THE Tagalogs have a word for what President Duterte did recently in South Korea: nagkalat.
What the world remembers now on that visit was the president kissing in Seoul a Filipina married to a Korean in exchange for a book about some of the failings of the Catholic Church in the Philippines. It was a formal gathering covered by media people so the scene was for all the world to see.
But who remembers what the president achieved from the South Korea visit? What did he get for the country when he met South Korean President Moon Jae-in? Did he get what he wanted, which was “greater partnership” in defense and security, trade and investment, and political cooperation, per rappler.com? We don’t know much about it because what we are talking instead is that kissing scene.
Let me digress a bit. Before the controversial kissing incident, Malacañang had said that the president would sign four documents with Moon, one of which is very important to us Cebuanos. I am referring to the loan agreement on the new Cebu International Container Port project. The loan agreement worth US $172 million was indeed signed, but who is talking about that now?
There are 66,000 Filipinos in South Korea, including my niece who married a Korean and then separated with him. My niece is an overseas Filipino worker and has a son. Incidentally, the woman Duterte kissed, later identified as Bea Kim, is married to a Korean and has two daughters. Here’s what she said when asked about that kiss:
“Parang na-block ako. Hindi ko ma-explain na parang kinakabahan ako, natatakot ako, excited, thankful. Happy ako kasi it’s a once in a lifetime experience kasi yun. Kahit nasa Pilipinas ka, parang suntok sa buwan na makita mo nang malapitang ang president.”
I tried googling the reports on the incident by media outlets abroad. I would mention only a few, like this one from the British daily The Guardian: “Philippine president criticized for kissing woman on stage.” The Australian edition of the Huffington Post was more on point: “Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte pressures woman to kiss him.” But this one from The Ledger is more blunt: “Mouth gets Philippines’ Duterte in trouble again, this time for a kiss.”
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque attempted to stem the avalanche of criticisms by coming up with a lame, if not erroneous, claim that the kiss was a “playful act” accepted in Filipino culture. Roque is a lawyer and even if he once taught in the University of the Philippines, I still am at a loss about the Filipino culture that he said accepted the kiss.
The Filipino culture that I know, the Philippines being semi-feudal, is one that is averse to public display of affection. Filipinos, for example, react differently from, say, Americans, when they see a man and a woman kiss in public. Kissing in public may be common in the United States but it is very rarely seen in public here. Maybe Roque just blurted Filipino culture just so he can defend the indefensible.
Because of that kiss, the president’s South Korea visit became a mess publicity-wise. Talagang nagkalat.