Philippine President Says He Sexually Abused Housemaid as a Teenager
MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has admitted to sexually assaulting a housemaid when he was a teenager in a speech that drew condemnation from women’s groups, but which his office later dismissed as a joke.
Mr. Duterte has made headlines around the world for remarks that run the gamut from innocuously bawdy to dangerously sexist, including jokes about rape. His speech on Saturday to local officials, however, appeared to be the first time in which he publicly admitted to personally assaulting a woman.
In a speech that focused his ire on the Roman Catholic Church — a powerful political foil in this predominately Catholic country — and what the president sees as its hypocrisy, Mr. Duterte recounted a confession he made to a priest about entering the bedroom of a maid and assaulting her.
“I lifted the blanket,” Mr. Duterte, 73, said. “I tried to touch what was inside the panties.”
“I was touching. She woke up. So I left the room,” he added.
The priest, he said, told him to say, “five Hail Marys because you will go to hell.”
Mr. Duterte’s comments were intended to shed light on the church’s sexual abuse crisis, but instead drew outrage from his own critics, who called on him to immediately resign.
“Unfortunately, Duterte’s machismo and ill-regard of women is also symptomatic of Philippine society’s entrenched sexism and patriarchal culture,” Joms Salvador, the secretary general of Gabriela, a women’s rights organization, said in an interview.
Mr. Duterte’s remarks, she said, were dangerous because they normalize violence against women.
“The maniac in Malacanang has proved that he had no qualms violating the rights of women,” Ms. Salvador said, referring to the president’s executive mansion.
“This latest confession has brought shame not only on himself but on the entire nation that trusted him to lead judiciously and righteously. He has proved himself unworthy of his position and should resign,” she added.
Though Mr. Duterte’s comments were shocking as a personal admission, they were not surprising to observers of the president.
In February, Mr. Duterte boasted that he ordered military officials to shoot female communist guerrillas in the genitals.
When campaigning for president in 2016, he joked about missing out on raping an Australian missionary during a 1989 prison riot in his hometown, Davao City. And he has used sexual jokes to attack Leila de Lima, a senator and former justice secretary who has been a leading critic of his contentious war on drugs that has left thousands dead.
Mr. Duterte has reserved his harshest tirades for the Catholic Church, which has led protests against his bloody crackdown on drug dealers and users.
By one independent estimate, the two-year crackdown has left more than 20,000 people dead. Recently, Mr. Duterte threatened to behead an outspoken Catholic bishop who led street protests against the president’s drug war.
Richard Javad Heydarian, a political analyst at De La Salle University in Manila, said the president has a habit of making outlandish remarks whenever he finds himself in a difficult political situation.
When the president needs to shift the narrative away from questionable policy initiatives, Mr. Heydarian said, he appears to rely “on outrage to keep himself constantly in headlines.”
“It seems the president has developed a penchant for pushing the envelope without any notion of rhetorical self restraint, not even during the holidays,” Mr. Heydarian said.
A spokesman for the president, Salvador Panelo, played down the president’s remark, calling it a “laughable anecdote to dramatize” the real problem of sexual abuse by priests.
Mr. Duterte has claimed in the past that he was sexually molested by a priest while a teenager enrolled in a Jesuit high school. Mr. Panelo said the president initially “concocted” the story to placate a priest who wanted to hear stories of sinning teenage boys.
In the retelling, the spokesman said, Mr. Duterte “purposely added and spliced the story with vulgarity” because he wanted to make the story funnier for listeners in order to keep them interested in his message.
“The president has evolved an unorthodox and mischievous method of exposing and criticizing the hypocritical practices of those men in religious cloak,” Mr. Panelo said in a statement.
Mr. Duterte finds his approach “effective in transmitting to the nation his political and social dogmas,” Mr. Panelo added. — New York Times