Serial Misogynist: The Dangers of Duterte's Tyrannical Crusade Against Women

Serial Misogynist: The Dangers of Duterte's Tyrannical Crusade Against Women
Credit: AP / Aaron Favila

What you need to know

Rodrigo Duterte lords over a society where, from the Presidential Palace to the streets of Manila, misogyny and violence against women run rampant.

At this point, nothing is shocking when Rodrigo Duterte chooses to speak about women. You would think there would be limits to what the Philippine President would let out of his own mouth, but he keeps blowing the lid open. Disbelief is the norm – and violence is the reality.

At the turn of the year, to make his point that the Catholic church glosses over sexual attacks, he confessed to molesting his family’s helper as a teen while she was sleeping. He added that the church must police its own ranks before daring to call him out. Just one week later, migrant workers were left aghast at the President’s remarks that rape “comes with the territory” for overseas Filipino workers (OFW).

These two instances, however, are only the tip of the giant iceberg of misogynistic tirades from the Presidential Palace.

Credit: Reuters / Czar Dancel
Shocking misogyny has become the norm from President Duterte.

It would take a separate write up just to jot down all the harmful things he has said and done with regards to the welfare of women during his nearly three-year tenure. For the unacquainted reader, it must be mentioned that this is the same man who forced a kiss from an OFW in public, who said that the genitalia of female rebels should be mutilated, and that military personnel need not fear any sanction for rape because he had their back, among many other things that made the country’s collective hair stand with revulsion and speechlessness.

It would be naive to assume that these pronouncements were merely part of the President’s character flaws. Government spokesmen have always been quick to dismiss almost every one of his controversial remarks as ‘jokes’ or simply part of the President’s ‘humor.’ Except no one is laughing. More often than not, fear is the feeling evoked from the public.

More importantly, these patriarchal projections of power usually coincide with the administration’s militaristic agenda. For example, the order to mutilate female genitalia was made to soldiers going to battle against the rebel guerrillas of the New People’s Army, many of whom are peasant women. Boasting about his molestation was meant to keep the Catholic church, an institution critical of the drug war, in check. And absolving law enforcement from any sex crimes was announced amidst the declaration of Martial Law in the southern Philippines.

Misogyny begets fascism by a leader hell bent on intimidating or quelling any opposition in action and in expressing the boldest visage of dominance.

Macho-fascist war

“Once again, President Duterte is putting women closer to sexual violence when he said that military men need women after their counter-insurgency operations,” said the Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP), which has two representatives in Congress, in a recent statement.

“This latest macho-fascist exhortation makes women in conflict areas more vulnerable to rape and other forms of abuse and violence by soldiers and normalizes the objectification of women,” the GWP added.

This comes at a time when before 2018 came to a close, Duterte had successfully pushed for the extension of Martial Law as well as denying another round of peace negotiations with the rebel forces in favor of the military’s interests. The traditional Christmas ceasefire was also foregone.

Gabriela says that this is indeed a wartime tactic on the part of the government. It seeks to undermine and diminish women’s rights while pushing for the adulation of military might in his own policies. A dangerous cocktail of machismo and fascism.

In an interview with The News Lens, Representative Arlene Brosas of the GWP said: “Duterte epitomizes the macho-fascist misogynist-tyrant. His fanatical armed forces take cue from his own statements and fixations on militarism.”

She added: “The situation [for] women is worse than ever. The President is trying to reverse all the gains of the women’s movement when it spearheaded education on rape, sexual violence and civil liberties.”

Credit: Reuters / Romeo Ranoco
Anti-riot policemen block members of Gabriela protesting the planned visit of US President Donald Trump to the 31st ASEAN leaders summit in Manila on Nov. 9, 2017.

According to a report by the Philippines-based Center for Women’s Resources (CWR), there has been an uptick in sexual violence perpetrated by law enforcement under the Duterte regime. They revealed that 56 police officials have been involved in rape, and most of their victims were aged 17 and below. Unsurprisingly, many of the cases involve women who were treated as suspects under the government-sponsored drug war.

Around the same time the report came out, a Manila police officer raped a 15-year-old girl in exchange for the freedom of her parents, who were arrested through anti-drug operations, further legitimizing the criticism.

Moreover, the CWR states hardly any of these crimes result in sanctions or criminal cases brought against the perpetrators.

Aside from gender-based violence, the CWR noted that 33 out of the 141 victims of extra-judicial killings of activists are women. Overall, the government has become more brazen in the outright slaughter of its people, and women are by no means exempt. Rather, authorities are directing their attacks against women and children with little to no consequence.

