The spokesman for Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has defended remarks he made last week in which he said he would “congratulate” a rapist who targeted Miss Universe, claiming that the comments were “sarcastic” and “the people … really get him.”
The remarks were the latest in a string of similarly untoward remarks regarding rape, including joking that he would allow soldiers to rape in the Islamic State-ravaged city of Marawi and jokingly lamented that he had not participated in a gang rape while mayor of southern Davao City, where he served for 22 years before becoming president.
Speaking to diplomats at an event in Davao on Friday, Duterte appeared to deviate from the topic of his remarks and turn to rape. “What I don’t like are kids [being raped],” the president said, adding, “You can mess with, maybe Miss Universe. Maybe I will even congratulate you for having the balls to rape somebody when you know you are going to die.”
Confronted by reporters following the remarks, spokesman Ernesto Abella explained that Duterte’s comment “Was not a joke. It was a very serious statement that’s actually saying, ‘I’m impressed by you, you would do it even if you know you will die.'”
Duterte later clarified that what his remarks were not a joke, but a death threat. “I said even if you rape a one-year old or Miss Universe, just the same … I will kill you,” he said Monday. Duterte routinely threatens to kill anyone who defies him, particularly terrorists and drug traffickers. His latest threat to kill drug terrorists earned him a rebuke from government ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, who Duterte accused of “pulling an Obama” and “blowing her top” for calling his death threats “unacceptable.”
Abella dismissed criticism of the remarks as coming from “those who tend to zero in on certain details, but as far as the public is concerned, and they are the ones who really approve of him, they find the President as somebody who understands them, who has their common interests, their common good, at heart.”
“The majority of the people, especially the masses, really get him,” he added. “The president is more than just jokes.”
In May, Duterte received criticism for making remarks regarding rape during an address to the nation’s military. In an attempt to tell soldiers that they had the full backing of the president in fighting the Islamic State in Marawi, Duterte said, “If you have committed rape three times, I’ll take responsibility for it. If you marry four, son of a bitch, you’ll get beaten up.”
As a presidential candidate in 2016, Duterte made another rape joke, this time saying that the gang rape of an Australian missionary in Davao was a “waste” because he had not participated in it. “I was angry because she was raped, that’s one thing. But she was so beautiful, the mayor should have been first. What a waste,” he said. Following international condemnation, Duterte refused to apologize for the remarks, condemning those who had criticized him. In discussing the remarks, he also dismissed his daughter as a “drama queen” for saying publicly that she had been raped.
Duterte’s approval ratings appear to remain unharmed by such unsavory remarks. A national poll published Monday found that Duterte maintains an 81 percent approval rating, the highest of any national official in the country, and is the most trusted politician in the Philippines with an 82 percent trust rating, according to the Philippine Star. A July poll by Social Weather Systems (SWS) found a significantly lower yet impressive approval rating, with 67 percent of Philippine respondents stating they approve of his job in office.