An Open Letter to Mayor Duterte

We are reposting an open letter by women's rights activist Monique Wilson regarding the recent controversial statements by Philippine presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte. The following is his quote from CNN Philippines -Ed.

"Duterte was referring to an incident at the Davao City Jail during his first term as mayor. According to an August 1989 report by the Chicago Tribune, inmates took 15 church workers — including the Australian woman lay minister— hostage after grabbing their guards' weapons.

The woman "was raped and had her throat slashed by a gang of inmates before troops stormed the prison in downtown Davao." Five of the dead were hostages.

“Nirape nila lahat ng mga babae so 'yung unang asolte, kasi nagretreat sila, naiwan yung ginawa nilang cover, ang isa doon yung layminister na Australyana. Tsk, problema na ito. Pag labas, edi binalot. Tiningnan ko yung mukha, 'tang ina parang artista sa America na maganda,” Duterte said.

He continued: “Putang ina, sayang ito. Ang nagpasok sa isip ko, nirape nila, pinagpilahan nila doon. Nagalit ako kasi nirape, oo isa rin 'yun. Pero napakaganda, dapat ang mayor muna ang mauna. Sayang."

[Translation: "They raped the women, so the first assault because they retreated, they used the bodies as cover, one of those was the body of the Australian woman lay minister. Tsk, this is a problem. When they went out, they wrapped the body. I looked at the face, son of a b*tch she looks like a beautiful American celebrity. Son of a b*tch, what a waste. I thought, they raped her, they lined up to her. I was angry she was raped, yes that was one thing.  But she was so beautiful, I think the mayor should have been first. What a waste."]"

Lola Narcisa (Source: Monique Wilson's facebook page)

Lola Narcisa (Source: Monique Wilson's facebook page)

Dear Mayor Duterte,

I don’t know you personally, although I know what you have done for women in Davao City and the support you have given our women’s groups there, including our One Billion Rising (OBR) campaign for the last four years. I have been to Davao many times for OBR and have seen first hand the projects you implemented there - the Davao City Women’s Code, and the Davao City One Stop Crisis Center for Women - all achieved side by side with our women’s advocacy groups there like Gabriela and many others. The incredibly diverse, radically political and fiercely creative OBR annual Rising events that happen there each year - joined by so many, if not, all sectors of society in Davao, is testament to the dignity and respect and value given to women and girls there.

I also know how you fight for our Lumads and workers - insisting on their rights - fighting against militarization that continue to kill and harass them. I was in UCC Haran at the Lumad camp in Davao, and our brothers and sisters there told me how you continue to send food for them. I see how you stand by our most marginalized, like the ongoing Kidapawan injustices happening to our famers, more than any other leader. I see the way your heart beats loudly against the injustices heaped against them.

But these days I am having sleepless nights thinking of the male machismo entitlement in which you wield words on a privileged whim because of your elevated status as a man of position and power. I grew up in a household where my father also wielded words - words that were used as swords to assert his male superiority and power over my Mother. Words that hurt her person and shattered her soul. Words that destroyed any feelings of value or security she may have had in order for him to feel more powerful, to feel manly, to feel in control. Words that were meant to put women in their place - inferior, no value. Violent language.

You see Mayor Duterte, you remind me of my father. Who fought for the poor and the marginalized, and despite being a Marcos man always told his children we should always be proud he never stole from the government - which is, he reminded us, why we did not live in Forbes Park like the Marcos cronies. He was of the people. For them. He served them. I witnessed this truth my entire growing up life. But at home he called my mother names and put her down. He was mean to her. He womanized. He called women every derogatory name much like how you do. His male macho privilege permeated our home, our family - and his devaluing of women created fear, insecurity, anger, instability, duplicity, double standards. My first sense of injustice came from him. And for many years I could not see past all the good he had done as a public official, all the policies and programs he created in Makati for the women and the poorest communities as Vice Mayor for years, because all I could see and feel was my mother’s hurt. All I could see was how his constant misogynistic macho sexist diminishing of her affected her life, affected ours. I can still hear her cries and smell her fear. For decades I never said anything, again to protect my father’s good public name and the service he had done - even if the truth about him burned with rage inside me. It took many years, and doing the work I do now with OBR and Gabriela to realize that it is not him I should be protecting. The ones causing hurt should be the ones exposed, even it means losing family and friends. When I am at a crux or crossroad of principles, beliefs and courage about these issues - all I have to do is IMAGINE her. My mother. As I wish you would imagine your mother every time you crack a joke about women or talk about them in a derogatory way, or make a joke about rape.

Mayor Duterte, RAPE is RAPE. I don’t have to tell you what that means. But you need to understand the full GRAVITY of RAPE and RAPE CULTURE. And where your actions play a part in perpetuating that.

Rape culture is denying the weight and seriousness of the crime by joking about it. It doesn’t matter that you tell us later on what the context of the story was - all that matters is that you MADE LIGHT OF IT. And ALLOWED YOUR FOLLOWERS AT THAT RALLY TO LAUGH ALONG - diminishing the gravity of the rape. Words are important Mayor. You cannot throw them out playfully and casually and not look at the consequences of what your words do.

