METRO Manila Development Authority Chairman Francis Tolentino announced his resignation Wednesday, few days after he came under fire for doing nothing to stop a female dance group from simulating sex acts on stage after a Liberal Party event in Laguna.
He also asked the Liberal Party to drop his name from its senatorial lineup for the 2016 elections, but in the Palace, President Benigno Aquino III praised Tolentino’s character and track record and said he was a follower of his “straight path” policy.
For the first time, Tolentino offered a public apology over the lewd dance performed by the group Playgirls, who were said to be his “surprise gift” to Laguna 4th District Rep. Benjamin Agarao during his 58th birthday party on Oct. 1. He did not admit to inviting the dancers to the party, however.
“My apologies to the women’s group because of [what] happened in Sta. Cruz, Laguna. I made a mistake and allowed that to happen,” Tolentino said during the inauguration of a new Pasig River commuter boat at the Guadalupe Station in Makati.
Tolentino also apologized to Agarao, the Liberal Party, its standard bearer Manuel Roxas II, and his own mother.
“I was not able to control or stop the incident that I believe has been seen by millions of people every day,” Tolentino said in Filipino, referring to video footage of the lewd dance that has propagated on the Internet.
Agarao’s birthday bash at his residence on Oct. 1 followed an oathtaking ceremony of new Liberal Party members. Roxas, who administered the oath, had left the area before the lewd dance began.
During the program, the emcee acknowledged Tolentino as the one who sponsored the dancers.
Tolentino, who only recently announced his intention to run for the Senate in 2016, denied he had brought the women, saying he was just a guest at Agarao’s party.
Agarao backed Tolentino’s story but refused to say who invited the Playgirls.
Civil society groups have filed a consolidated complaint against Tolentino before the Office of the Ombudsman for violating the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, and the Magna Carta of Women.
The groups said the MMDA chief failed to abide by the ethical standards for public officials who “should not show disrespect against anyone, respect the rights of others and refrain from acts contrary to law, good morals, good customs, public policy, public order, public safety and public interest.”
People on social media denounced what they saw on the video footage and photos from the party that were uploaded by unidentified persons.
“We cannot simply dismiss this incident. The LP was obviously taking cues from a rotten system of politics that the ruling classes maintain,” said Gabriela Rep. Emmi de Jesus.
She also expressed her disappointment at Tolentino’s absence during Tuesday’s hearing for his agency’s 2016 budget.
“We would have wanted to hear an explanation straight from Chairman Tolentino on the incident. We fear that the Gender and Development Fund of the MMDA is going to waste.”
De Jesus also warned that those running for public office against using women in lewd and raunchy shows for entertainment during the campaign. “Those using guns, goons gold and girls in their campaign clearly have no platform to deliver for their constituencies and will be rejected,” she said.
In the Palace, Aquino noted that Tolentino had apologized but praised the MMDA chief, who has been roundly criticized for failing to ease traffic congestion in Metro Manila in the last five years.
“Today, MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino spoke on the recent incident connected to him. He has accepted responsibility for it. With this, he has likewise decided to withdraw as a senatorial candidate of the administration,” Aquino said in a statement.
“In all his years of public service, from the time he was appointed by my mother as officer in charge of Tagaytay City in 1986 to his participation in the reform agenda as a member of my Cabinet, Francis demonstrated the dedication and dynamic leadership of a public servant committed to the common good. It is this same commitment that encouraged him to set his sights towards serving our people in a higher capacity,” said Aquino.
“Francis is a firm advocate of Daang Matuwid. He knows that, at present, those who oppose meaningful reform will want to exploit the incident. I believe that Chairman Tolentino is doing his part to ensure that public debate truly focuses on the continuation of Daang Matuwid and the undeniable benefits it has brought to our bosses,” the President said.
“It is also my belief that he will take the opportunity to further reflect on how he can better affect positive change in the future,” Aquino said.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda welcomed Tolentino’s statement.
“It is a recognition of valid concerns of the women’s sector and, moving forward, it is also a reminder to all those who are participating in the political process of the need to be always be mindful of how we treat... the dignity of everyone including the womenfolk,” Lacierda said.
“What happened in Laguna does not define Chairman Francis Tolentino and it should not define what he has done for us as chairman of the MMDA,” Lacierda said.
At the same time, Lacierda denied reports that Tolentino was asked to leave the LP senatorial slate.
Aquino has said the LP will name its 12 senatorial candidates on Friday, Oct. 9.
At the Office of the Ombudsman, representatives from labor groups filed a complaint against Tolentino, charging him with violating the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, and the Magna Carta for Women.
“Women, in the persons of the ‘Playgirls’ were completely discriminated by allowing them to portray an obscene show in public, which is scandalous, contrary to good morals, good customs, public policy and public interest,” the 10-page complaint read.
“Public officials and employees behaving with decency and in pursuing good morals, good customs and sensitivity, should not incite, encourage or tolerate acts that appeal to prurient interest or those that are deemed dirty and intended to arouse sexual cravings more particularly in public event and setting.”
In Congress, the Gabriela women’s group sought an investigation into the incident, urging the House committees on women and gender equality and good government and public accountability look into the use of women as sexual objects during political gatherings. With Rio N. Araja and Maricel V. Cruz