I would have to say that Ma’am Irene Santiago is one of my favorite interviewees — so smart, articulate and reasonable as she discussed her views about the incoming Duterte administration. In this article, I discussed why a feminist like her would support the controversial president-elect.
By Kristine Angeli Sabillo
DAVAO CITY—A leading feminist on Monday said President-elect Rodrigo Duterte was a “product of the sexist culture” in the Philippines but this didn’t mean that women should not support him.
Irene Santiago, lead convenor of the global peace initiative Women Seriously and a member of a group of women previously nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, told Inquirer.net on Monday that Duterte “is very much a product of the sexist culture of this country.”
Duterte has been criticized for his treatment of women. He kissed, hugged and had women sit on his lap during the presidential campaign. He joked about missing out on raping an Australian missionary who was killed. Recently, he received more flak for whistling at a woman reporter asking him a question during a press briefing.
He calls her ‘ma’am’
“Patriarchy is alive and well. Looking at his Cabinet, (there are a lot of) men, although he is comfortable around women who lead and who manage,” Santiago, who is well-known to Duterte and whom he calls “ma’am,” said.
Santiago, who is based in this city, said women were not part of Duterte’s inner circle perhaps because they “can’t talk the way they want to talk” when women are around.
She described the patriarchal system as “male-dominated, male-centered, male-identified. And there’s an obsession, obsessive need to control by men.”
Benefits for women
“He’s a work in progress… it’s not like I’m willing to live with that. That’s different. (But) I’m willing to work with that,” she said.
Santiago said that despite Duterte’s “outrageous” statements, people still support him.
“Why do you support him (people ask me). And I say, because of the evidence of his work,” she said. “There are things that are done in Davao City that are not done in any other city—policies and procedures, benefits for women you can’t find anywhere else.”
As an example, she narrated the experience of a neighbor who was raped and beaten. The city paid for her new jaw and the perpetrator is in jail.
“There is counseling for her. If she needs one there’s a bunch of lawyers who are paid for by the city,” Santiago said.
Nevertheless, she said, women will have to “work with him” on his language and behavior.
She said she once asked herself if she was willing to support somebody like Duterte who used foul language.
She said she was like Leonor Briones and Judy Taguiwalo, incoming members of Duterte’s Cabinet.
“Why am I doing this? Because here is a seismic opportunity. I think this is of seismic proportions,” she said. “He is so bold. His vision for this country is so bold vis-a-vis social justice.”
Her advice to Duterte? “Just work on yourself. We can work on your mouth. But your heart is where it is. We waited for that kind of heart for a long time. Just be yourself and we’re all here to help you.”