When you judge a woman by her appearance, it doesn’t define her, it defines you,” writes American motivational author and speaker Steve Maraboli. Perhaps he had Filipino lawyer and gadfly Ferdinand Topacio in mind. Topacio is notorious for the way he goes out of his way to court controversy, including shaming women celebrities and cursing the media.
But maybe there’s method in his madness. Most recently, he was called out for a now-viral social media post where he took aim at TV actor Angel Locsin. Locsin had gained a lot of publicity lately for her efforts to help victims of the coronavirus contagion as well as the health workers on the frontlines. Then she took up the cudgels for ABS-CBN, where she was a talent, in the wake of the loss of the network’s franchise.
Topacio, a rabid administration supporter, would have been well within his rights to question Locsin’s activism and her motivations, but instead he chose to focus on another battleground: The actor’s recent weight gain.
Referring to an old soap opera that Locsin appeared in, Topacio quipped that the show was entitled “Lobo” (Filipino for wolf but also for balloon), which may explain why Locsin’s weight ballooned in turn: “Yung show ni Angel sa GMA7 ay pinamagatang LOBO, kaya LUMOBO sya.” (As readers pointed out, the TV series “Lobo” in fact aired on ABS-CBN.) When a commenter chided him with the reminder that the actor had suffered from a “slipped disc,” Topacio, digging into his gleeful body-shaming, retorted: “Mataba pa rin siya (She’s still fat).”
This would have been an expected price to pay in Locsin’s line of work, if Topacio was himself a fine specimen of male pulchritude. But Topacio falls far short. The irony of it all, as a netizen succinctly pointed out: “A short fat man shaming a woman for being fat? He must be ashamed of himself. A lawyer attacking the person not his argument? He must have run out of counter-arguments.”
Indeed, so incensed was comedian-TV host Ogie Diaz that he called on the Integrated Bar of the Philippines to sanction Topacio for unprofessional conduct. The Code of Professional Responsibility for lawyers states, among others, that: “A lawyer shall not engage in conduct that adversely reflects on his fitness to practice law, nor shall he whether in public or private life, behave in a scandalous manner to the discredit of the legal profession.” Also, “A lawyer shall not, in his professional dealings, use language which is abusive, offensive or otherwise improper.”
But more than professional misbehavior, Topacio’s public shaming of a woman who has done nothing but try to use her celebrity status to help others is part of a pattern of behavior employed by men, and not just Filipino men, to “put women in their place.”
And what is that place? A place of silence, acquiescence, shame, guilt, and complicity in their own persecution.
Take last week’s blow-up between New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Florida Rep. Ted Yoho. Both found themselves on the steps of the Capitol a few days before, during which Yoho called the freshman legislator “disgusting,” that she was “out of (her) freaking mind,” then walked away but not before some reporters heard him calling her a “f—ing bitch.”
Ocasio-Cortez, already noted for being outspoken and fearless, had a choice: Keep quiet and ignore the abuse as so many women politicians had done before her, or speak out and air her sentiments on the floor.
Ocasio-Cortez chose to speak out. Reacting to a self-serving “apology” by Yoho who used his wife and two daughters as shields, the New York congresswoman asserted: “You can be a powerful man and accost women. You can have daughters and accost women, without remorse. You can be married and accost women. You can take photos, and project an image to the world of being a family man, and accost women, without remorse, and with a sense of impunity. It happens every day in this country.”
Ocasio-Cortez said she decided to respond to Yoho’s “faux apology” because of the “implication that (he) could not or would not behave misogynistically because, after all, he had a wife and daughters.” “I am someone’s daughter, too,” she said. “I am here because I have to show my parents that I am their daughter, and they did not raise me to accept abuse from men.
“This harm that Mr. Yoho tried to levy at me was not just directed at me. When you do that to any woman, what Mr. Yoho did was give permission to other men to do that to his daughters… I am here to say, that is not acceptable.
“Treating people with dignity and respect is what makes a decent man. And when a decent man messes up, as we are all bound to do, he does apologize. Not to save face. Not to win a vote. He apologizes, genuinely, to repair and acknowledge the harm done, so that we can all move on.”
So far, no word of an apology from either Yoho or Topacio.
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