The kiss drew outrage and disgust, but not surprise. At a gathering of Filipino migrant workers in South Korea, Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines, unexpectedly kissed Bea Kim, a Filipino migrant worker, on the lips. Kim, who is married to a Korean national, later gave an interview to a state-run television network in which she said the kiss was meant only to entertain and titillate the crowd of mostly Duterte supporters and fans like her. “There was no malice in it. For me, for him, it didn’t mean anything,” Kim said in the interview. Harry Roque, the president’s spokesperson, said “obviously, there is no offended party here. The lady who was kissed has clearly expressed the view that she was honored with the kiss.”
Women’s-rights groups and activists slammed the incident as a “despicable display of sexism.” “Even if the act was consensual, it was the president, possessed of awesome, even intimidating, power, who initiated it. It was not a meeting of two consenting individuals on equal terms. Uneven power relations were clearly at play. And President Duterte took advantage of that severe power disparity,” Senator Risa Hontiveros said in a statement.
Displays of sexism are nothing new for the 73-year-old Duterte, who often flaunts his machismo. During the 2016 campaign, he was often photographed with young women sitting on his lap, and sometimes kissed them on the cheek or lips. Later, he drew repeated condemnation for his insults and misogynistic remarks: A rape joke about an Australian nun, and another joke about ordering soldiers to shoot female rebels in the vagina because “they are nothing without it,” an assurance to soldiers fighting ISIS affiliates in southern Philippines that they could rape up to three women and he would protect them.