Philippines' Duterte in hot water for wolf-whistle to female reporter

Duterte speaking during a press conference in Davao City, southern Philippines, May 31, 2016.
Duterte speaking during a press conference in Davao City, southern Philippines, May 31, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

MANILA (AFP) - Philippine president-elect Rodrigo Duterte was on Thursday accused of sexual harassment and disrespecting women after wolf-whistling a female journalist on a nationally televised press conference.

Duterte, 71, interrupted a question from TV reporter Mariz Umali on Tuesday night about his Cabinet appointees with a light-hearted comment about her trying to get his attention, then wolf-whistling and breaking into a short serenade.

Umali continued trying to ask her question as Duterte smiled and some other reporters laughed.

In an interview with her GMA network on Thursday, Umali described his remarks as "improper".

While Umali said she would not ask for an apology and sought not to inflame the controversy, her journalist husband took to Facebook to criticise Duterte.

"Catcalling my wife is wrong in so many levels," husband Raffy Tima wrote. "Some jokes are funny and should be laughed at but disrespecting women is definitely not one of them."

At the same press conference, Duterte created another controversy by saying there was justification for killing corrupt journalists, and that one "rotten son of a bitch" reporter deserved to have been murdered.

Duterte, an incendiary politician who won last month's elections by a landslide on a pledge to end crime by killing tens of thousands of criminals, has previously been criticised for comments about women.


On the campaign trail, he made a joke about wanting to rape a "beautiful" Australian missionary who had been sexually assaulted and murdered in a 1989 prison riot in his hometown of Davao.

When his daughter reacted to those comments by revealing she had been raped, Duterte described her in jest as a "drama queen".

Duterte, whose first marriage was annulled and who is in a long-term relationship with another woman, has also openly boasted about having mistresses and using Viagra to have sex with them.

Duterte dismissed the criticism at a fresh news conference late on Thursday, saying wolf-whistling was "not a sexual thing".

"There has to be sexual undertones but if I am just whistling, that kind of (criticism) is intruding into freedom of expression," he added.

Duterte had signed a local women's rights ordinance in 1997 which classified whistling at women as sexual harassment in Davao.

Aida Santos, president of Manila-based women's rights groups WeDpro, said Duterte's wolf-whistling was a form of sexual harassment.

"Catcalling treats women as sex objects... some say it's a way of being cute but it's wrong," Santos told AFP.

Duterte and his aides have repeatedly said such controversial comments and actions should not be taken too seriously: that he is a straight-talker and an authentic character who likes to joke and speak the language of the streets.

His spokesman Salvador Panelo said on Thursday that women should consider the president-elect's wolf-whistling as a compliment and a sign of "fondness".

Supporters also point to his pro-women policies in Davao, which he has ruled as mayor for most of the past two decades.

However, Duterte's jokes sent messages to society, according to Elizabeth Angsioco, national chair of the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines.

"His words and actions reinforce looking at women as second-class citizens," she told AFP.