Letting Rody be Rody
By this time, on the cusp of his third year in office, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has ceased to surprise the public.
He won over audiences, and earned heated criticism as well, from the early days of his campaign, mainly by his mostly off-the-cuff speeches peppered with cuss words and aimed at previously untouchable targets: the Church, the press, the oligarchy, and much too often, women. He even added to the shock value of his words with action: raising a raised middle finger, wolf-whistling, sidling up to women including a future Cabinet secretary, cajoling women in public events here and abroad into kissing him lips to lips.
So, when he shared his story of how as a teen he had inserted a finger into the private parts of a sleeping housemaid—a story he had already made public—he certainly knew and perhaps even expected the uproar that would ensue. He may very well have been disappointed if his “joke” had fallen flat. But it didn’t. In fact, it was met with uproarious laughter from those present. In the days that followed, he had to dodge a firestorm of anger, fury and denunciation, mostly from women and women’s groups, but also from critics in the political opposition and civil society and Church figures (who were, in the President’s convoluted logic, the ultimate targets of the lascivious tale).
Mr. Duterte relied on a cabal of childhood friends and cronies from Davao, and on classmates and political allies and sponsors, when he took office in Malacañang. He is cocooned within the enabling, comforting embrace of this small coterie, most of whom he has known for decades. And it is they who routinely circle the wagons and soothe him with reassuring words while shooting barbs at everyone who dares call out their boss for his utterances. Let Rody be Rody, they say. Let Rody be his old incorrigible raunchy self.
There is, of course, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo, who sought to brush off public anger at his principal’s nocturnal visit to the maid’s room as a mere attempt to “splice (spice?) the story with vulgarity” to make his tale funnier, and to expose and criticize “the hypocritical practices of those men in religious cloak.” This is not the first time that Panelo—after predecessor Harry Roque—has sought to deflect the President’s offensive words with the lame excuse of humor.
Then there is the newlywed Sen. Koko Pimentel, whose family professes to adhere to an ultraconservative Catholic movement, but who dismisses the outrage by saying the story is an “allegation,” an “exaggeration,” and a charge not worth “wasting time and print space and screen pixels” on.
Netizens supportive of Mr. Duterte have had their own say: the President was a minor at that time, one said, and if an adult, the maid could have been charged with sexual abuse. An outlandish approach would even weigh the relative guilt of the President as against alleged rapists from the communist New People’s Army!
But the loudest cover-up of all is silence, especially from women senators (with the exception of Senators Risa Hontiveros and Leila de Lima, who spoke out from her detention cell). What do these women—senators Nancy Binay, Cynthia Villar, Grace Poe, Loren Legarda—have to say about the President’s “humorous” recounting of a sexual violation of a housemaid who was entitled to protection, not abuse, from the family she served?
And what of aspiring returnee senator Pia Cayetano, who had styled herself during the struggle to pass the Reproductive Health Law as a women’s rights champion and who claims to carry on this role under Mr. Duterte’s reign? What does she have to say to and about the self-confessed sexual molester? There is, too, the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives, a former president herself, who chooses to keep her silence. As well, the secretaries of tourism and of education, who so far have ignored the growing public outcry.
Of course, this does not exempt male officials from speaking out as well. But the silence of the otherwise outspoken women legislators and officials is deafening.
The final rebuke should be reserved for all those present at the event for local officials in Davao—and for the thousands more at rallies, official functions and campaign sorties in the last two years—who, with their laughter and jibes, their grins and applause, enable, encourage and empower the continuing abuse of the President’s favorite targets, forgetting it could very well be their very own mothers, wives, daughters and granddaughters next on the President’s sights.
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