Palace defends Duterte's 'sexist' remarks, fronts 'pro-feminist' policies

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(File photo)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 2) — As the country celebrates Women's Month this March, the Palace took the time to address concerns of women's groups calling out President Rodrigo Duterte for his remarks against women.

"Palabiro po ang bibig ng ating Presidente, pero kinakailangan husgahan siya kung ano talagang ginawa niya bilang mayor ng Davao City," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Friday.

He said Duterte has been serious in advancing the lives of Filipino women.

Roque enumerated some of the efforts of the President which are "pro-feminist," such as implementing a local version of the Reproductive Health Bill in Davao City before it was legislated nationally, establishing a Women and Children Protection Unit, and recently, as President, upholding a deployment ban to Kuwait to protect overseas Filipino workers, which he said are mostly women.

Roque insisted Davao City, under then Mayor Duterte, was a trailblazer in upholding the rights of women.

Duterte drew flak in numerous occasions from the 2016 election campaign until today for his language towards women. The most recent instance was in a speech before former communist rebels in February 7, where he said female communist rebels should be shot in the vagina.

"Ingna ang mga sundalo. "Ah, unsa man nang mga babae." Ingna sila. Tawga run ang mga sundalo. "Order bag-o ni mayor. Di lang daw mo patyon. Pusilon lang mo sa bisong arong ---" Og wa na ma'y bisong, wa na ma'y silbi," the President said.

[Translation: Tell the soldiers. "There's a new order coming from mayor. We won't kill you. We will just shoot your vagina, so that …' If there is no vagina, it would be useless."]

Women's groups say his "jokes" are completely unacceptable for a state leader.

"In our culture, those who are aggressive, who are violent are being seen as real men," Jean Enriquez of women's group Coalition Against Trafficking of Women said.

But Roque said Duterte does not promote violence against women, saying there is a contradiction between the President's language and his policies.

"Pagdating po sa polisiya niya bilang mayor, recognized po ang Davao as one of the friendliest cities to women," he added.

[Translation: When it comes to policies as mayor, Davao is recognized as one of the friendliest cities to women.]

He also claimed that women in Metro Manila feel safer with the campaign against illegal drugs in place, citing figures from the Philippine National Police that claim the number of rape cases has gone down by 13.53% last year. Roque said this cut the number of rape incidences from 9,384 in 2016 to 8,114 in 2017.

But groups maintain their disfavor for the way the President treats women.

"Sa lahat ng nasubaybayan kong pangulo, ito na 'yung pinakamalala," Nice Coronacion of Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa said.

[Translation: Of all the presidents I've seen, this is the worst.]

Enriquez added, "Even men who are aware (of what the President does) are saying, we cannot emulate such a man."

CNN Philippines' Senior Correspondent David Santos contributed to this report.