Duterte, ‘Infamous for His Sexist Jokes,’ Signs Law Against Sexual Harassment

MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, known for his long history of crude remarks about women, including jokes about rape, has signed a law that criminalizes wolf-whistling, catcalling and other forms of sexual harassment in public spaces.

Called the Safe Spaces Act, the law was signed in April, but it was only made public this week, the president’s spokesman, Salvador Panelo, said.

The law bans sexual harassment in all public spaces, including work places, recreational areas and public transport vehicles, and it penalizes groping, stalking and making misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic or sexist slurs. Offenses are punishable by up to 500,000 pesos, or about $9,750.

It also covers online harassment and physical, psychological and emotional threats made through private messages, in chat rooms or in public.

Some women’s rights advocates and Filipino politicians questioned whether Mr. Duterte would respect the law, after having made remarks that many considered sexist.

His spokesman, Mr. Panelo, told reporters, “He signed it. The fact that he signed it, it means he agrees with that.”

Mr. Duterte, he said, is a “man of surprises.” Mr. Panelo said that meant “he can surprise us when suddenly he doesn’t make any jokes.”

The law was proposed by Senator Risa Hontiveros, who worked as an activist for women’s rights before joining the Philippines Congress. Mr. Panelo did not explain why a copy of the signed law was only released on Monday.

The Philippines is a patriarchal society where many consider talking about sex taboo. Sexual harassment, too, is often overlooked, although it is more common than publicly acknowledged.

Since he took office three years ago, Mr. Duterte has made headlines around the world for his controversial remarks, many of them about women and cast as jest. Last year, he suggested that rape was inevitable “as long as there are many beautiful women,” boasted about having ordered soldiers to shoot female communist guerrillas in the genitals, and said he had sexually assaulted a housemaid when he was a teenager, a comment his office later dismissed as a joke.

He has also been accused of abusing his authority after asking a woman to kiss him at a public event.

Mr. Duterte made many similar remarks earlier in his career: While campaigning for president in 2016, he joked about missing the rape of a missionary during a prison riot, and he has long used sexist language to attack his enduring political foe, Leila de Lima, a senator leading the opposition to Mr. Duterte’s violent crackdown on drug dealers and users.

On Tuesday, Ms. de Lima said she hoped Mr. Duterte would follow the law to the letter.

“I hope that this new law will 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,” she said. “He should respect his own signature under a president seal affixed in that law.”

Under Philippine law, the president is immune to lawsuits while in office. Mr. Duterte ends his six-year term in 2022.

Joms Salvador, the secretary general of the women’s group Gabriela, said that the president had thrown “an ironic shade on himself” by signing the law.

“He is the chief propagator of a culture that degrades and objectifies women, and that which exhorts cat-callers, sexual offenders and even uniformed personnel to disrespect women,” Ms. Salvador said. “Under this context, implementing the law will certainly be a challenge.”

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/16/world/asia/duterte-sexual-harassment.html