World News

Critics Slam Duterte for Asking a Woman to Kiss Him Onstage

Posted June 4, 2018 3:49 p.m. EDT

President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, a populist with a reputation for making crude jokes about women, came under fire on Monday by critics who accused him of abusing his authority after he publicly kissed a woman on the lips at an event in Seoul, South Korea.

Addressing a group of overseas Filipino workers on Sunday in Seoul, Duterte called two women on stage with him, and asked one for a kiss in exchange for a book he planned to present them.

“Are you single?” Duterte asked the woman — identified by the state-run Philippine News Agency as Bea Kim — as seen in a video that has since been shared widely online. “You’re not separated from him?” he asked in reference to Kim’s husband, adding, “But can you tell him that this is just a joke?”

Kim appeared to be a flattered, excited fan of the president and to consent before Duterte kissed her on the lips to cheers from a crowd of about 3,000 people.

“There wasn’t malice in it,” Kim later told the Philippine News Agency in an interview. “For me, for him, it didn’t mean anything.”

But critics of the president, including women’s groups and politicians, said the stunt was misogynistic and an abuse of power.

“It was a despicable display of sexism and grave abuse of authority,” a Philippine senator, Risa Hontiveros, said in a statement.

“Even if the act was consensual, it was the president, possessed of awesome, even intimidating power, who initiated it,” Hontiveros said. “It was not a meeting of two consenting individuals on equal terms.”

Online, both critics and supporters of the president weighed in.

“You can say that it’s unappropriate, but please don’t make up stories because no one force the lady to kiss Duterte,” wrote one Twitter user, Giselle Estacio.

Duterte has been criticized in the past for the way he talks about and treats women, including claiming that he had ordered police officers to shoot female communist rebels in the vagina, and joking that he wished he had participated in the rape of an Australian missionary.