Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has drawn a wave of criticism, including from women’s groups, after saying he sexually assaulted a housemaid when he was a teenager.
In a speech on the weekend, Duterte recalled telling a Catholic priest during confession that he had put his hand into the woman’s underwear as she slept. “I lifted the blanket,” Mr. Duterte, 73, said. “I tried to touch what was inside the panties.”
“I was touching. She woke up. So I left the room,” he added.
Duterte, who said the priest told him to say five Hail Marys, told the story while railing against the Catholic Church, allegedly aiming to illuminate and condemn the Church’s sexual abuse crisis, but instead drawing calls from critics for him to step down.
Women’s rights group Gabriela said the president was normalizing violence against women, and was “unworthy of his position and should resign.”
His office later dismissed the story as a joke, according to the New York Times.
“Unfortunately, Duterte’s machismo and ill-regard of women is also symptomatic of Philippine society’s entrenched sexism and patriarchal culture,” Joms Salvador, the secretary general of Gabriela, a women’s rights organization, said in an interview.
The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women-Asia Pacific warned that the president’s comments put domestic workers at risk, the BBC reports.
“Flaunting abusive practices encourages the rape culture and in this case, sexual abuse of domestic workers,” said executive director Jean Enriquez.
The comments are the latest in a string of provocative and offensive pronouncements by the popular 73-year-old leader.
In January last year, Philippine activist group Akbayan Women released a statement harshly condemning Duterte, whom they referred to as an “international embarrassment,” after he said he would like to entice visitors to his country with an offer of “42 virgins.”
The following month, Duterte claimed that soldiers should render women who joined the communist rebel group New People’s Army “useless” by shooting them in the vagina.
And while campaigning for president in 2016, he joked about missing out on raping an Australian missionary who was sexually assaulted and killed during a 1989 prison riot in his hometown of Davao City. “She was so beautiful, the mayor should have been first, what a waste,” he said. His office later apologized.
Read the full story in The New York Times.