Ordinary life, in poor communities especially, has been muddled with a seamless shift to more vicious exchanges between people.

Sheila Buenaflor, a 29-year-old mother of two, lives in one of the largest slum areas of Metro Manila. Buenaflor recounts a strikingly unhinged interaction with another community resident.

“Local government officials nowadays seem much more aware of their power,” she says. “Most of them are male and it seems much easier for them to crack lewd jokes or be rude in the name of their authority. A barangay [neighborhood] worker whom I had considered a friend recently said to me ‘would be nice to touch your legs.’ Something he would never say before. It was awful to hear. Like the President, he brushes it off by claiming it was a joke.”

Even the sight of children playing along alleys and pathways of slums has now become infected with hate speech. What was once a relatively innocent sight has inescapable overtones of dread.

“Kids still play cops and robbers, but now they use the terms ‘tokhang’ (drug war operation) and ‘addict’ and always the end result of their game is a gruesome murder,” observes Buenaflor.

She adds that adults and kids alike in slum communities do not get the best education and therefore rely on TV and social media for their knowledge of the world and current events. Inevitably, the constant fear-mongering and sexism filter into their everyday lives.

Professor and anthropologist Noreen Sapalo says: “Duterte welcomes these repugnant developments. He is definitely a topmost enabler.”

Credit: Depositphotos
Children in the slums of Manila have taken to playing a drug war-themed version of 'cops and robbers.'

Not alone

It must be pointed out that these unsettling trends are not confined to the Philippines alone. Other countries in Asia have seen the combined resurgence of misogyny and borderline or all out authoritarianism.

According to the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD), when impunity becomes the norm, the violations of women’s rights and gender based violence can flourish. “Sadly, the trends that pushed us to the Declaration to Eliminate Violence against Women, in 1993 continue to exist to date,” the group states.

They cite the experiences of Thailand, Malaysia, Bangladesh and India where cases of extrajudicial killings, judicial harassment and illegal arrests with trumped up charges similarly affect women human rights defenders. Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena recently professed his intentions to learn from Duterte’s drug war and take similar steps. This is the same man who, last year, reimposed a ban on women buying alcohol.

The misogyny of these leaders is far more than a simple character flaw. States doting on iron-fisted rule see the degradation and belittlement of women as a means to attack human rights as a whole.

Women hold half the resistance

Groups like Gabriela and GWP in the Philippine Congress have been leading the political struggle with the administration over said issues. However, in recent times, the voices of indignant women have gotten much louder.

While the #MeToo movement has gained global recognition for allowing women to speak out against their attackers, the Philippine setting somehow came up with its own flavor to combat the two-headed monster of misogyny and tyranny.

#BabaeAko (I am Woman) was a campaign launched mid last year. Initially met with positive feedback online, the advocacy spilled over drawing in a broad range of women’s groups, personalities and individuals to their cause. Joms Salvador of Gabriela, one of the conveners of the campaign has called many times for the ouster of the President.

The women of the movement were also recognized by TIME as one of the 25 most influential people on the internet.

Credit: Zena Bernardo / Coalition for Justice
Women's rights advocates march in support of the #BabaeAko movement at the June 12 #HINDIpendence Day rally.

Sapalo notes that the President has also been an enabler of women coming together, once again citing #BabaeAko. “However, it may have less impact on poor women who are more usually subjected misogyny on a regular basis due to the very strong patriarchal under-current and pervasive poverty in their communities,” she adds.

All in all, what seems certain about the current wave of women’s resistance is that it cannot be confined to combating misogyny in power alone. “Women are also victimized by the incessant economic drive of the government to favor corporations as opposed to basic services. They employ scare tactics and human rights violations to cover up worsening life and to pummel people into submission,” said Brosas.

For these women, it’s not just about asserting their rights in a patriarchal society but also about their survival amidst an openly mass-murdering commander-in-chief. Echoing the sentiment, Sapalo said: “The poor will also largely be part of mobilizations against these leaders, but it will not be primarily because of their misogyny, but of their incompetence to solve basic problems of hunger and poverty.”

The parliament of the streets is one of the few avenues left for women. As it stands, they are definitely on the front line. Duterte may have catalyzed this trend, but he definitely cannot claim it.

Read Next: PHILIPPINES: Is the #BabaeAko Movement Really About Duterte?

Editor: Nick Aspinwall (@Nick1Aspinwall)

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