Editorial: Of witches and apes

WHILE sleeping with her grandchildren, Felisa Paglinawan, 69, was shot several times in their home at Tabina, Zamboanga City, reported “The Philippine Star” last Jan. 27.

The grandmother was suspected of being a “mananaot (witch).”

The news captures attention. Despite being unable to establish the identity of the killer, the police speculated that the crime was committed to stop the victim’s practice of witchcraft.

The crime is not as surreal as it seems. Villagers turn against women rumored to be witches, ostracizing them, driving them away, and even killing them.

Rarely involving investigation and the gathering of hard evidence, the charge of witchcraft was raised against women suspected of being “different.”

Thus, the word “witch-hunt” refers to “an attempt to find and punish a particular group of people who are being blamed for something, often simply because of their opinions and not because they have actually done anything wrong,” according to the “Collins English Dictionary.”

It is a term that is apt for the continued habit of uttering inappropriate and insensitive comments against women that President Rodrigo Duterte has made as one of his unsavory trademarks since he ran for the presidency.

He has spared no one, joking about wanting to be “first” with an Australian missionary, raped and killed during a jail siege in Davao, and assuring soldiers deployed in Marawi that if they were to rape three women while Mindanao was under martial law, he would let them off: “that’s on me.”

Aside from jokes about rape and the objectification of women, President Duterte targeted his most vocal critic, Sen. Leila de Lima, when she was investigated for drug-related charges, with the basest remarks and innuendos alluding to her morality and personal life.

In view of past and continuing transgressions, citizens exasperated and exhausted by a president whose notion of wit or sarcasm scrapes the bottom of decency and good taste may shrug off his latest comments about using virgins to lure investors to the country.

At New Delhi for the Asean-India Commemorative Summit, President Duterte made a joke alluding to the 72 virgins that supposedly await martyrs of Islam in the after-life. The President prefers to “have the virgins here, not in heaven,” after saying that he wants the “come-on also for those who would like to go to my country.”

If the President pauses to reflect how Filipino women, minors, and even infants are dehumanized by foreign pedophiles, sex traffickers, and rapists, would he still see the humor of dangling virgins as bait?

According to the Global Slavery Index 2016, the Philippines ranks 33 of 167 in the prevalence index rank, with an estimated 401,000 living in “modern slavery.”

Among the enslaved are women and children sexually exploited in many lucrative niches operated by criminal syndicates: commercial sex tourism, child sex tourism, and trafficking under the guise of marriage, reports the Global Slavery Index 2016.

The President’s “joke” about using virgins as “investment come-ons” dismisses the unimaginable suffering of victims and insults the toil and sacrifices of government and non-government workers to rescue victims, prosecute criminals, and assist victims to recover and reintegrate with mainstream society.

More importantly, sexist jokes desensitize and increase tolerance and apathy for sexism, a vicious circle.

“Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others we all lose.”

Meryl Streep said the above to another misogynist, President Donald Trump. In her 2017 Golden Globes speech, Streep called out Trump, observing that his “instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in a public platform… filters down into everyone’s life because it gives permission for others to do the same.”

When President Duterte cracks another gutter-joke against women, we should not laugh or shrug. We should not ape this bullying behavior, too.
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