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That cheering crowd

/ 05:22 AM June 07, 2018

By now, The Kiss seen round the world has been thoroughly analyzed and mostly condemned, with many citizens protesting it as a power play — President Duterte taking advantage of his position to overwhelm an overseas Filipino worker into naively consenting to a very public kiss that she would describe later as “a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

The woman’s consent was not the issue, critics said, but a President who felt his lofty post entitled him to certain perks from an adoring public, never mind if they humiliated or demeaned other parties.


As one social media post stated: “In ordinary situations, it’s not easy to say NO to a superior whether it’s a boss, teacher, parent, even a husband… The power relation is aggravated by virtue of age and positions held. The woman in question is an ordinary OFW. Why blame her? How can people even think that she could say ‘no’ given the context? Full blame is on the President. He was in control. He wielded power over the woman.”

That the kiss was staged to give OFWs in South Korea “something to be giddy about” has been slammed as using women as entertainment, and the “playful act” — as presidential spokesperson Harry Roque described it — as an opportunity lost to interact more meaningfully with the Filipino community in a foreign land.


The use of an official event, with the presidential seal in the background no less, for a kiss deemed inappropriate for the occasion, has also been scored as an act of disrespect for the dignity of the presidency, the country and the people the office represents.

One netizen pointed out that Mr. Duterte’s amorous antic violated the very law his supporters often proudly hoist to prove that, contrary to his misogynist jokes and remarks, the President only has women’s welfare in mind.

Section 3 of the Women’s Development Code, which Mr. Duterte himself signed as Davao mayor, states that: “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature, made directly, indirectly, or implied,” can be considered sexual harassment.

But, recriminations aside, what is perhaps the biggest aggravation in The Kiss was the crowd reaction — the lusty cheers that egged on the President, the unmistakable stamp of approval encouraging further mischief.

Not that the roar of approval from a raucous crowd when it comes to Mr. Duterte’s words and actuations is anything new. What makes it disturbing is how indiscriminate and unthinking the cheering has been, starting from that rape joke that the President made about the Australian missionary killed during a prison riot in Davao.

The hooting has only continued through the President’s speeches, punctuating every curse and epithet he has uttered against the Pope, world leaders, business executives, alleged drug lords and addicts, the media, and women officials who dared cross him.

But he’s just exaggerating, just lightening up the mood, Mr. Duterte’s apologists would say. He’s just being real.


Aye, and there’s the rub. When did being “real” metamorphose into crudeness and incivility?

Nowadays, social media is rife with taunts against good manners and considerate behavior. Calls for civilized discourse are often catcalled as being “plastic” or “fake.”

Even politely calling out misdeeds is provocation enough to earn one and one’s family a shower of rape and death threats and, in the case of an outspoken actress, a possible acid attack.

How have we come to this? What ill wind has flung to parts unknown the customary propriety (“magandang asal”) with which Filipinos once so proudly identified themselves?

Could it just be the anonymity of the internet that releases one’s inhibitions and self-restraint?

Or have world leaders in an increasingly populist world pandered so often to the baser instincts of their followers that they have ended up normalizing what had previously been considered crass, cruel or simply out of line for public figures?

How are children expected to know better in this environment?

And who said it’s time to kiss sterling values and decent behavior goodbye as well?

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TAGS: civility, Duterte's kiss, Inquirer editorial, Rodrigo Duterte, social media discourse
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