MANILA: 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 television 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 â€œimproperâ€.
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.
â€œCatcalling my wife is wrong in so many levels,â€ husband Raffy Tima wrote.
â€œSome jokes are funny and should be laughed at but disrespecting women is definitely not one of them.â€
At the same press conference, Duterte created another controversy by saying there was justification for killing corrupt journalists, and that one â€œrotten son of a b***hâ€ reporter deserved to have been murdered.
Duterte, an incendiary politician who won last monthâ€™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 â€œbeautifulâ€œ 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 â€œdrama queenâ€.
Duterte, whose first marriage was annulled and is in a long-term relationship with another woman, has also openly boasted about having mistresses and using Viagra to have sex with them.
Aida Santos, president of local womenâ€™s rights groups WeDpro, said Duterteâ€™s wolf whistling was a form of sexual harassment.
â€œCatcalling treats women as sex objects… some say itâ€™s a way of being cute but itâ€™s wrong,â€ 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.
They also point to his pro-women policies in Davao, which he has ruled as mayor for most of the past two decades.
However Duterteâ€™s jokes sent messages to society, according to Elizabeth Angsioco, national chair of the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines.
â€œHis words and actions reinforce looking at women as second-class citizens,â€ she told AFP. – AFP