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Common ground for Trump and Duterte: ‘Jokes’ about sexually harassing or assaulting women

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. (Francis R. Malasig/European Pressphoto Agency)

The Philippines and the United States now both have presidents who have “joked” about sexually harassing or assaulting women — a striking sign of the times.

On Nov. 8, as Americans went to the polls, the president of the Philippines told a crowd about his attempts to flirt with Vice President Leni Robredo during cabinet meetings, commenting on her “shorter than usual” skirts, asking her if she had a boyfriend and joking that he “may be killed” if she did.

As he described searching for a seat with a better view of her legs — and calling on colleagues to join him — the crowd laughed. Robredo, sitting behind him on a stage at an event to mark the anniversary of a deadly typhoon, did not.

On Wednesday, Robredo, the widow of a former interior secretary, issued a statement calling his behavior and remarks “inappropriate.” Duterte, meanwhile, shrugged it off. “It’s appropriate. As a matter of fact, it is good,” he said.

During his election campaign, Duterte made headlines around the world for saying that an Australian woman who was raped and killed in a prison riot in the Philippines was “so beautiful” that he wished he'd “been first.” He still won.

Sen. Leila de Lima, a Duterte critic who has been shamed and ridiculed in blatantly sexist language, said the remarks about Robredo show the president's “misogynistic character” and the profound “machismo” of Philippine politics.

Of course, it's not just the Philippines. Several Filipinos gathered at the U.S. Embassy's election party in Manila noted that Duterte's words reminded them of another politician: Donald Trump.

Trump's campaign was dogged by accusations of sexual assault and harassment. In a 2005 interview with television host Billy Bush, he appeared to brag about assaulting women.

“When you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump said. “You can do anything.”

“Grab them by the p‑‑‑y,” Trump said. “You can do anything.”

Trump later dismissed the comments as “locker room” banter — and went on to win the presidency.

It is still unclear how the surprise Trump win will shape U.S.-Philippine ties, which have been rocky since Duterte took power. He has told Obama to “go to hell” for criticizing extrajudicial killings and has said he wants a “separation” from the United States.

Duterte on Thursday congratulated President-elect Trump, according to a statement from Duterte’s spokesman, Martin Andanar. Duterte, he said, “looks forward to working with the incoming administration for enhanced Philippines-U.S. relations anchored on mutual respect, mutual benefit and shared commitment to democratic ideals and the rule of law.”

Read more:

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Duterte mocks senator investigating killings as ‘screwing her driver’ and nation