Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte Casually Jokes About Rape

by Lani Seelinger
Pool/Getty Images News/Getty Images

These days, authoritarian strongmen the world over pale in comparison to the Philippines' president. But even with his other blatant human rights violations, Rodrigo Duterte's latest casual rape joke is yet more evidence of how unfit he is to be a world leader.

The joke came while Duterte was speaking to soldiers on the island of Mindanao, where he had recently imposed martial law in an effort to root out rebel fighters linked to ISIS. He told soldiers "just do your job" and that he'll shoulder the burden of their consequences on their behalf.

"But for this martial law and the consequences of martial law and the ramifications of martial law, I and I alone would be responsible, just do your job I will take care of the rest," Duterte said about soldiers who committed crimes during military rule. "I'll imprison you myself," he said, and then: "If you had raped three, I will admit it, that's on me."

The joke is mightily offensive, but it's far from the worst thing that Duterte has done in his brief tenure as Filipino president. According to Human Rights Watch, he may also be guilty of crimes against humanity for all of the extrajudicial killings of drug users and dealers that he's had carried out in the Philippines. (The New York Times reported in December that Duterte's war on drugs have led to mass arrests and cold-blooded murders on the streets of the Philippines.)

Given his flagrant human rights violations and his easy dismissal of sexual assault, it's unacceptable that he has found in President Donald Trump a strong admirer. Trump has praised Duterte multiple times about his handling of the country's drug problems and invited him to the White House.

Were he a normal citizen trying to gain entrance into the United States, Duterte would never be given a visa based on his human rights violations. Currently, the severity of his crimes could even warrant denying him a visa as the president of a sovereign country. And yet, Trump still told him that he was "doing a great job" on the drug front during a call in late April — the same call in which he revealed the location of two nuclear submarines to Duterte.

Some estimate that 7,000 people have been killed during Duterte's time as president, but he has reportedly ordered the murders of those accused of crimes (in addition to people who witnessed those killings) ever since he was the mayor of the city of Davao in 1989.

In some ways, though, his political style is similar to Trump's — he's also known for speaking informally and profanely about subjects that are normally taboo. He made another rape joke during his campaign, about a prison riot in 1989 where an Australian missionary was gang-raped, then killed. Outside observers are concerned that placing the area of his country under martial law is an abuse of power, and could lead to more human rights abuses.

When President Obama criticized his methods, Duterte responded by swearing at him. However, Duterte has expressed optimism about working with Trump and called him "a realistic and a pragmatic thinker." This isn't the only authoritarian leader with whom Trump has expressed a mutual admiration — but if Trump continues to hold up his side of this relationship, America's moral standing will erode even further.