OPINION: A kiss from President Rodrigo Duterte is not just a kiss

The kiss that shocked the world. Photo via ABS-CBN.

“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” was my first thought upon seeing a video of President Rodrigo Duterte kissing an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) at an event in Seoul over the weekend.

I played the video again — twice — just to make sure my eyes weren’t fooling me.

Yep. That was the president of my country alright, gripping a woman by the arm, positioning her to make sure he was planting his unsolicited kiss precisely where he wanted.

I should be used to it by now. This is, after all, the man who once ordered the military to shoot female rebels in their vaginas, who once jokingly said he should have been the first to rape an Australian missionary, who insisted on holding the hand of then-Undersecretary of Agriculture Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, even though she looked as if she’d rather have been in Antarctica. He’s the man who argued he should be paid more because he was responsible for two wives.

But nothing prepared me for the feeling of shock, anger, and disgust at this latest example of misogyny.

“He was just trying to make the OFWs happy,” said his fanatics, who have earned the nickname DDS (Diehard Duterte Supporters).

It’s an excuse I can’t seem to wrap my head around.

What millions of OFWs need — and as a former OFW, I believe I have the moral authority to say this — is protection from physically abusive and even murderous employers. What millions of OFWs need is a sound economic plan that would give them well-paying jobs in the Philippines, making it unnecessary for them to leave their spouses and children behind. What OFWs need is a real leader — not a mascot, not a comedian.

“The woman said it was no big deal, there was no malice intended!” say other members of the DDS brigade.

But is it any surprise that Bea Kim, the subject of the kiss, would defend the president? In the first place, she wouldn’t have even been at the event if she weren’t already a card-carrying member of the Duterte fanbase.

Secondly, do you honestly think that even if she had felt disrespected, she would have admitted it, on camera, in a video produced by the government-managed Philippine News Agency?

What worries me most about this latest incident is the kind of image that we project about Filipinas.

When I was in Rome, my cab driver felt the need to inform me that he had a fling with a Filipina. When I was New York, a random older man approached me and my friend at the subway to let us know he had a Filipina girlfriend.

These are not rare cases — my friends based in Dubai always invariably meet a cab driver who would tell them he had (or has) a Filipina lover.

Which brings me to my point: We Filipinas are not just someone’s object of lust.

We are not just girlfriends, wives, one-night stands, or mistresses. We are not just random girls you get to kiss because you feel like it. We are human beings who deserve to be respected, whether you’re an average Joe or the president of the country.

And it’s high time for Duterte to understand that.

It’s time for his inner circle to stage an intervention. When he stands in front of the presidential seal, in front of the Philippine flag, he just doesn’t represent himself. He represents a nation and the values of its people.

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