LUGAR LANG: When we can’t say no to a kiss

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 09 June) — Last week, when I wrote about an alternative universe in which an Alt-Duterte has a change of heart (brain) about women’s rights, I truly believed it exists. I had to. Otherwise, how can we go on in this universe in which this particular President Rodrigo Duterte exists? But a friend commented, “An Alt-Duterte means having no Duterte at all.” Today, in the light of the infamous Korea kiss, I agree with him.

It was an assault on the #BabaeAko campaign. With that performance, Duterte showed all of us that regardless of feminists and other critics, he can and will do what he wants. But why are we surprised? That is the trademark of his macho-fascist regime. What a coincidence that in my dictionary app, the word of the day is ‘machismo’, defined as “a strong or exaggerated sense of manliness.” I would not be surprised if Duterte actually feels flattered when he is described as ‘macho’. That’s probably why he just can’t help but keep raising the bar for himself.

I didn’t want to watch the video, but I had to. I didn’t want to write about it to give it more mileage, but I had to. I had to overcome my initial ‘diri’ or disgust at the actual janitor-fish kiss in order to think clearly about it. Most of the early tweets about it were expressions of disgust and GIFs of vomitting. But why were we nauseated by it? Is it because the man who did it is old and ugly? Would we have been similarly disgusted if the dashing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had done it? Or would we have actually envied the woman?

I don’t think Trudeau would have done such a dastardly thing. (It’s more fun in the Philippines.) But that fallacy aside, it would still have been disgusting because it was, in fact, an abuse of power. The Philippine president harassed that migrant Filipina in front of a global audience and now she has had to issue a public statement that it was all right with her and that “it didn’t mean anything.”

Of course it meant something. It means something to all of us women, not just those who support the #BabaeAko or #MeToo movements. Many claim that it was not harassment because Duterte had asked for permission and the woman gave her consent. But honestly, how many of us, placed in such a situation, would have resisted the advance? How many of us would have slapped the president after the kiss because that’s what he deserves?

The law on sexual harassment says, “consent can be vitiated by undue influence, intimidation, violence, etc.” That is exactly what happened here. To vitiate, meaning, “to make legally defective or invalid,” from the Latin ‘vitiatus’, meaning “to make faulty, injure, spoil.” What consent? She was completely powerless to resist. It doesn’t mean she wanted it. That, in no uncertain terms, was sexual harassment.

Please stop calling attention to the woman acting ‘kilig’ or excited by the incident. In fact, she had pressed the president’s hand on her forehead in the Filipino gesture of ‘mano’, which shows deference to an elderly person. For all we know, her body language was nervousness and fear, not kilig. I would have been worried about what my husband and my children would say. She is a victim. Like her, I would not have been able to refuse the president. But I would have gargled with hydrochloric acid after. Still it would not have been enough to remove the shame and humiliation I would have felt.

We can expect the administration and the millions of Duterte loyalists to issue statements excusing this misogynistic display as a joke or an example of Bisaya humor. But know that if it happened to you, or your daughter or your wife, you won’t be laughing.

 (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Jhoanna Lynn B. Cruz is an award-winning writer who teaches literature and creative writing at the University of the Philippines-Mindanao in Davao City and is a columnist of Mindanao Times.This piece was first published in the Mindanao Times issue of  June 05,,2018. Follow or message her on Twitter @jhoannalynncruz)