January 23, 2017 / 12:30 PM / 9 months ago

No swearing as Philippine leader sweet talks Miss Universe hopefuls

MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte delivered a speech without his usual swearing on Monday, telling dozens of Miss Universe contestants they should advance the empowerment of women.

The firebrand leader normally makes rambling, off-the-cuff speeches peppered with curses and threats to kill criminals. He has insulted several world leaders, calling both former U.S. President Barack Obama and Pope Francis “son of a bitch”.

But he was on his best behavior on Monday, welcoming more than 80 Miss Universe contestants to the presidential palace in the capital, Manila. The Philippines will on Jan. 30 host the pageant for the third time.

“I usually do not read my speeches, I‘m not up to it really, but this time ... they told me that I must behave in my language,” he told the women.

Duterte’s critics have accused him of being sexist and disrespectful towards women. On one occasion, he commented publicly about the length of the vice president’s skirt and her knees.

Philippine Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo (2nd-R) and Miss Universe candidate from Belize Rebecca Rath look at Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte as other candidates pose for photographers at the presidential palace in Manila, Philippines January 23, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

He was widely condemned during his election campaign for making a boorish comment about the rape and murder of an Australian woman missionary in 1989.

On Monday, he urged the contestants to use the pageant to “advance women empowerment to a greater audience”.

Slideshow (4 Images)

“This is chance for you to make an impact, to inspire change, and even be the change that you wish to see in the world,” he said.

The reigning Miss Universe is Filipina-German Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach, the third winner from the Philippines.

The competition’s live broadcast on Jan. 30 is expected to draw half a billion viewers worldwide, organizers have said.

U.S. President Donald Trump sold the Miss Universe Organization to an agency called WME/IMG in 2015.

Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz; Editing by Robert Birsel

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