Editorial: No Punchlines

Davao City Mayor and presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte was recently recorded joking about the rape of an Australian missionary in 1989. Outrage from women’s groups, international organizations and social media users ensued, but in an interview with reporters, the mayor has categorically refused to apologize.

Rape is not a laughing matter to be joked about by anyone, more so by a frontrunner in the presidential race.

Duterte, who is known for candidly admitting his womanizing habits and seeming objectification of women during his electoral campaigns, has lashed out once again, prompting an outrageous hubbub in social media after saying he should have been first in the gang rape of Australian missionary Jacqueline Hamill in 1989.

“Nirape nila lahat ng mga babae so ‘yung unang asolte, kasi nagretreat sila, naiwan yung ginawa nilang cover, ang isa doon yung layminister na Australyana. Tsk, problema na ito. Pag labas, edi binalot. Tiningnan ko yung mukha, ‘tang ina parang artista sa America na maganda,” Duterte told a laughing crowd of supporters in a campaign rally in Quezon City.

Putang ina, sayang ito. Ang nagpasok sa isip ko, nirape nila, pinagpilahan nila doon. Nagalit ako kasi nirape, oo isa rin ‘yun. Pero napakaganda, dapat ang mayor muna ang mauna. Sayang,” he added.

Hamill was among the five hostages killed in a hostage-taking incident by inmates of Davao City’s prison in 1989, when Duterte, the city’s long-standing mayor, was incumbent.

Hamill was raped, her throat slashed, before military troops stormed the prison, killing all 15 hostage-takers, according to a report by the Chicago Tribune dated August 16, 1989.

It is not the first time Duterte, who has recently been leading opinion surveys, has been put under the spotlight for his actions towards women. As a candidate, he is often seen campaigning and kissing girls at times without consent as well as bragging about his two wives and two girlfriends, a clear and direct affront to women’s rights.

He prides himself in his machismo, speaking in thuggish language to assert his iron fist, creating for himself an image of a dictator, ruling the public with fear and controlling the people with his infamous Davao Death Squad who has been responsible for extrajudicial killings in Mindanao.

Earlier, he even claimed he would not take back what he said and would not apologize for being honest. Furthermore, Duterte also says he would rather lose the presidential elections than apologize for being himself.

Duterte issued a statement of apology on April 19, saying he had no intention of disrespecting women and victims of rape, adding that his mouth can sometimes get the better of him.

While the mayor claims his comment on Hamill as part of a narrative that forwards his role as the country’s “crime fighter,” he does nothing to fight rape, despite the fact that it is indeed a crime, as he let his supporters, his very own constituents laugh about the Australian missionary’s demise.

He has done nothing to chide his supporters upon laughing at Hamill’s fate. He does not even ask them to be silent or sympathize with the victim. Instead, he allows the laughter to flourish in the crowd and by that, allowing the prevalence of rape as a trivial matter to become the dominant thought in his miseducated audience.

Despite issuing an apology for his recent remark, Duterte has failed to apologize for his past actions against women. For the presidential aspirant to prove he respects women, he must acknowledge the past offenses he has made against them. The issue of his rape joke must not be singled out. Rather, it ought to be viewed together with Duterte’s previous behavior and his handling of the women sector.

Although Duterte has also said in interviews with major media outlets saying that he had only made such comment due to anger, creating a joke out of anger does not justify it, especially if the subject of the joke is highly sensitive and utterly dehumanizing.

If one must be truly angry at the persistence of rape culture, one must make statements that would fight against it instead of transforming it into a trivial matter that can be easily dismissed or laughed about.

Contrary to what his cult-like supporters believe who would defend him until death, Duterte is not a crime fighter. He is not a hero. Rather, with the recent incident and with his fascist disposition, he is the embodiment of crime itself.

Duterte is a candidate who allows rape culture and the oppression of women to persist by allowing his supporters to propagate them both as seen in this instance. He has done nothing to contradict it in his campaign. Instead, he has promoted to the public the male gaze, the idea that women can become separate from themselves and viewed as bodies men can easily own.

Remarks like these become a looming threat, a dangerous thinking promoted to a vast number of followers both online and off-ground who would readily build walls to protect their candidate, treating him ‘holier than thou’ despite his morally wrong principles.

Duterte supporters have been known to stick by Digong despite the seemed immorality of his actions. They have been known to have violent tendencies online when a social media user dares to criticize their candidate for his behavior and unorthodox ways.

Renne Karunungan, an outspoken advocate against Duterte’s presidency, has filed a police report against Duterte supporters who have made threats against her, hitting her with insults such as “Sana ma-rape ka.” and calling her “pokpok.” She says the mayor’s online supporters have used her womanhood against her in an attempt to silence her from campaigning against Duterte.

Rape jokes and acts committed towards Karunungan are not new and are so common in a patriarchal society such as the Philippines’, and these japes and threats perpetuate the stigma of rape, all the more making it prevalent.

Even though our right to free speech is enshrined and protected by the constitution, it does not mean we have the right to use it to malign and degrade a certain sector of the society who remains powerless in this system—the women.

More than condemning the actions of Duterte, citizens must engage in the struggle against the patriarchy that have so long oppressed us and controlled our society. It is not the time for armchair activism to prevail when what is at stake is the future of the country, a future that may be in the hands of a misogynist and fascist mayor who has no respect for human rights and the rule of law.

Now that the issue has become viral and picked up even by international media, it is high time that Filipinos reflect on the state of gender equality in the country and along with that, fight against the persistence of rape culture.

With Quezon City now implementing a law criminalizing catcalling and street-level sexual harassment against women, it is time for the Philippine society to reevaluate its moral principles and its perspective on women. It is time for us to expand these laws and strengthen them, especially now in a society where being a woman, just being a woman, is equivalent to being a threat.

It is also time for us to break the double-standards and acknowledge that men, too, can become victims of rape and sexual abuse. They, too, are victims of the system. Instead of shaming men and labelling them as weak, Filipinos must join them in their fight to lift this horrible stigma in society, a result of the patriarchy which has deemed women as weak and men as strong. With that, Filipinos must work collectively to crush the patriarchy that has burdened us, that has constantly victimized all of us, keeping in mind that this pressing gender struggle is related to a larger class struggle, which can only be resolved through societal change.

Author: TNP

The Official Student Publication of the UP College of Mass Communication.