Philippines' tough-talking President Rodrigo Duterte is a man who always seems to be in the news. In his latest casual jibe, he said he would be willing to offer "virgins" to boost his country's tourism sector if Islamist extremists can lure followers with a similar proposition.
This is not the first time the firebrand leader has made contentious remarks which have landed him in trouble. He has joked about rape and sexual assaults on several occasions in the past as well, putting him at loggerheads with women's rights groups.
Speaking in New Delhi, India, on Friday, 26 January, to business leaders in a bid to attract investors and tourists towards Philippines, he told the gathering to avoid southern Mindanao region because of the imposed martial law. He then went on to bizarrely quip in his address that if offering "virgins" to dying martyrs could be an attraction for Islamic followers, he could very well do the same in the Philippines to entice tourists to his country.
"The come-on is that if you die a martyr, you go to heaven with 42 virgins waiting for you," said Duterte during the first leg of his three-day India tour. "Well, if I could just make it a come-on also for those who'd like to go to my country," he added, evoking a dry laughter from the audience.
He went on to say, "And I said, one of the most is promising virgins when you go to heaven. I'd like to have the virgins here, not in heaven. God may not allow it."
Duterte continued by saying that he is "half-Muslim" and the Islamic extremists – who have launched a bloody insurgency in the southern region of the Philippines – do not have "the monopoly of discourse in this field".
Not surprisingly, Duterte's comments have angered women's rights groups. Condemning the remarks, activist organisation Akbayan Women issued a statement, "Duterte dismisses Filipinas as mere goods for trade, that women are just sights for tourists. This insults millions of women who work hard to build our nation with honour only to be represented as virgin fodder for tourists by the president himself. This insults million of overseas Filipino workers who have created a name in Filipino workmanship abroad."
Calling these controversial statements "extremely worrying", the Philippines rights group futher added, "We deserve a president who can represent Filipinos: men, women and LGBT alike abroad. We deserve a president who has a regard for women's rights and dignity."