MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte drew sharp criticisms on Monday (June 4) from women's groups after he kissed on the lips a married woman onstage during a public engagement in Seoul.
The left-leaning political party Gabriela called the act the "disgusting theatrics of a misogynist president who feels entitled to demean, humiliate or disrespect women according to his whim".
In the incident on Sunday, Mr Duterte called a woman on stage as he was wrapping up a speech before Filipinos living in the South Korean capital. . He then offered to give her a signed copy of a book he often brandished when criticising the Catholic church, in exchange for a kiss.
Before kissing the woman, he asked her if she was married. She was, to a Korean, and they have two children.
"Can you tell (your husband) this is just a joke," he said, then held her by the arms and pressed his lips on hers.
Mr Duterte then told a cheering audience that it was "just a gimmick to make the people happy".
"There's nothing in it except that I want to be close to… my countrymen," he said.
But Gabriela described it as "his own perverted way of getting back at his women critics, his way of proving he can dominate women at any time and any place he chooses. It is his way of publicly exhibiting his contempt for women".
“It is unfortunate that the woman found it her obligation to publicly defend the act as 'no malice,' when it is the President who is duty-bound to explain not only because it was upon his prodding but he is bound, as a public official, by rules of ethics to explain his unruly conduct,” Gabriela added.
An advocacy group, Every Women, said Mr Duterte "just doesn't care whether women find his physical intimacies acceptable or repulsive".
"He just wants everyone to know that he can do what he pleases, especially to women whom he has never viewed as real people, but merely as objects like all the other perks," the group said.
This is not the first time Mr Duterte, who has a reputation for crude language and sexist remarks, has drawn the ire of women's groups.
In February, he was criticised for having boasted that he had ordered soldiers to shoot female communist guerrillas in the genitals.
"Tell the soldiers, 'There's a new order coming from the mayor'," he said in a speech, recalling a directive he said he had issued when he was mayor of Davao City. "'We will not kill you. We will just shoot you in the vagina.'"
He later defended that remark as "sarcasm". His spokesman Harry Roque said Mr Duterte should be taken seriously, but not literally.
During the presidential campaign in 2016, he made a joke about the rape and murder of an Australian missionary by inmates during a prison riot in 1989 in Davao City.
Recalling his reaction on seeing the woman's body, he told a crowd: "I was angry because she was raped. That's one thing. But she was so beautiful. The mayor should have been first."
He has also used sexual jokes and rumours to attack women who have questioned his contentious and bloody war on drugs. His targets included Leila de Lima, a senator and former justice secretary, and ousted chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.