Philippines' Duterte Signs Anti-sexual Harassment Law, Says He Will Be 'First to Obey'

The Philippines' controversial President Rodrigo Duterte has signed a new anti-sexual harassment bill into law, and promised to adhere to the new legislation despite having made repeated sexist and misogynistic comments since taking power.

The "Safe Spaces Act," initially signed by Duterte in April, came into force on Monday. It introduced laws penalizing various forms of sexual harassment including catcalling, wolf-whistling and the telling of sexual jokes, according to the Associated Press.

But given Duterte's history, critics and women's rights groups are understandably skeptical about the president's commitment to stamping out misogynistic behavior.

The bill's main author is a member of the country's opposition party. Senator Risa Hontiveros said its passage is a "massive victory" that will help citizens "push back against the growing 'rude culture' in our streets and communities." She vowed that the nation would "reclaim our streets from sexual harassers and gender bigots and make public spaces safe for all."

Stalking, groping, catcalling, wolf-whistling, intrusive gazing and exposing one's private parts are all covered by the bill. Also criminalized are swearing, engaging in misogynistic acts, using sexist slurs and persistently telling sexual jokes in public.

The legislation relates to any such behavior in the streets, workplaces, vehicles, schools, recreational areas, bars or online, the AP explained.

Recreational venues like restaurants and bars will be required to put up visible signs warning would-be harassers to obey the law. The signs will also bear a hotline number to allow citizens to report perpetrators.

Those falling foul of the new law will have to pay fines or may even be imprisoned, depending on the seriousness of their offense. Foreigners breaking the law will be deported after paying a fine or serving a jail term.

The irony that the man who signed the new law into being is a well-known misogynist was not lost on Duterte's critics. The 74-year-old has regularly made offensive comments and has been accused of inappropriate behavior since coming to office in 2016.

Duterte's spokesperson told reporters on Tuesday that the president "will be the first one to obey" the new law, The Washington Post reported. The spokesperson added that past instances of offensive comments and jokes occurred because the president wanted to make people laugh.

One of his first major sexism scandals came in 2016, when he said he had wanted to rape a "beautiful" Australian missionary who had been raped and killed in a prison riot in the city of Davao—of which he was then mayor—in the southern Philippines in 1989. "I was mad she was raped but she was so beautiful. I thought, the mayor should have been first," he told supporters at a rally.

In 2017, he told soldiers they would be allowed to rape three women each if martial law was declared, and in 2018 told troops they should shoot female communist rebels in the vagina to render them "useless."

Last year, Duterte blamed a high number of rape offenses on "many beautiful women" and admitted to having sexually assaulted his family's maid when he was a teenager. He also prompted outrage last year during an event in South Korea, when he kissed a married woman on the lips in front of the audience.

After Duterte signed the bill into law this week, the Philippines' Gabriela Women's Party tweeted that the president is "the single most brazen violator of the law's intent with his staple macho-fascist remarks. Under this context, implementing the law will certainly be a challenge."

Rodrigo Duterte, sexism, harassment, law
Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte attends the plenary session of the 34th Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Bangkok, Thailand on June 22, 2019. LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty