Outrage over lewd show at Philippine lawmaker's party

Scandal also hits President's key ally who denies hiring scantily clad women for event

A small part of the show was caught on a 20-second video shot by a reporter from The Philippine Daily Inquirer.
A small part of the show was caught on a 20-second video shot by a reporter from The Philippine Daily Inquirer.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB OF VIDEO/THE PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER

Philippine President Benigno Aquino's ruling party is scrambling to contain the political fallout from a lewd show at a birthday party for one of its veteran lawmakers.

The growing scandal has already ensnared one of Mr Aquino's key allies, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority chief Francis Tolentino, who is aspiring to be a senator.

It is also threatening to deflate the campaign of Mr Aquino's choice to run in the presidential election next May - former interior minister Mar Roxas.

Mr Roxas, who has surged in the polls behind early favourite Senator Grace Poe, quickly distanced himself from the incident.

"Some quarters are linking my name to this performance, even though I wasn't there, I wasn't in the audience and I did not witness the performance… Let me be clear. I have sternly advised everyone in my campaign against this sort of exploitation of women," he said.

The racy show took place after Mr Roxas inducted some 80 new members of Mr Aquino's Liberal Party on Thursday at a property owned by lawmaker Benjamin Agarao Jr in Santa Cruz, Laguna province, 80km south of Manila.

After the oath-taking rites and Mr Roxas' departure, three scantily clad women who call themselves The Playgirls walked on stage and began to dance.

They then invited the men in the audience - mostly public officials and party members - to the stage for some "parlour games".

A small part of the show was caught on a 20-second video shot by a reporter from The Philippine Daily Inquirer.

A photo taken during the performance showed a woman "twerking" - bent low and shaking her posterior - as a man stood behind her.

The video and several photos of the show were posted on the Internet. News reports said the show was Mr Tolentino's "birthday gift" to Mr Agarao, a Liberal Party stalwart.

Mr Tolentino denied hiring The Playgirls. But in a Facebook post two years earlier, the women thanked him for allowing them to campaign for his brother Bambol, who ran and won a seat in Congress in the elections in 2013.

The incident ignited a hailstorm of criticism online, with many mocking Mr Aquino's catchphrase "a straight road" by restating it as "a twerked road".

Mr Agarao stoked public anger even more when he, in trying to acquit himself, said: "I am a real man, so I don't find it disgusting."

He insisted that the entertainment at his birthday party was tame, considering that "women dance in cages in Manila".

He later apologised after receiving a torrent of abuse online, with many posts on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube calling him an "idiot" who is "vulgar".

Former lawmaker and women's rights advocate Risa Hontiveros tweeted: "It was in very poor taste. The objectification of women should have no place in Philippine politics."

Others said Mr Tolentino, who is already dealing with criticism over Manila's monstrous traffic jams, should drop out of the Senate race.

Representative Luzviminda Ilagan of the women's group Gabriela said: "He's already a bane to commuters. Now he's exploiting women."

Seeking to contain the damage, Senate president Franklin Drilon, who is vice-chairman of the Liberal Party, said: "I am saddened and disappointed by this deplorable incident. I strongly condemn and will not tolerate it. That sort of lewd and exploitative gimmickry is not befitting and is unacceptable of members of the Liberal Party."

But he did not say whether the party would sanction Mr Tolentino and Mr Agarao.

Ms Abigail Valte, a spokesman for Mr Aquino, said: "The President will never condone, nor will he give approval, to any act that would denigrate our women, that would debase them or would... contribute to such an indignity."

A statement issued by women members of the Liberal Party said the incident "is a gross insult to all: the women involved, the Liberal Party, and indeed, all Filipinos and Filipinas who espouse equality".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 04, 2015, with the headline 'Outrage over lewd show at Philippine lawmaker's party'. Subscribe