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

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

Duterte’s latest shenanigans — in which he kissed a married woman on the lips — is simply the latest in a string of incidents that have made Filipino feminists scream bloody murder.

“You 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 — at least twice — just to make sure my eyes weren’t fooling me.

Yup, that’s the president of my country all right, gripping a fair-skinned woman (rumor has it he has a penchant for light-skinned beauties) by the arm to make sure he’s kissing her right where he wants to.

I should have been used to it by now. After all, this is the dude who once ordered the military to shoot female rebels in their vaginas, the same man who once jokingly said he should have been the first to rape an Australian missionary, the same guy who insisted on holding the hand of then-Undersecretary of Agriculture Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, even if the lady looked like she’d rather be in Antarctica than hold his damn hands. He’s also the same man who said he should be paid more because he was responsible for two wives.

There have been many instances in the past, 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,” defended 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 the other members of DDS.

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 that event if she weren’t already a card-carrying member of the DDS.

Second, do you honestly think she would admit to feeling disrespected, on camera, for 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 informed me he had a fling with a Filipina. When I was New York, some random old man approached me and my friend at the subway to tell us 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 everyone’s girlfriend, wife, one-night stand, or mistress. We are not just some random girl who you get to kiss just 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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