MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte faced criticism on Wednesday for defending adultery by a powerful political ally.
Duterte had said that like himself, House of Representatives Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez — who has made public his extramarital affairs — had “many wives”.
“This is a world of hypocrisy. Who among you here does not have a mistress?” the president said in a speech aired live on television on Tuesday night, adding it was “a non-issue”.
The comments drew sharp rebukes in the conservative and mainly Catholic nation that remains the last holdout against divorce — apart from the Vatican itself.
“All of it is sexist and misogynistic to explain improper behaviour simply by virtue of being male,” Senator Risa Hontiveros told AFP.
“It sends a message that undermines the many struggles and gains so far for women’s rights and gender equality.”
Alvarez, the country’s fourth-highest official, is an old friend and political ally of Duterte.
The politician made headlines in the past week when he publicly admitted having sired eight children, six of them with two women other than his wife.
Duterte, in the televised speech to government employees in Manila, admitted his comments defending Alvarez’s affairs were “a chauvinist statement”.
“But really there are so many women and you (have) so short a time in this world. My God!” he said in comments that drew laughter from the crowd.
“The thing there is that you’re able to support the children. That’s it.”
Duterte said that unlike married Christian Filipinos who are allowed a single wife, Alvarez “never converted to Christianity. So he is not bound by the rules of the number of women that you can have.”
Filipino critics dispute his comments, saying that while Muslim men are allowed to marry more than once, adultery is a criminal offence.
Duterte, 72, whose first marriage was annulled and who is in a long-term relationship with another woman, has openly boasted about having mistresses and using Viagra to have sex with them.
“Who isn’t entitled to happiness? Ask these lawmakers, how many of them have two, three or four mistresses? Ask them,” Duterte said on Sunday in his first public comments on the Alvarez controversy.
Duterte’s defence of adultery smacks of a double standard, said Elizabeth Angsioco, national chairwoman of the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines.
“These are men in positions of power so it’s unacceptable and appalling that they just speak lightly of these things. It’s very dangerous,” Angsioco added.
Duterte was elected by a landslide last year largely on a promise to kill tens of thousands of drug dealers and other criminals.
During the election campaign, the US and Australian ambassadors criticised Duterte for saying he had wanted to rape a “beautiful” Australian missionary who was murdered in a 1989 provincial prison riot in the city where Duterte was mayor.
He reacted angrily to that criticism, saying his remarks had been misinterpreted.