. I'm hazarding a guess that his rape remarks will hit his numbers among the upper- to middle-class and the youth. But a lot can still happen in the remaining 3 weeks before the elections. (READ: The Punisher and The Bully– Rappler.com 

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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