MANILA, Philippines—The Philippine Commission on Human Rights said Wednesday the country’s presumptive president-elect violated a law protecting women’s rights by making a rape joke during the election campaign.
The commission said in a statement on its website that it found the “words and actions” of Mayor Rodrigo Duterte of southern Davao city “to be discriminatory of women” under the law, named the Magna Carta of Women. It asked the Civil Service Commission and the Interior Department to consider taking “appropriate measures” against Duterte.
Duterte reacted angrily to the decision, saying the rights commission cannot prevent him from talking publicly.
“I’m exercising my right to free expression,” he told a news conference late Wednesday, adding human rights officials should shut up and resign.
It was not immediately clear if Duterte can appeal the decision or what punishment he might face under the law. The rights commission monitors violations and could recommend punitive actions but has no prosecutorial arm.
Chairman Chito Gascon said his commission “has the sacred constitutional duty to protect human rights and to call out persons when these rights are violated no matter what their position in society may be.”
“This mandate does not exculpate Mayor Duterte from acts committed or words uttered in the course of the electoral campaign when it involves breaches to fundamental rights, in this case, the prohibition of gender-based discrimination and violence,” Gascon said.
Women’s groups filed a complaint against the brash mayor last month for what they said were offensive acts, including a campaign joke about wanting to be the first to rape an Australian missionary who was gang-raped and killed by inmates in a 1989 Davao jail riot. The joke was criticized by the Australian and U.S. ambassadors in Manila, and Duterte reacted by telling them to shut up.
Duterte captured attention on the campaign trail for profanity-laced speeches and sex jokes, but said after the election that his rhetoric was part of an election strategy.
A former government prosecutor, the longtime mayor won the presidential election by a wide margin, based on an unofficial count, on a promise to wipe out criminality and corruption within the first six months of his presidency.
The pledge has resonated among crime-weary Filipinos but has also sparked alarm and doubts.