The country’s Catholic bishops are against his policies
Salvador Panelo, the Philiippine presidential spokesperson, said on January 14 that President Rodrigo Duterte continues to be open to a dialogue with the establishment Catholic Church even though the former constantly attacks the Catholic faith and its Filipino leadership. Duterte has even suggested in recent times that Filipinos could kill church leaders if they wanted to.
The tension between Filipino church leaders and Duterte has risen in recent times. The church authorities continue to condemn the brutal war on drugs the Duterte government is engaged in. From the time he came to power, it is estimated that thousands of ordinary individuals have been killed through extrajudicial methods since 2016. The Philippine president, during his December 5 speech, said people can steal from the Catholic Church and even kill bishops, reportedly saying “this stupid bunch serve no purpose – all they do is criticize.”
Panelo has assured the church that President Duterte is open to any dialogue which could be deemed as beneficial to the Philippines. Other politicians have also joined in the fray. Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III told the media on January 14 he would volunteer to be a mediator between the church and Duterte. The Catholic lawmaker said ordinary Filipinos are “uneasy” with the simmering dispute between the church and Duterte.
The Philippine President has been long accused by his critics, especially the church, of “social cleansing” for his war against drugs in the Philippines. Filipino bishops had offered sanctuary for all Philippine police department whistleblowers who are against human rights abuses.
Bishops Ruperto Santos and Arturo Bastes of Balanga and Sorsogon respectively condemned the presidential statement, stating that such comments are dangerous and it is not possible for the inappropriate comments to be dismissed as a humor attempt.
Duterte has a long history of fiercely criticizing the Philippine Catholic church. He has termed bishops “idiots” and told the Filipino population that they should stay inside their homes and pray rather than attending any church service. As per Panelo, President Duterte's insults should be taken in context. The present elected leader of the country was once sexually assaulted when he studied in Catholic school. According to Duterte, Fr. Mark Falvey, SJ, molested him in school. The priest was later accused of sexually abusing children after his death. Things were so bad that a million dollar settlement was reached between the church of Society of Jesus in California and a few victims.