Rodrigo Duterte accused of ‘despicable display of sexism and grave abuse of authority’
The Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, has been criticised for kissing a married woman in front of thousands of cheering supporters.
Duterte, 73, dismissed the kiss as a “gimmick” to entertain supporters at a meet-and-greet event with overseas Filipino workers in South Korea on Sunday evening. But one senator called the act “a despicable display of sexism and grave abuse of authority”.
Duterte sought a kiss from the woman after he called her on stage to give her a copy of a book at the event in Seoul. When Duterte asked if she could explain to her husband that the antic was just a joke, and she said yes, the president leaned in and kissed her as thousands erupted in cheers.
The scene was broadcast live by the state-run TV network to the Philippines.
The woman has defended the kiss and said she was thrilled by her encounter but others said the president went too far.
“President Duterte acted like a feudal king who thinks that being the president is an entitlement to do anything that he pleases,” said Sen Risa Hontiveros. “Even if the act was consensual, it was the president, possessed of awesome, even intimidating, power, who initiated it.”
Gabriela, a leftwing women’s party, condemned Duterte’s act, which it said underscored his “machismo and misogyny”.
In addition to growing alarm over his bloody crackdown against illegal drugs, which has left thousands of mostly poor drug suspects dead, Duterte has come under fire from women’s groups for sexist remarks, including one where he told troops to shoot female insurgents “in the vagina” during a public outburst against communist guerrillas.
He has publicly kissed women in the past, included at rallies during his campaign for the presidency.
The latest incident came near the end of a two-hour rambling speech, when Duterte offered the crowd a book about alleged corruption and abuse in the Catholic church. He pointed at two women.
“There’s payment for this, a kiss. You in white, are you ready to engage in kissing? Come here,” the 73-year-old Duterte said as summoned the women to the stage.
One of the women gave the president a peck on the cheek. The other woman reached for the president’s hand and put it on her forehead in a traditional gesture of respect for an elder. But the president asked her to come closer for a kiss, pointing to his lips.
Amid the roar of the crowd, Duterte asked the woman was married and if her husband was around. He inquired if she could explain to her husband that what they were about to do was just a joke.
She said her husband was not there and replied yes to the president’s other question.
“Make him jealous,” the president said.
Duterte then leaned in and kissed the visibly overwhelmed woman, who screamed in joy and covered her face. He then hugged her.
“Don’t take that seriously,” Duterte later told the crowd. “It’s just to give people fun.”
The woman, who is married to a South Korean and has two daughters, later said in a TV interview that she was thrilled by her encounter with the president. She said there was “no malice” in the kiss.
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