MANILA — Malacañang said on Monday there was "no malice" in President Rodrigo Duterte's allegedly inappropriate gesture towards his house helper.
A viral video shows Duterte seating at a table laden with what appeared to be his 76th birthday over the weekend. He then appeared to reach out towards the crotch of a woman who was approaching him, holding a cake.
"Matagal na niyang kasambahay iyon," Duterte's spokesman Harry Roque said in a press briefing.
"Talagang palabiro ang ating Presidente pero wala pong malisya iyon dahil nakaharap si Ma’am Honeylet [Avanceña]," he added, referring to the President's partner.
(That's his longtime help. Our President is fond of joking, but that has no malice because Ma'am Honeylet was there.)
Duterte in 2018 said he touched the private parts of a female helper when he was still a teenager. His then spokesman Salvador Panelo said this was a "laughable anecdote."
But the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said officials should be "consistent both in words and deeds in this regard, and refrain from making statements that may contravene its commitment to uphold the rights of Filipino workers abroad."
Duterte has several times drawn criticism for sexist comments and rape jokes. He even called several women "bitch."
In November 2020, Duterte and other government officials joked about sex and womanizing during a post-typhoon briefing in calamity-hit Camarines Sur. This prompted a reminder from CHR that the objectification of women is a form of violence.
In January, Duterte said women were not fit to be president.
Marking Women's Month this March, Duterte said the government can “proudly claim” that it took actions “to create an environment where women's rights are respected and their contributions to society are recognized.”
“Let us elevate women to their rightful place in society by empowering every Filipina to break not only barriers that have long hindered them from reaching their full potential, but also the backward mindset that fueled a culture of gender oppression and inequality,” the President said in a statement.
Earlier in the day, Roque also lashed out at critics who slammed Duterte for allegedly pretending to be poor during his birthday celebration over the weekend.
President Duterte turned 76 on Sunday and he chose to celebrate it with his family in Davao City.
In a photo shared by his long-time aide Sen. Christopher "Bong" Go, the chief executive was seen blowing out a candle placed on top of a cup of rice.
However, a video that later circulated on social media showed that his dinner table included lechon, a roasted pig usually shared during special occasions.
"I don’t think the President ever pretended to be poor. He has always been known as simple. That is why he did not have guests on his birthday," Roque told ANC's Headstart.
"There may have been food served for special occasions, but that did not violate any sense of decency. There was no extravagant show of wealth because the President was in t-shirt and shorts and celebrated only with his family," he said.