The thing I noted about the whole ‘Duterte rape joke’ episode captured in the now-viral video is not the offensive joke per se but the way the audience hooted in unison as Duterte delivered the punchline. This, plus the fact that the video had sustained its remarkable obscurity for this long points to a disturbing aspect of Filipino society. As Get Real Post writer Grimwald pointed out earlier, rape jokes and other objectionable types of humour are regarded as normal in Philippine society.
Filipinos, for that matter, harbour a baffling regard for foreigners — particularly foreigners of European descent. On one hand, white foreigners are afforded a disproportionate amount of deference — even reverence — in Philippine society. On the other hand, this bizarre biblical regard for foreigners also makes them a source of perverse fascination — curiosities to be poked and prodded, fed one kind of Filipino delicacy or another, and then observed. This is the reason why there is an inordinate amount of attention paid by Filipinos to videos and articles written by European tourists about their experiences in the Philippines. Watching European foreigners navigate the Philippine setting is a popular form of entertainment in the Philippines.
The dark side to this otherwise quaint way Filipinos relate with their co-species from the other side of the planet is that the level or even nature of empathy extended to them is not the same. This, perhaps, explains why Duterte’s audience in that now-infamous video laughed with him rather than express the profound revulsion expected of a truly empathetic people.
Filipinos, quite simply, do not see European foreigners as human beings. They are, in most Filipinos’ eyes, aliens to gawk, ogle, and objectify. Most foreign women who have visited or lived in the Philippines will have come out of the experience brimming with tales of incessant day-to-day harassment copped from the locals. Foreign men, for their part, will likely recount the all-too-familiar “Human ATM Machine” treatment they get — whether from their own Filipino spouses or girlfriends or the entire barrio of hangers-ons that descend upon them when they first set foot in the islands.
One thing we can credit Duterte for is that he has brought that disturbing reality about the character of Filipinos to the fore. As expected, the who’s-who of the Philippines’ “civil society” and their cadre of social media mavens are busy tweeting and re-tweeting various factoids and two-cent opinions about the latest Duterte PR fiasco. The question is, is this outrage reflected in the timelines of the Starbucks classes representative of the broader swathe of Filipinos who will be trooping to the polling booths this May? In essence, the important question to ask here is…
Do ordinary Filipinos share the profound outrage that the Philippines’ minority urbane A-B classes tap into their pricey iPads in between latte sips?
That remains to be seen. A certain Robin Haines Merrill, in a post published on his Facebook profile today, gave a human face to the Australyana referred to by Duterte. The woman who was the subject of Duterte’s standup comedy was, according to Merrill, Jaqueline Hamill who, at 36 years old, was killed while doing missionary work in Mindanao…
Jacqueline was raped and had her throat slit while ministering in the jails in southern Philippines in a 1989 hostage taking. Duerte was recorded this week saying in his political rally that while he ordered the killing of the hostage takers while he was mayor, he wished he could have raped her first, since she was so beautiful. Looking back on this photo, I realize ministering in jails as a woman is very risky and looks outright naive, like the “you got what was coming to you” mentality that is prevalent today.
Would Hamill, presented a bit more up-close-and-personal than the way Duterte presented her, move the legions of die-hard Duterte supporters who have sworn virulent allegiance to their idol? The cognitive leap we are awaiting is whether or not Filipinos are capable of going beyond seeing that woman as someone who was more than a body “wrapped in a plastic bag”, as Duterte described in his encounter with her.
This will be an interesting and measureable experiment on the quality of the Filipino character. Come May, there will be a quantitative outcome in this experiment that will determine whether or not Filipinos can truly be regarded as a civilised people.
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