President Rodrigo Duterte, whose rape jokes have sparked outrage among women’s rights groups, was dared on Tuesday to comply with a law that he had signed penalizing catcalling, wolf whistling, persistently telling sexual jokes and other forms of sexual harassment in public.
“President Duterte’s signing of the ‘Bawal Bastos Law’ … throws an ironic shade on himself, as he represents the single most brazen violator of the law’s intent with his staple macho-fascist remarks,” the Gabriela women’s party list said in a statement.
The 74-year-old President is the “chief propagator of a culture that degrades and objectifies women, and that which exhorts catcallers, sexual offenders and even uniformed personnel to disrespect women,” Gabriela said.
“Under this context, implementing the law will certainly be a challenge,” it said.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo assured the public and critics that the President would be “the first one to obey the new law,” which he signed on April 17 but made public only on Monday.
Safe Spaces Act
Signing Republic Act No. 11313, or the Safe Spaces Act, meant that the President “recognizes the need for it,” Panelo said.
The law defines a range of sexually offensive acts such as sexist slurs and mysogynistic acts in public, including in streets, workplaces, vehicles, schools, recreational areas, bars or online.
Other offenses include stalking, exposing “private parts, groping or any advances, whether verbal or physical, that is unwanted and has threatened one’s sense of personal space and physical safety.”
Restaurants, bars, cinemas and other places of recreation are required to install clearly visible warning signs against would-be violators, including a hotline number to allow rapid reporting of offenses, and to designate an officer to receive complaints or apprehend perpetrators.
“It is the policy of the state to value the dignity of every human person and guarantee full respect for human rights,” the law says.
It says that the state “recognizes that both men and women must have equality, security and safety” in private and public spaces.
Opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros, the law’s author, welcomed its passage, saying it would plug gaps in previous legislation against sexual harassment but added it was “only as good as how it is implemented.”
Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas said the President should not be exempt from the law.
“We look forward to the day when the one who signed it into law will be the biggest offender to be penalized under the act,” she said.
Detained Sen. Leila de Lima said she hoped that the law would be implemented “strictly and properly and will not exempt from compliance our public officials, especially Mr. Duterte, who is infamous for his sexist jokes and misogynist remarks.”
“He should respect his own signature under a presidential seal affixed in that law,” De Lima said in a statement.
In 2016, the President wolf-whistled a female journalist during a nationally televised news conference. Last year, he kissed a Filipino woman on the lips on stage during a visit to South Korea in a move that prompted accusations of abuse of power.
“President Duterte acted like a feudal king who thinks that being the President is an entitlement to do anything that he pleases,” Hontiveros said then.
Also last year, the President urged soldiers to shoot female guerrillas in the vagina to render them “useless.”
During the presidential campaign in 2016 he provoked fury when he said he had wanted to be the first in line to have sex with a “beautiful” Australian missionary who had been sexually assaulted then murdered in a Davao prison riot.
Panelo said the President, despite criticisms of being a misogynist, was respectful of women.
“You’ll be surprised, this President reacts negatively to people who offend women,” he said.
The new law, however, does not apply to his offhand remarks about women that has earned him the ire of women’s groups and critics on several occasions, Panelo said, adding that the public should not assume that the President was being rude or obscene then.
“While he cracks jokes, it was intended to make people laugh, never to offend. If you will just listen to the jokes of the President, you will really laugh at it,” he said.
Asked whether the public should expect less sexist remarks or jokes from the President, Panelo said: “Let’s see. He’s a man of surprises. Meaning he can surprise us when he suddenly doesn’t make any jokes.”
He said the President told stories in his speeches to make people laugh or to highlight a certain point or situation.
‘Penal in nature’
Panelo explained that the new law was “penal in nature,” which pertained to a personal offense, which the President had not done to anyone.
“He never offended a particular person, so it does not apply to him,” Panelo said.
He also reminded the public that the President was immune from suit while still in office.
“You can sue him after his presidency. No one is above the law, including this President. He always tells us that,” Panelo said.