Just when you thought Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte had already ran out of bad things to say about the Catholic Church, its doctrine, and its leaders, here he comes again with another curse-laden tirade against the country’s dominant religion, this time before a gathering of Filipino Baptists.
Speaking before the celebration of the 120th anniversary of the Baptist Churches in the Philippines on Jan. 16, Duterte boasted that he had handily bested his nearest rival in the 2016 presidential race, even after cursing Pope Francis during the campaign.
Here’s what Duterte told the Baptists: “When the results of the elections came, I got seven, six million over the next (candidate). And so maybe it’s good to bullshit the bishops. It might make you win. Take it from my experience.”
Duterte pointed out that he could be the first politician to wage war against the Catholic Church and emerge the victor, judging from the way the Church and its members appeared to have chosen to remain silent amid his repeated outbursts.
“You’d notice that they’re no longer complaining even if I said (the bishops are) bullshit … they don’t respond anymore. That is how to win the war against the Catholic Church. All you have to say is ‘you sons of a whore, and you win.'”
More than a few Filipinos were shocked when the then presidential candidate, in a jocular tone, said Pope Francis caused monstrous traffic jams when he visited the Philippines earlier that year: “I wanted to call him up and tell him, ‘Pope, you (expletive deleted), go home. Do not visit here anymore.'”
This remark provoked outrage and condemnation not only from Filipinos, but also from the the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.
Church leaders roundly condemned Duterte for his outrageous rant against the pontiff, but Duterte, nonetheless, won the election by a landslide.
The Philippine president’s attacks on the Catholic Church in a predominantly Catholic nation appear not to have dented his popularity, with recent opinion polls saying that he still enjoys the trust and confidence of eight out of ten Filipinos.
Since he assumed power in July 2016, Duterte has let loose a barrage of attacks against the Catholic Church.
In one of his speeches, he accused unidentified priests of having affairs. In another, he asserted that almost 90 percent of clergymen are homosexuals, without backing up his claim.
Duterte has also described the Church as the “most hypocritical” institution in the country, claiming that it has no business criticizing his administration as members of the clergy themselves commit abuses.
During his 2016 presidential campaign, Duterte disclosed that he endured sexual molestation from an American priest when he was still a teenager studying at the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Davao University. He even named the priest in an interview in late 2015. Could this be one of the reasons that today, he harbors ill feelings towards priests and the Church as a whole?
That’s highly likely.
In a speech in June 2018, he slammed the story of Adam and Eve’s fall from grace in the Bible and the logic behind the Christian concept of original sin.
“Who is this stupid God?” he asked. “You created something perfect and then you think of an event that would destroy the quality of your work. How can you rationalize that God? How can you believe him? So now we’re all born with original sin. Even in the womb, we already have sinned. What kind of religion is that?” he said.
In another speech in Kidapawan City, Cotabato province that same year, Duterte attacked the doctrine of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
“You pray to God, then you still have to (pray) to these demon saints. There’s only one God; There’s only one God, period. You cannot divide God into three, that’s silly,” said Duterte.
Before attacking the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, Duterte belittled Jesus Christ as “unimpressive” for allowing himself to be nailed on the cross.
“Your God was crucified on the cross. (Expletive deleted). Unbelievable. I am God, and then you crucify me on to the cross?,” he said.
Two months before this, Duterte likewise belittled saints, whom he called “fools” and “drunkards.”
Perhaps one of Duterte’s most vitriolic attacks happened in early 2019, when he asked bystanders to rob and kill rich bishops. Not long after this, at least three Catholic priests, known for being outspoken against the drug-related killings in the country, claimed they received death threats.
Observers of the current situation in the Philippines believe that the Catholic Church is now bearing the brunt of Duterte’s wrath because it has time and again criticized his brutal war on drugs.
The police acknowledge that more than 6,000 alleged drug suspects have been killed in legitimate operations because they fought back. Local and international human rights groups claim, however, that no less than 20,000 have been targeted in extrajudicial killings or summary executions carried out by suspected vigilante groups that human rights groups believe are linked to security forces.
Are all of Duterte’s rants against the Church and its leaders just jokes or “playful jabs” against the Church as claimed by his spokesman?
“If the men of the cloth can unleash tirades against the president, then they should be able to receive some lashes from him to return the favor … People understand that the remarks of the president are just expressions of frustration and exasperation at some members of the clergy,” the spokesman said.
He added: “The president’s right, like any other citizen, to express his opinion or sentiments on any subject matter, cannot be restrained or impaired.”
But really now, can ordinary citizens openly speak out against the president and his policies, particularly on the war against drugs, without having to worry about security forces knocking loudly on their doors in the dead of night and pointing the business end of a 9mm pistol at their faces?
As things now stand, we obviously have not seen the last of Duterte’s tirades and threats against the Church. However, it appears that the Catholic priests who have borne the brunt of his attacks on the Church remain unperturbed. Instead, they have vowed to continue speaking out against the drug war killings because “speaking (out) against evil is our moral obligation.”
Ernesto M. Hilario writes on political and social justice issues for various publications in the Philippines.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of LiCAS.news.