All the pres­i­dent’s women: Duterte’s fiercest crit­ics and a surly po­lit­i­cal heir

Jerusalem Post - - COMMENT & FEATURES - • By CLARE BALD­WIN and AN­DREW RC MAR­SHALL (Dondi Tawatao, Lean Daval Jr/Reuters)

DAVAO, Philip­pines/MANILA (Reuters) – Philip­pines Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte has a prob­lem with women, says the woman who has known him longer than per­haps any other: his sis­ter Jo­cel­lyn.

“He’s a chau­vin­ist,” she told Reuters in a re­cent in­ter­view. “When he sees a woman who fights him, it re­ally gets his ire.”

Then Jo­cel­lyn ran through a list of Duterte’s fe­male crit­ics that in­cluded his vice pres­i­dent, a prom­i­nent sen­a­tor who is now in jail and the head of the Philip­pines Supreme Court.

All three have sparred with Duterte af­ter de­nounc­ing his bru­tal war on drugs, which has killed thou­sands of peo­ple in the Asian na­tion since he took of­fice in June 2016.

Duterte has joked about rape, in­sulted the Pope and baf­fled friends and foes with of­ten con­tra­dic­tory public state­ments. Nei­ther this, nor his pro­fan­ity-laden re­ac­tions to women crit­ics, seem to have dented his pop­u­lar­ity among Filipinos.

The 72-year-old pres­i­dent is a self-con­fessed wom­an­izer who once told a large gath­er­ing of lo­cal of­fi­cials, “I can’t imag­ine life with­out Vi­a­gra.”

On the cam­paign trail last year, he joked about the gang rape of an Aus­tralian mis­sion­ary who was killed in a prison riot. Speak­ing to Philip­pine troops in May, he said he would take re­spon­si­bil­ity for any rape they might com­mit.

But women’s rights ad­vo­cates also praise him for hand­ing out free con­tra­cep­tives in his home­town, Davao City, where he was mayor for 22 years, and for cham­pi­oning a re­pro­duc­tive health bill op­posed by the coun­try’s in­flu­en­tial Catholic Church.

In a re­cent state­ment, even Hu­man Rights Watch – a fer­vent critic of the drug war – ac­knowl­edged Duterte’s “strong sup­port” for leg­is­la­tion aimed at pro­tect­ing and pro­mot­ing women.

Af­ter nearly 15 months in power, he re­mains highly pop­u­lar with men and women alike, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est sur­vey by Manila-based poll­ster So­cial Weather Sta­tions.

While for­eign­ers frown at Duterte’s rape jokes, says Gina Lopez, a for­mer en­vi­ron­ment sec­re­tary in Duterte’s male-dom­i­nated cabi­net, Filipinos judge him by his ac­tions not his words.

“When I see him deal­ing with women in the cabi­net or what­ever, he has been very above-board, very de­cent,” she told Reuters.

She said this de­cency also once ex­tended to Vice-Pres­i­dent Leni Ro­bredo, who has pub­licly fallen out with Duterte. She is from an op­po­si­tion party and was elected sep­a­rately.

“He re­ally liked Leni. They got along and he was al­ways flirt­ing,” said Lopez. “That’s what men do, right?”

In a state­ment to Reuters, the pres­i­dent’s of­fice called Duterte “an ad­vo­cate of women’s rights” who had launched a “mas­sive cam­paign against gen­der bias” while mayor of Davao.

As pres­i­dent, it added, he had “hand-picked the best and bright­est women” for his cabi­net. Three of the coun­try’s 25 cabi­net sec­re­taries or min­is­ters are women.

Duterte spends up to four days a week in his far-flung home­town Davao, rul­ing a na­tion of 100 mil­lion peo­ple not from the pres­i­den­tial palace in the cap­i­tal, Manila, but from a mod­est house shaded by a jack­fruit tree. Duterte was mayor of Davao for 22 years.

He sleeps un­til lunchtime, holds cabi­net meet­ings in­fre­quently and some­times an­nounces ma­jor poli­cies with­out fore­warn­ing se­nior of­fi­cials, leav­ing them scram­bling to catch up.