Rape culture is allowed to exist when you first say Jaqueline Hamil (an Australian missionary) - was “beautiful, and looked like an American actress”. You could have mentioned that she was a missionary, there to help and serve. Instead of noting her physical attributes, which commodifies and objectifies her. Which treats her as an OBJECT, instead of as a woman, a person, with more than just looks. Without you realizing it, you have already diminished her by objectifying her on that level alone.

Rape culture is then further perpetuated when you say your most criminal words: to paraphrase - “that she is so beautiful, it’s a shame - the mayor should have been first”. You meant first to rape her. You meant the mayor should have had first dibs, first right over her. Again, it does not matter that your words came out of rage as you said later. Think of what you are saying here Mayor. THE MAYOR SHOULD HAVE BEEN FIRST TO RAPE HER. To me that is not rage. That is again, chauvinist sexist misogynist male privilege. And more seriously, it is A DIMINISHING OF THE ACT OF RAPE. It is TRIVIALIZING OF RAPE. It is the NORMALIZING OF RAPE. Imagine if Jacqueline was your daughter and someone else had said your words about her. I have no doubt you would be coming after them with your guns. I have no doubt you would be placing the full force of your position and might over them, not even for a sorry, but because you would not even see that as injustice, but as a grave INSULT to your loved one. I don’t think, for a second you would allow that person to sit, in front of the media, and try to justify their words and action by relaying a long protracted story on context. I don’t think you would take it sitting down if that person said they are not sorry at all and sees no need to apologize. I don’t think you would accept it if that person simply tried to take the gravity of the situation away by saying he was just using "crass language" because he was “angry”. NOTHING JUSTIFIES RAPE AS A JOKE.

And then rape culture is deepened by a refusal to own your actions. You didn’t really apologize directly - it was enshrined in even more defensive justifications. More than an apology it is the lack of humility in which to admit you did wrong that also perpetuates rape culture. The laws and policies implemented mean nothing if respect and dignity for women is not fully embodied in concrete thought, actions and words.

Mayor, you are running for the highest position in the land - and by all accounts, are topping the polls. You are influential. People believe in you, follow you, are relying on you to change this corrupt poisoned system that has driven our people to such unimaginable abject poverty and suffering. This belief from the people holds you even more accountable than most. Holds you in even greater responsibility for your words and actions. And we put this out now because we know you have been on the side of women in the past, your Davao record as Mayor speaks for itself. Davao Rises so gloriously and fiercely for its women now because of the belief you have also put into the women’s movement there. This is not an attack. It is a request for you to look deeper into your heart that we all know beats more authentically than most leaders for the people and their best interests. You cannot speak on revolution and rights, if you do not give equal weight to this issue. The issue of rape and rape culture. Revolution after all, first begins with the radical shift in consciousness of deeply entrenched mindsets. Patriarchal mindsets. No change can happen without this. And no transformation can happen without the humility to acknowledge where one has done wrong.

Words are important, Mayor. You cannot throw them out playfully and casually and not look at the consequences of what your words do.

Mayor, this photo is of Lola Narcisa - one of our Philippine comfort women - fighting for justice for what happened to her and thousands of other comfort women who were raped and sexually enslaved during World War II.

Just imagine this, as you imagine your own mother or grandmother
Abducted by the Japanese army at 14 years old
Held for two years in a “comfort station”
Raped by sometimes 70 soldiers a day
A day.
In silence for 50 years
Speaking out and fighting for justice for nearly 23 years now
She has carried this all her life
And still no justice
She is one of the lucky ones
The others have lost their minds
and families who shunned them
Many lost organs
and the ability to bear children from so many rapes
Most have already died
Lola Narcisa continues to fight for them
and for the next generation of comfort women
Some today as young as 9 years old
raped by police, by military,
sold and trafficked
sexually violated for 15 pesos just to get to school
or half a kilo of rice just so that their families can eat.
Imagine this as you imagine your own daughters.
Rape ruins a life
and takes it away
a life recovering, healing, surviving
in constant breakage and pain
instead of a life
thriving, living, creating, growing.

Lola Narcisa has given her entire life to this cause
For speaking up after all the years of silence
and facing daily the risks of being re -raped by indifference and apathy
that rape culture allows to exist

She is still marching on the streets although barely able to walk now
even when justice is not forthcoming
because rape culture breeds impunity

She is still fighting
so that the legacy she can leave behind for us
is consciousness
a deeper understanding of WHAT RAPE DOES TO A WOMAN.
Her life and sacrifice
should propel us now
with everything
to fight against rape and rape culture in all its forms.


In this country you profess to love
In this country, our country
you are pledging to serve
1 woman or child
is raped
every 53 minutes.
7 out of 10
are children.
Majority never get justice
Rape culture allows this.

Please give Lola Narcisa, and the countless, often times
nameless, faceless, invisible women and girls

Please allow humility to deepen your education
and understanding of rape.

And please
use your privilege, your influence
and your power, 
to end rape culture.

Monique Wilson

Monique Wilson

Monique WIlson is a veteran theater and film actress and women's rights activist. She starred in the original West End production of Miss Saigon in London and then founded the New Voice Company theater group in the Philippines. She is active with women's issues and is currently director of One Billion Rising, a worldwide mass action against violence against women.