A direct translation wouldn’t capture how offensive this rhetorical question is, coming from the mouth of any man or woman, as it normalizes and rationalizes the practice of infidelity and polygamy, because look, all men are doing it! And as long as these men can take care of the children they sire, from one, two, three women they keep in their beds, then they are doing the decent thing, they are doing what is right.
Wrong. Especially when these words come from the President’s mouth, and these statements that condone and justify men’s alleged precondition to treat women as objects to be collected – because women are their kaligayahan (happiness), because there are so many women so little time – are spoken publicly, to the laughter of a necessarily captive enamored audience.
The House Speaker jokes
It was House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, he with the rift with Rep. Antonio Floirendo Jr., which started this manner of treating questions of marital infidelity as a joking matter.
On March 30 – yes, the tail-end of Women’s Month – Alvarez was asked about whether or not he had a girlfriend, to which he replied in jest: “Sino ba naman ang walang girlfriend?” (ABSCBNNews.com, 30 Mar).
Well ideally, any man who is married shouldn’t have a girlfriend, especially if that man is a lawyer who should be following the law, especially if that man is a member of Congress to boot.
But Alvarez wasn’t done yet. That same afternoon, he was heard on radio admitting not only that he and his wife hadn’t spoken for a long time, but that he had sired many children from other women along the way: a first marriage with two kids, a second marriage with four, and then another relationship that produced two children, and then his current girlfriend (DZMM Dos Por Dos, 30 Mar).
Not only did he say this with no hint at all of shame, embarrassment, or regret, the House Speaker said this like it was a badge of honor to be speaking with honesty and telling the public the truth.
And yet while he says that he hasn’t spoken to his wife Emily Alvarez for a long time, a late 2015 file photo shows the House Speaker standing with his wife to submit his certificate of candidacy with the COMELEC (Inquirer.net, 30 Mar). The same wife would be shown standing beside him during his oathtaking as House Speaker (July 25 2016 file photos). And Emily would be the head of the Congressional Spouses Foundation Inc. as well (CSFI website), though in February the speaker was pushing for the eviction of the CSFI from the halls of Congress invoking lack of space (ABSCBNNews, 13 Feb).
Either way, it is clear that while Alvarez would like to show that he is not afraid of the truth, in fact what we’re seeing is how he is using truth-telling as a way to justify his bad behavior as husband and lawyer, Congress representative and House Speaker.
And he is not alone.
President Duterte expectedly took his House Speaker and closest ally’s side on this matter. And how!
The President calls this state of extra-marital affairs a “truth” that we all need to know about, “the game what we all play.” At the oathtaking of appointed officials and the Philippine Councilors’ League, he said he has no problem with womanizing, because he was certain all the men in the audience had many women, too. In a room of about 300 men, the President said in Tagalog: Tell me who among you are good men without mistresses? Maybe only two, or three (March 30 Speech).
He says further that this state of extra marital affairs among our public officials is just the way of life: “Ganon lang ‘yan ang buhay sa totohanan.”
So many days after, in an April 3 discussion with the press, the President questioned the case of disbarment against the House Speaker, exasperated by the question of how many women he has, pointing a finger at all lawmakers and priests, who the President is certain must have two, three, four women each. Then the President throws out another rhetorical question: “Sino bang walang kaligayahan?” Pertaining to womanizing as a source of happiness of our dear lawmakers and leaders.
In his April 4 speech at the MMDA, the President justifies womanizing to be based on a lack of religion, saying that if you are an atheist, then it’s okay to have many wives. Speaker Alvarez, like him, is not a Catholic so he is “not bound by the rules on the number of women you can have.”
The President, in what is now a classic Duterte move of invoking honesty and sincerity to seem more human says he has many faults but it is not corruption: “I have no money but I have many wives,” he says in jest.
The disbarment case against the House Speaker? That is hypocrisy, and this talk about infidelity and polygamy, a non-issue! The President declares: “Sino bang walang babae dito?” to justify the Speaker’s, and his own, womanizing ways.
Even as the President (and House Speaker) might always be half-joking, these rationalizations and justifications for committing infidelity and polygamy, ultimately a condonation of grown men’s libidos getting the better of them, force us all to take it with more seriousness than a grain of salt.
These are not men being men. These are public officials, men in the highest posts in the land, talking about their sexual relations with their wives and other women like it is the most normal thing to have as many in their beds as possible at any given time. These are grown men justifying what are illegal acts against their spouses, and oppressive and unjust “games” that they play with other women.
This is not about not knowing reality and the truths about relationships and the state of extra-marital affairs. This is about the President himself justifying the practice, making it normal, insisting that all men are like him and Speaker Alvarez, and it’s all okay.
This is how we raise our boys into believing that disrespecting girls is okay, that disloyalty and acting on their libidos is acceptable behavior. This is how we raise the worst men possible.
For a President who keeps talking about preserving the next generation, he sure is raising a new generation of male chauvinist pigs.
First published in The Manila Times, April 6 2017.