Duterte’s volatil­ity has baf­fled Wash­ing­ton, which has long seen the Philip­pines as a bul­wark against Chi­nese ex­pan­sion­ism. He has courted Bei­jing and pub­licly be­rated the United States in ram­bling speeches.

Much of Duterte’s venom is re­served for women who op­pose him.

In Au­gust, he called Agnes Cal­la­mard, a UN spe­cial rap­por­teur on ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings, a “daugh­ter of a whore” af­ter she con­demned the po­lice shoot­ing of a teenage drug sus­pect.

“He’s a misog­y­nist,” said Sen­a­tor Leila de Lima, who spoke to Reuters at a po­lice de­ten­tion fa­cil­ity in Manila.

De Lima was ar­rested in Fe­bru­ary on drugs charges she says were trumped up as part of a pres­i­den­tial vendetta. “To him, women are in­fe­rior,” she said. “It’s to­tally in­sult­ing to him that a woman would be fight­ing him.”

Ac­cord­ing to Jo­cel­lyn Duterte, Duterte is also fight­ing with the woman he hopes will ce­ment his po­lit­i­cal legacy: his daugh­ter Sara.

Sara Duterte re­luc­tantly re­placed her fa­ther as mayor of Davao City in the south­ern Philip­pines when he be­came pres­i­dent. Fa­ther and daugh­ter barely speak, said Jo­cel­lyn.

“I know in his quiet mo­ments he con­sid­ers him­self a fail­ure as a fa­ther be­cause of Sara fight­ing with him,” she said.

Jo­cel­lyn said she had her own prob­lems with her older brother but they now get along. They have two other broth­ers.

Jo­cel­lyn, who refers to the pres­i­dent as “the mayor,” said Duterte still eats the same sim­ple food their mother Soledad once cooked: cheap fish sim­mered in vine­gar.

She also traces Duterte’s au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism to Soledad, who pun­ished her chil­dren with a horse­whip or made them kneel at an al­tar for hours.

“You can see that in the mayor,” says Jo­cel­lyn. “Some­times peo­ple per­ceive it as ar­ro­gance or call it close to be­ing a dic­ta­tor. But we grew up in that at­mos­phere.”

Their fa­ther Vi­cente, also a politi­cian, was of­ten ab­sent, and the young Duterte saw the body­guards, po­lice and sol­diers around him as role mod­els, his sis­ter said. He grew up in a ma­cho cul­ture where wives and daugh­ters were ex­pected to be sub­mis­sive, Jo­cel­lyn said.

His daugh­ter Sara is any­thing but. In 2011, dur­ing her first term as Davao’s mayor, she was caught on cam­era punch­ing a lo­cal of­fi­cial who an­gered her.

In 2016, Sara ran as mayor again, but only be­cause she was “pres­sured” by her fa­ther’s sup­port­ers, she told Reuters. “If it were up to me, I would not have run,” she said.

She said she now only saw her fa­ther on spe­cial oc­ca­sions, such as birthdays and Christ­mas, but de­nied they had dif­fer­ences. “He’s very busy,” she said.

Duterte and his daugh­ter have “a nor­mal Filipino par­ent-child re­la­tion­ship which has its own share of ups and downs,” said the pres­i­dent’s of­fice in its state­ment.

Like her fa­ther, Sara is blunt, down-to-earth and thronged by ad­mir­ers at public ap­pear­ances in Davao.

She told Reuters she wanted to prac­tice law and, once her three­year term as mayor was up, had no wish or in­ten­tion to con­tinue in pol­i­tics.

But in a coun­try fa­mous for po­lit­i­cal dy­nas­ties span­ning many gen­er­a­tions, Duterte wants his daugh­ter to “pre­serve what the fam­ily has done for the city,” said Jo­cel­lyn.

“He is try­ing to in­still in Sara that it is our legacy,” she said. “Maybe she needs more time.”

JO­CEL­LYN DUTERTE, sis­ter of Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte, and his eldest daugh­ter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte.

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