hilippines President Rodrigo Duterte demanded a kiss on the lips from a woman at a meet and greet event with the Filipino community in South Korea on Sunday.
During the event, two women were called onto the stage to receive a book from 73-year-old Duterte. At first Duterte extended his hand for one of the women to shake it. V
isibly excited to meet the president, the woman—later identified as Bea Kim—shook his hand and then both her and the other woman brought it to their forehead. As they moved to leave the stage, Duterte called them back next to him, giving the first woman a hug but gesturing to Kim, who first shook his hand, that he wanted a kiss on the lips.
Embarassed at the request, she looked hesitant to comply, covering her mouth with her hands before eventually submitting to Duterte, who held her arms as he leaned in for the kiss, as the crowd cheered him on.
The event was part of Duterte’s first official visit to South Korea and was organized in cooperation with the Overseas Filipino Workers’ organization. “A crowd of more than 2,000 Filipinos are expected to meet and greet the President. There are about 66,000 Filipinos working and residing in South Korea,” the presidential office stated in a media release.
A video of the event was shared on the presidential communications Facebook page on Sunday. The footage didn’t actually show the kiss, as the camera moved away from the stage just as the president approached the woman, and focused on the audience’s reaction—mostly smiles and cheers.
But the event was also broadcasted live on the government-run People’s Television Network (PTV), whose cameras closely captured the cringe-worthy moment.
Duterte then told the crowd “Don’t take it seriously. It’s just for fun, a gimmick,” Reuters quoted him as saying, but reactions on social media varied from amused to outraged.
Opposition senator Risa Hontiveros particularly condemned Duterte for acting like “a feudal king” who abused his power. “It was a despicable display of sexism and grave abuse of authority,” she said in a comment to local media.
The government sought to downplay the incident. Kim, who has lived in Seoul for the past seven years, is married to a South Korean man and has two daughters, gave a statement to the government-run Philippine News Agency describing meeting Duterte as a “once in a lifetime” experience.
“The kiss doesn’t mean anything except to entertain and make other Filipinos in the gathering happy. I assure you, for me and even the President, there was no malice in the kiss,” she said. “The President even asked me if I was single. I told him I am married to a Korean,” Kim added.
Philippines’ women’s rights organization Gabriela, who has often criticized Duterte for his displays of “machismo,” regretted Kim’s defence of the president’s behavior.
“It is unfortunate that the woman found it her obligation to publicly defend the act as ‘no malice,’ when it is the President who is duty-bound to explain not only because it was upon his prodding but he is bound, as a public official, by rules of ethics to explain his unruly conduct,” the association’s secretary geenral Joms Salvador said in a public statement.
He described the kiss as the “disgusting theatrics of a misogynist President who feels entitled to demean, humiliate or disrespect women according to his whim.”