Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has sparked outrage after kissing a woman on the lips during a meet and greet event in South Korea.
Opposition senator Risa Hontiveros described the act as a “despicable display of sexism and grave abuse of authority,” and accused the controversial leader of acting like a “feudal king.”
In the incident in Seoul on Sunday, part of the Filipino leader’s official visit to South Korea, Duterte called two overseas Filipino workers (OFW) onstage.
After offering each woman a copy of a book, reportedly a title which is critical of the Catholic church, he pecked one of the two women on the cheek.
As the other presented the side of her face, Duterte instead gestured to his lips, indicating that he wanted the woman to kiss him squarely on the mouth, to whoops and cheers from the crowd.
Duterte, who has a long-term partner with whom he has a daughter, reportedly asked the woman if she was single while onstage.
“Are you single? You’re not separated from (your husband)? But you can tell him that this is just a joke?” he asked, according to a report by Philippines news outlet Rappler.
According to Philippines state media PNA, the woman, identified as Bea Kim, is married to a South Korean national and has two children.
Kim said that there was “no malice” in the kiss, and that it didn’t “mean anything except to entertain and make other Filipinos in the gathering happy.”
On his trips to foreign countries, the president often takes time to meet members of the Filipino diaspora.
The office of the president has not responded to a CNN request for comment, and the Philippines government has yet to comment publicly on the incident.
Social media support, condemnation
The kiss in Seoul stirred heated debate among Filipino politicians, activists and social media users, amid accusations of misogyny and unstatesman-like behavior.
Hontiveros – the sister of a CNN Philippines anchor – said that Duterte “acted like a feudal king who thinks that being the President is an entitlement to do anything that he pleases,” adding that “uneven power relations” meant that the kiss wasn’t an act between consenting adults.
Facebook user RJ Barrete, whose profile identifies him as a young journalist, also commented that the power dynamics meant that it was impossible for the woman to properly consent to being kissed.
“Don’t blame it on women! So much disgust for this ‘man.’ And if you’re going to check the video, he was initiating to do it, (kissing) the woman even if it’s becoming uncomfortable for her,” his post reads.
“This is not an issue of who initiated it, not even about consent because obviously, power was at play! And most importantly, as the President of a country you don’t initiate an act like this in an official event!”
Women’s rights group Gabriela also denounced the act, saying that it represented “disgusting theatrics of a misogynist president who feels entitled to demean, humiliate or disrespect women according to his whim.”
Others, however, have come out in support of the president. “He got a hug and a kiss on the lips. Wahahaha (Duterte) is so mischievous,” said one, according to CNN affiliate CNN Philippines.
Another said that his actions were typical of the way Visayans – his ethnic group – joked around.
The outspoken leader has a history of disparaging remarks about women, notably saying on the campaign trail in 2016, when he said that the rape and murder of an Australian missionary who was visiting a Filipino jail was “a waste” and that he should “have been first” to sexually assault the woman. He later apologized for the remarks.
At a CNN Philippines town hall event in February that year he admitted that he had three girlfriends and a common-law wife. His previous marriage was annulled due to his womanizing, but he denied this meant he objectified women.
He has also drawn widespread condemnation for his initiation and support of a bloody war on drugs, which has seen thousands of suspected drug users and dealers killed by police and vigilantes.