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Sisyphus’ Lament

What is worse than Duterte’s rape joke?

WHAT IS worse than presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte’s rape joke? The fact that many of us laughed.

Thousands condemned the video of Duterte joking, “Napakaganda, dapat mayor [Duterte] muna ang mauna (She was so beautiful, mayor [Duterte] should have been first).” He was referring to the corpse of an Australian lay minister gang-raped and killed in 1989. But we overlook how the crowd laughed along.

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Paul Murray, a Sky News Australia host, introduced Duterte as “this bloke… making a joke about the rape of an Australian woman.” He played the video on Australian TV then reacted: “That evil bastard. I don’t know what’s worse: him saying it or the people actually laughing along.”

Among Philippine pundits, I saw only Inquirer columnist Rina Jimenez David (“Watching the audience,” Opinion, 4/19/16) focus on the audience’s reaction.

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I still cannot fathom how any decent person can defend the rape joke, even someone who admires Duterte.

I watched the full 26-minute video of Duterte sitting outside his gate, explaining the joke to reporters. He is clearly an engaging storyteller and a passionate local leader. One understands why many are drawn to him. However, the explanation had no connection to the rape joke. (Incidentally, the Inquirer recirculated its 1989 story on the same events, and some raised the question why it did not mention Duterte.)

Duterte recalled how, in 1989, he intercepted a group of escaped prisoners and their hostages in their vehicle at a highway. Because a three-month-old hostage was growing weak, he said he offered himself as a hostage and asked the prisoners to discuss their grievances in his Davao office.

Without downplaying this story, it had nothing to do with the rape joke.

Some of these prisoners staged another hostage-taking a month later, while the Australian lay minister was inside the prison. She and a child were used as human shields and killed.

Duterte described the child dying in front of him, then looking at the dead Australian’s face, which he described as like that of a beautiful actress. To

exhort the troops with him and out of anger, he  exclaimed the mayor should have been first, raised his Uzi, and asked the troops to attack. It was gutter language, he explained, salitang  kanto (street talk).

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His story ends with Duterte ordering the dead criminals wrapped in a  banig  (mat) and buried in a single public grave.

Again, without downplaying whatever really happened in 1989, this had nothing to do with the rape joke. Surely one can say whatever he wants during a gunfight. But people asked Duterte to apologize for the horrible jokes retold in 2016, not anything in 1989. The various justifications for the rape joke are as illogical as the insistence that rival candidate Mar Roxas is not a Wharton graduate.

We must confront the last justification: It was just a joke. No one was hurt. Actions speak louder than words.

Words wound. Words impel action. Words can change the world or keep it in the dark ages.

The underlying evil is revealed in Duterte’s own 26-minute explanation. He began by twitting Roxas, “Hindi  ka  naman rapable.” The Urban Dictionary defines this: “A person who is attractive enough to make the struggle of raping them worthwhile.”

We must condemn rape jokes lest we accept that our society values women solely based on their appearance, on whether they are rapable. Because behind them lies backward mindsets that women should be educated only enough to let them pray. Because we are not the society such jokes imply we are.

Beyond mere words, the mindset behind rape jokes was once law. Reacting to Duterte’s joke, Philippine Star columnist Lila Shahani recalled how her mother, Sen. Leticia Ramos Shahani, worked for 11 years to have our rape law amended. Rape is now a “crime against persons” where it was formerly a “crime against chastity.”

Interestingly, Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chair Chito Gascon gave Duterte a standard five days (up to about April 29) to respond to a hastily written five-page complaint by women’s groups. The complaint very generally asked the CHR to “investigate these actuations and find Mr. Duterte as having violated the rights sanctioned by the Magna Carta of Women.” The CHR is our gender ombudsman under this law.

Legally, Gascon has little to work with, even if he does his own homework outside the sparse complaint. The Magna Carta of Women itself has no criminal penalties. Even though the CHR is created by the Constitution itself, it merely investigates and has no power to issue injunctions or jail anyone. Davao City and Quezon City, where the joke was made, do have gender and development codes, and local officials are bound by standards of conduct.

At best, Gascon might publicly rebuke Duterte. Even then, he must avoid clumsy action against speech at a political rally, however reprehensible, which may create unintended collateral damage for free speech.

A constitutional office such as Gascon’s draws strength not from the letter of law, but the moral authority the citizenry imbues it with. Strong public opinion emboldened Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales and former Commission on Audit chair Grace Pulido Tan.

To say that the CHR has greater moral than legal authority is not necessarily weakness. In a democracy, the condemnation of one’s peers for an unthinkable joke carries more weight than the order of an unelected judge.

When Canadian Prime Minister and Apec (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) hottie Justin Trudeau was asked why half of his new Cabinet is female, he merely shrugged, “Because it’s 2015.” Hopefully, even in the heat of the election season, our nation’s values are strong enough to empower Gascon to say, “Because it’s 2016.”

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React: [email protected], Twitter @oscarfbtan, facebook.com/OscarFranklinTan.

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TAGS: joke, Rape, Rodrigo Duterte
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