Philippine leader tames his words for Miss Universe hopefuls

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte greets Miss Universe contestant Catalina Caceres of Chile as Siera Bearchell of Canada, left, and Violina Ancheva of Bulgaria walk back to their seats after posing with the president during their courtesy call at Malacanang Palace Monday, Jan. 23, 2017 in Manila, Philippines. Eighty-six candidates are vying for the title in the grand coronation Jan.30 to succeed Pia Wurtzbach of the Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, center, and Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo pose with Miss Universe contestants during their courtesy call at Malacanang Palace Monday, Jan. 23, 2017 in Manila, Philippines. Eighty-six candidate are vying for the title in the grand coronation Jan. 30 to succeed Pia Wurtzbach of the Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
Miss Universe contestants, from left in foreground, Tania Dawson of New Zealand, Zoey Ivory of The Netherlands and Lizelle Esterhuizen of Namibia, walk back to their seats after posing with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, second from left in background, during their courtesy call at Malacanang Palace Monday, Jan. 23, 2017 in Manila, Philippines. Eighty-six candidate are vying for the title in the grand coronation Jan.30 to succeed Pia Wurtzbach of the Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte jokes about how tall the Miss Universe contestants are as he poses with them during their courtesy call at Malacanang Palace Monday, Jan. 23, 2017 in Manila, Philippines. Eighty-six candidate are vying for the title in the grand coronation Jan. 30 to succeed Pia Wurtzbach of the Philippines. They are, from left, Stephanie Geldhof of Belgium, Rebecca Rath of Belize, Duterte, Wanda Teo, Toursim Secretary and Antonella Moscatelli of Bolivia.(AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

MANILA, Philippines — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte delivered a speech without sex jokes and expletives Monday, telling a gathering of Miss Universe contestants that he was told to be careful with his language.

Duterte told pageant contestants at the Malacanang presidential palace he had never been in a "roomful of beautiful women," adding "I hope that this day will never end."

Eighty-six women will vie for the Miss Universe crown on Jan. 30 in Manila.

The president known for his expletives-laden impromptu speeches said he read prepared remarks for the beauty pageant contestants "because they told me that I must behave in my language, in the adjectives that I would be using to characterize or define your beauty, all of you."

Duterte, 71, has been criticized for a number of his remarks on women, including a comment in November about the length of Vice President Leni Robredo's skirt in a Cabinet meeting and a rape joke about an Australian murder victim during the presidential campaign last year.

His speech departed from routine also by not mentioning his deadly crackdown on illegal drugs. Duterte instead heaped praise on the Miss Universe aspirants and later smiled as they had several pictures taken with him.

"I must say that God is really good," he said. "Aside from the worries of governance, with all the troubles in the world, when we look at you, we forget the universe but only you."

He thanked Miss Universe officials for allowing the Philippines to host the international pageant, which he said has brought enormous pride and joy for countries of winning candidates, including the Philippines, where three winners have come from.

"More than presenting beauty and brains, the Miss Universe competition or any beauty contestant for that matter is an opportunity for you to represent your country, to promote your advocacies, and to advance women empowerment to a greater audience," Duterte said.

Left-wing activists, however, said the pageant couldn't be used to gloss over exploitation of women.

"Despite the pomp and supposed celebration of women power surrounding the 65th Miss Universe pageant, women here and abroad remain in their unglamorous and exploited state," the left-wing Rep. Emmi De Jesus said of the Gabriela party-list group.

"In the Philippines, 22 women and children are raped every day. Women workers remain concentrated in low-paying, contractual jobs. And mothers face rising budget pressure amid looming price hikes in basic commodities, power and water," she said.

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