Here he goes again. Rather than focus on the millions in investments that South Korean businesses will be putting into the country, creating badly needed jobs as a result of his first official visit, the public attention was on the lips-to-lips kissing scene of President Rodrigo Duterte and a Filipina married to a Korean. A wave of criticism mixed with revulsion not only sizzled in social media but also in daily conversations of ordinary Filipinos. Beso-beso on the cheeks, the traditional "mano po" and even a high-five would have been acceptable, but on the lips? Not only were the members of the Catholic Women's League scandalized but also ordinary Lolas and even market vendors.
Presidential spokesman Atty. Harry Roque quickly said, "I don't think there's anything immoral. After all, the President has reiterated he is single." (This only highlighted the fact that President Duterte may be the only Philippine President in office with a common-law wife, Honeylet Avancena, as his marriage to Elizabeth Zimmerman was nullified in 2000.) He further said, "The woman volunteered and the woman said she was very proud of that experience." (The video clips show President Duterte with his finger to his lips prodding the woman for the kiss. Didn't look like she was volunteering.)
Chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo reportedly said he did not see anything wrong with a fan kissing her idol, and if he were the husband of South Korea-based Filipino Bae Kim, he would not mind her kissing the Philippine leader. He was quoted as saying, "You know, my wife said it's just like kissing an apo (grandchild), a son, a daughter, a baby. Wala naman yan. (It's nothing)." Looking at the video, it looked more like President Duterte puckering his lips and enticing the woman to kiss him. It was not a spontaneous kiss by a fan. I doubt if most Filipinos have seen a grandchild being kissed by a grandfather in the lips, a son or daughter being kissed by a parent on the lips, and even a baby being kissed on the lips.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian compared President Rodrigo Duterte's kiss with the Filipino Bea Kim in South Korea with married actors and actresses who demonstrated kissing and love scenes. He was quoted, "So, I think, as long as it's kept professional and there's an understanding between the partners, siguro puede nila gawin yun." We had an actor who became president, Joseph Estrada, a true gentleman. We never saw him in his abbreviated (courtesy of the alleged machinations of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her cohorts) term behaving like President Duterte did on stage in South Korea. If we follow Senator Gatchalian's logic, was the kissing scene scripted with the prior approval of the woman?
The defense that takes the cake was that of a blogger turned public official who posted photos of Senator Benigno Aquino on board the plane taking him to Manila and martyrdom, with the intention of equating the scene of two ladies kissing the senator with President Duterte's kissing the woman in South Korea. Nothing could be so different. Senator Aquino did not solicit the kisses. In fact, he even commented, "Lagot ako kay Cory," indicating his embarrassment. On the other hand, President Duterte evidently relished the kiss.
The tragedy of President Duterte is that all these defenders instead of helping him are making it worse. It would have been better if they all just kept their mouths shut. With defenders like them, President Duterte does not need enemies.
President Duterte can defend himself. On the incident, this is what he had to say, "That's my style. Find your own style. There is nothing wrong in a simple kiss. You cause an uproar. They are just envious. Tell them to change their dentures. During my campaign in my mayorship days, I kissed every woman there, lips to lips... Not only smack. Other women really wanted romance." Further, he said, "If I want women to feel important even if they are sick, those whose clothes were stained with infection wounds. I try to embrace them and calm them down, and say, 'we will look for something else.'"
With still a high approval rating, President Duterte can afford to ignore these criticisms. In fact he even threw a dare - if all women here sign a petition for me to resign, I am willing to step down. Any takers?
Melito Salazar Jr.