During a visit to Seoul this past weekend, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte kissed a woman on stage, stirring controversy around the globe. Video of the kiss suggests that it was all spontaneous, but critics have argued that the president abused the power of his position and coerced the woman into going along with his request for a public display of affection.
Duterte was speaking at an event pegged to Filipino workers when he invited two women on stage to receive free copies of a book, The Washington Post reports. Duterte kissed the first woman on the cheek, but when the second woman, later identified as Bea Kim, approached him, he requested that they go further.
The video shows that Kim initially pulls away from Duterte after he appears to suggest that they kiss on the lips. According to a transcript quoted by The Post, Duterte asked Kim if she was single, and Kim responded that she was married to a South Korean man.
"You're not separated from him?" Duterte asked. "But can you tell him that this is just a joke?"
The video then shows Kim appears to lean in, and the two quickly kiss on the mouth. Kim laughs loudly, the two hug, and she swiftly exits the stage.
"The kiss doesn’t mean anything except to entertain and make other Filipinos in the gathering happy," Kim later told the state-run Philippine News Agency (PNA). "I assure you, for me and even the president, there was no malice in the kiss."
Kim went on to underscore that she was not offended, and that Duterte knew that she was married.
"It’s rare to have the chance to meet the president up close," Kim said. "It’s true, it was just a twist and there is no malice. The president even asked me if I was single. I told him I am married to a Korean."
However, critics both in the Philippines and abroad were quick to dismiss Duterte's actions as inappropriate and, more specifically, misogynistic.
"It was a despicable display of sexism and grave abuse of authority," Philippine Senator Risa Hontiveros said in a statement, according to The New York Times.
"Even if the act was consensual, it was the president, possessed of awesome, even intimidating power, who initiated it,” she continued. "It was not a meeting of two consenting individuals on equal terms."
Other critics expressed similar sentiments online. "It’s very clear from this close-up that the woman was uncomfortable, but she gave in anyway because of combined presidential and social pressure," wrote one user on Twitter. "It’s also clear that Duterte really wanted to plant a kiss on the woman. He had every opportunity to stop himself, but didn’t."
Some said that they didn't believe that the kiss was initiated as a means of harmless entertainment. "President DUTERTE said at the end of his speech in South Korea that the 'KISS' was only for entertainment," a user wrote. "Hah! I'm not buying it Mr President. The woman was not an entertainer. Advancing on women for entertainment purpose is OFFENSIVE. I give you an 'F' for failed on this."
The kiss was not the first event that triggered accusations of sexism against Duterte. Speaking about the rape and murder of an Australian missionary that took place in Davao in 1989, while he was the city's mayor, he once joked that he wished he had taken part in the assault. “I was angry because she was raped," Duterte said. "That’s one thing. But she was so beautiful. The mayor should have been first."
Duterte has, over the years, become a controversial leader, especially in the United States. And while he has historically had a very good relationship with President Trump, he has proven not to be immune from criticism.