As is his wont, President Duterte engaged a friendly audience — this time of Malacañang visitors — with a signature blend of banter and bluster.
Then, to the group of more than 200 former rebels, he said this: “‘Naay babae? Unsa man, nakagunit og armas?’ ‘Sir, fighter gyud. Amazona.’ ‘Pusila sa bisong arong di na …’”
The audience laughed, but that remark in Bisaya was profoundly offensive. The English translation is equally obscene: “‘Was there a woman? What, holding firearms?’ ‘Sir, a fighter. An Amazon.’ ‘Shoot her in the vagina, so she won’t …”’
The President’s words were reported, and drew condemnation from around the world.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque tried to explain the statement away.
“Alam niyo po, matapos ang isang taon at kalahati, dapat kakilala na natin ang Presidente. Paulit-ulit kong sinasabi (You know, after a year and a half, we should already be familiar with the President. I keep telling you),” and then he said in English: “Do not take the President literally but take him seriously.”
This is irrational, first because literal and serious are not opposites; second because the public does take what the President says with the seriousness he deserves; and third because whether literally or figuratively, whether seriously or lightheartedly, the President’s remarks are in fact obscene.
That is why it made news headlines around the world. A head of state said shoot female rebels in their vaginas.
Every Filipino should feel offended.
Roque tried to offer a figurative reading. He said in Filipino: “The message of the President [is] since there is no longer an opportunity to have peace talks because the CPP [Communist Party of the Philippines] has shown nothing but betrayal, you can expect that we will wage war again against the NPA [New People’s Army], and we will win.”
The spokesperson, who is spending government money touring the country to raise his profile for a potential Senate race (he offered his defense of the President’s statement while in Tabuk City, Kalinga), is suggesting that the Duterte administration has found the secret to ending the decades-old communist insurgency: Government soldiers will shoot female NPA rebels in the vagina.
(Does Roque even listen to himself?)
The truth is, the President’s remarks are indefensible.
He is indulging a misogynistic streak again, needlessly insulting women simply for being women.
He is performing for a machismo-saturated culture again, needlessly insulting women as a way to dramatize his alpha-male status.
He is using earthy language again, something he has done all his political career, as a way to connect, by needlessly insulting women as a target of abuse.
And he is telegraphing his true sentiments about the nature of his audience, former rebels, by needlessly insulting some of the very women who fought beside those former rebels.
He may have expressed his frustration with the communists, with whom he had a close relationship when he was mayor of Davao City; or he may have signaled a policy of all-out, no-holds-barred war against his former friends (shooting women rebels in their vagina is not standard operating procedure; it is not something you will find in the Philippine military’s operational manuals) — but his sexist, misogynist, vulgar language is offensive not only because it is sexist, misogynist, and vulgar. It offends Filipinos, a race famous for their hospitality, their fellow feeling, because it treats women rebels as less than human.
What is the point of shooting a female rebel in the vagina, if not to stress that for some men, women are reducible to their reproductive organs. Remove those organs, and those women are reduced to … nothing.
People in the audience laughed at the President’s joke, but the painful truth is: This was not funny.
We all take the President seriously; he is not only the head of government, elected by his 16 million voters, but is head of state, representing all 100 million Filipinos. And what he said was the complete opposite of funny.
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