Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who has earned a reputation for incendiary rhetoric, drew widespread condemnation on Saturday after saying that he sexually abused his housemaid when he was a teenager – despite his office later claiming it was a joke, The New York Times reported.

Duterte, 73, recounted the supposed incident during a speech to local officials, saying he first confessed the act to a Catholic priest.

Duterte said he entered his housemaid’s bedroom, “lifted the blanket,” and “tried to touch what was inside the panties” but left the room after she woke up.

The episode was included in Duterte’s speech which was largely devoted to criticizing the Catholic church for its own sexual abuses. But Duterte’s comments were condemned as “symptomatic” of Philippine’s “entrenched sexism and patriarchal culture.”

“The Maniac in Malacanang has proved that he had no qualms violating the rights of women,” Joms Salvador, the secretary general of Gabriela, a women’s rights group, told The Times.

Duterte spokesman Salvador Panelo merely wrote off the president’s comments as a “laughable anecdote to dramatize.”

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