Philippine Catholic Clergy Say They've Received Death Threats

President Duterte has exhibited hostility towards Catholic clergy.

Rodrigo Duterte, the President of the Philippines, had made no efforts to conceal his loathing when it comes to the institution of the Catholic Church. His verbal animosity has only risen in recent times, with the Philippines getting ready for the near midterm election. For those familiar with Filipino politics, Duterte has always been against the Catholic Church. This state of affairs has only increased from the time he ascended to the presidency in 2016. It did not help that church leaders have unequivocally condemned the Duterte administration’s violence-ridden crackdown on the country’s illegal drug trade that has left a significant number, running into thousands, slaughtered in extrajudicial killings.

President Duterte has alleged that an overwhelming 90 percent of Filipino Catholic priests are “homosexual” and those who are not have secretively engaged in sexual conduct with women. He termed bishops “greedy” and even urged Filipino citizens to “rob” and murder Catholic Church officials. The president has also made several efforts to institute the death penalty in the Philippines.

Salvador Panelo, who is President Duterte’s spokesperson and chief legal counsel, assured that the president’s anti-clergy fulminations must not be taken at their literal values. The spokesperson termed them as merely “jokes” and flourishes of hyperbole. The Catholic Church in the Philippines, however, is not in any mood to take it as a joke. Five priests and bishops have claimed they have received death threats for earlier sharply criticizing the Duterte regime. They argue that the presidential policies have unfairly targeted the country’s urban poor while leaving the king-pin drug lords almost untouched. One of the clergy members who received death threats was Albert Alejo, who other than being a priest is also a social anthropologist teaching at prestigious Ateneo de Manila University. He claimed to bear the receiving end of many death calls from February and abusive text messages.

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency spokesperson, Derrick Carreon, said Duterte-authorized drug busting operations have led to the extra-judicial killings of 5,281 individuals from their inception in 2016. According to Human Rights Watch, the number is a misleading one and does not include almost 23,000 Filipinos who police claim met their end at the hands of vigilantes or unidentified gunmen. The president flatly denies such an occurrence and mocks the defenders of human rights by pledging he will broaden the war on drugs he claims are making the island country “insane.”

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