I don’t like tasteless jokes. So I agree with current Vice President Leni Robredo when she said “tasteless jokes have no place in society”. The problem is, who are we to judge how tasteless a joke is? None of us have a monopoly on authority to determine what constitutes a tasteless joke. People’s tastes are different. Robredo and I may not even agree on what we consider to be a “tasteless joke”.
Each individual’s shallowness is different. I suppose a joke does become inappropriate when someone tries to be funny when the atmosphere is very serious, like the time when former President BS Aquino tried to be funny at the height of the tragedy that was unfolding during super typhoon Yolanda or Haiyan in 2013. We recall BS Aquino’s callous remark “But you did not die, right?” addressed to a businessman who complained of lack of government assistance after his store was looted in the chaos that ensued. We also recall how BS Aquino promised to throw himself under a train if the Light Rail Transit (LRT) extension didn’t get delivered by the end of 2015. The public held on to his promise only to be told that he was just joking. In retrospect, BS Aquino’s Presidential term was a joke that the general public didn’t get until it was all over.
Going back to Robredo’s statement, she was recently compelled to speak out against what she considers inappropriate jokes made by Duterte at her expense. She stressed that the country’s leaders should not make “tasteless remarks” about women. This was days after Duterte commented about how smooth her knees were and said that the lack of callouses indicates that she doesn’t go to church. This presumably means that she does not kneel down often enough.
I would have to agree that Duterte’s remarks were inappropriate. However, Robredo’s demeanour at the time and in the past did not help discourage Duterte from making such remarks. Robredo was observed smiling and even being giggly at times. In fact, Robredo admits that she has gotten used to being the butt of Duterte’s jokes on occasions they are together like during cabinet meetings. She even told the media that she is getting used to Duterte. In her own words she said “Actually, I’m getting used to the President. I’m always picked on. As he said, it was said as a joke.” She said that on the same day Duterte noticed her knees.
It was only after a journalist called out Duterte on his remark that Robredo made a statement against it even when on record, she agreed that Duterte’s jokes act as icebreakers. In other words, Robredo didn’t mind Duterte’s jokes until somebody reminded her that they were inappropriate. This is proof that Robredo doesn’t have a mind of her own. She doesn’t have a strong conviction. It’s not clear whether she is standing up against what she considers to be sexual harassment against women or she’s just jumping on the bandwagon after some people pointed out that Duterte shouldn’t be joking about her love life or body parts like that in public.
If Robredo’s conviction were really strong, she wouldn’t have laughed with the crowd when Duterte made the joke. She would have expressed her disappointed right there and then, in front of Duterte. The problem with Robredo is she puts up this fake front when Duterte is around and pretends that she supports him and is okay with him. It seems the minute Duterte is not around anymore, she tells the media a different story. I would have commended her had she made her disapproval of Duterte’s remarks very clear while the President was around. She seems courageous about speaking out only when he is not in the same room.
Having said that, Duterte comes from a different era. What is inappropriate to some of us is appropriate to him. He thinks his comments about Robredo’s knee are harmless. He obviously doesn’t think it is a big deal. And as mentioned earlier, Robredo’s reaction at that time did not discourage him from stopping.
The real question is why does Duterte make fun of Robredo? Some say it is a sign of disrespect. It could be because they say jokes are half-meant. If that is the case, the next question is, why doesn’t Duterte respect Robredo? It could be because Robredo doesn’t come across as smart. She comes across as clueless. After all, she acts very clueless about why people think her win as vice president is fraudulent. Duterte probably knows that she had nothing to do with the alleged electoral fraud, but the fact that she believes without a doubt that she won the election and is quick to dismiss claims of cheating even after evidence and testimonies of irregularities in voting precincts were presented says a lot about her. For one, it is a sign that she has become delusional – all the praises she is getting from her supporters has gotten into her head. She must be thinking that she is actually more popular than former Senator Bongbong Marcos and that of course she won the election.
To a casual observer, Duterte seems to be simply humouring Robredo until the time the Supreme Court decides on Marcos’s electoral protest. Duterte may be a womaniser and has a habit of issuing inappropriate remarks, but he is not dumb. He knows that Robredo speaks ill of him behind his back. Robredo should be glad that he has not lost his patience with her despite her criticism against Duterte’s jokes and policies especially against his war on drugs. Robredo should be glad that she is just the subject of Duterte’s jokes and not his tirade. Robredo better not push her luck unless she is prepared to receive his wrath.
If Robredo is really serious about making a stronger statement on behalf of women, she should resign from her cabinet post and Vice Presidency. She can’t continue pretending to support Duterte while stabbing him in the back.