MANILA–Tough-talking Philippine presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte said he is prepared to cut diplomatic ties with the country’s two closest allies — Australia and United States after their ambassadors slapped him over his joke about an Australian missionary who was raped and killed during a hostage-taking incident in 1989.

“If I become president, go ahead and sever it,” Duterte said during one of his campaign speeches.

Duterte at press conference
Duterte at press conference

Australian Ambassador Amanda Gorely, in a statement said, “rape and murder should never be joked about or trivialized. Violence against women and girls is unacceptable anytime, anywhere.”

US Ambassador Philip Goldberg also denounced Duterte’s statement. In a television interview, he said “statements by anyone, anywhere that either degrade women or trivialize issues so serious as rape or murder are not ones that we condone.”

Reacting to the statements, Duterte told the two Ambassadors to “shut their mouths.”

The flap ignited when Duterte, in one of his campaign sorties, mentioned the incident where Australian missionary Jacqueline Hamill was killed during a hostage taking crisis in Davao in 1989.

Hamill was reportedly raped by her hostage takers/inmates and shot to death. She reportedly sang Christian songs up to her last breath.

Duterte’s joke

“They raped all of the women [and] there was this Australian lay minister. When they took them [the bodies] out, I saw her face and I thought, ‘son of a bitch’ what a pity they raped her…I was mad she was raped but she was so beautiful. I thought the mayor should have been first,” Duterte said.

Photo of hostages and captors during 1989 Davao prison breakout. Hamil is at center with gun to her head.
Photo of hostages and captors during 1989 Davao prison breakout. Hamil is at center with gun to her head.

Aside from the two ambassadors, Duterte was criticized for his remarks by his other rivals in the presidential race: former Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas, Vice President Jejomar Binay, Senator Grace Poe and Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago. Women’s groups and local celebrities also criticized Duterte. A women’s rights group filed a human rights violation case against him.

His daughter Sara “Inday” Duterte defended her father.

She disclosed that she was a rape victim herself but is not offended by what her father said.

In jest, Duterte called her daughter a “drama queen” and said “how can she be raped [when] she carries a gun.” But he refused to comment further saying it was a personal matter.

Duterte apologized for offending the people with “gutter language” and he said he was sorry for the outcome of the 1989 hostage crisis. But he said he would not say sorry for the remark he made last April 12 about the death of Hamill.

He even told reporters in his hometown of Davao City that he would rather lose the presidential race than apologize for what he said. “I will not (apologize). I am even willing to lose the presidency. Do not make me apologize for something that I did and was called for by the moment,” Duterte said.

Another bad joke?

The leading presidential candidate is once again in the spotlight after making another joke — this time about senior citizens.

In the Philippines, senior citizens are classified as those aged 60 and above. As in other nations, they are accorded special privileges by the government. It includes medical assistance, discounts in restaurants, drug stores, groceries, among others.

“Yung isa classmate ko, na-stroke gusto ko sabihin mamatay ka na lang [One was my classmate who suffered a stroke. I want to tell him just die,” Duterte said.

One of his presidential rivals, Binay, said Duterte is “mental” for making such remarks.

The vice president also said Duterte should undergo a psychiatric examination. Going a step further, Binay said Duterte, the Davao City mayor, could even be administered such a test in Makati where Binay was a former mayor, because it is free.

Duterte gaining ground

Grace Poe
Grace Poe

Despite the controversies that have swirled around him, Duterte has become the chairman of PDP-Laban, one of the oldest political parties in the Philippines.

He also knocked popular presidential contender Grace Poe from first place in the latest presidential voter poll.

In his most recent speech, Duterte dismissed as “black propaganda” all negative criticisms about him.

His spokesperson Peter Tiu Laviña also dismissed the latest attacks against his candidate as a “smear campaign.”

“These wasteful attacks do not help raise the political maturity of our electorates. Instead of presenting their platforms, the other camps are engaging in character assassinations and smear campaigns,” he said in a statement.

Lorenz Niel Santos is a Manila-based journalist.

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