MANILA, Philippines (AP) — 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.