I’m not here to make excuses for a head of state making light of possible abuse of household help in his youth. That’s just not on. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte should really put a stop to making comments like that as it only makes him less effective as a leader. At the same time, however, there is something to be said about the outrage fad over this that had erupted amongst Opposition “influencers” since news of this ill-thought-out presidential quip broke.
The fact is, Filipinos may be suckers for victim narratives on the outside but, on the inside, within the closed doors of their private residences, the shocking manner with which Filipinos treat their household servants remains hush hush conversation in chi chi circles. We’ve seen this recently in how the most elite boys club at the University of the Philippines, the Upsilon Sigma Phi, counts amongst its members boys who evidently grew up in such households. Following that was a similar circus that exposed a disturbing tolerance for perverted bullying that flourishes with impunity at the Ateneo de Manila High School further highlighting evidence that misogyny and anti-social behaviour could correlate strongly with elite upbringing and education.
As a student at the Ateneo, I myself laughed at and exchanged jokes about household help. From the most benign — making fun of their Visayan accents — to the most disturbing — stories about friends partaking of “practical” lessons on the birds-and-the-bees given by “friendly” servants — such discussions were par for the course in the all-boys environment of the Ateneo. Even in my university days, stories about maids’ “adventures” continued to fly about. There was this one about a friend of a friend who had his family’s maids’ quarters under “surveillance” and spied his brother one night walk in and have sex with the subject of this surveillance. As that story goes, having eventually gotten over that “shock” over the discovery of his brother’s late night shenanigans, the earlier eventually went on to sleep with the same maid himself.
One would understand now from that small sampling of polite conversation amongst the Jesuit-educated how terms like “chimay-killer” get thrown about casually. Back in the day there was no way of keeping a record of such conversation that could then go viral. Unfortunately for the geniuses at Upsilon and the kibitsers at that Ateneo Junior High “comfort room”, that is no longer the case. The days of casual misogyny amongst the chi chi boys clubs of yore are over thanks the the eagle eyes of social media keyboard warriors.
Even then, the root of the problem of casual sexual abuse will not be eradicated by social media shaming nor the shrill sloganeering of snowflake “social justice warriors” (SJWs). It is an issue of upbringing — perhaps made worse by the absentee, indulgent, or delegated-to-yaya parenting style of well-heeled Filipinos and, possibly, the OFWs of today. Indeed, the shaming we see today may only serve to drive these incidents and conversations underground. Some people are capable of learning to avoid the Net when engaging in truly interesting conversations, after all.
The more important question the Opposition need to ask themselves now that they’ve notched up another social media circus about the latest Duterteism is the ol’ timeless one: What next?
How sure are they that those triple-digit retweets and likes they get from their amigas and titas will translate to a political outcome in their favour? Stepping back from that, how sure are they that the larger Filipino public — you know, that inconvenient mass of people who live, work, and play outside of Bonifacio Global City and other such chi chi enclaves — even care about nor appreciate the supposed “outrageousness” of Duterte’s “confession”?
This is the question the Opposition need to confront — whether the stuff they focus their campaign around ultimately matters in the bigger scheme of things. There is a reason they lost the 2016 elections and a reason why proposals to change the name of Manila’s premiere international airport are gaining traction. The Opposition need to focus on those reasons. Allowing themselves to be led by a bunch of obsolete “thought leaders” will only hasten their failure to do just that.
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