Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has once again come into direct conflict with Roman Catholics in his region. Despite 80 percent of his constituency claiming to adhere to Catholicism, President Duterte has recently — and historically — made public disparaging remarks about his unbelief. There are Christians, namely Protestants in the region and the Iglesio Ni Cristo, who continue to support him despite his anti-religious rhetoric. However, there is massive resistance on the part of the Roman Catholic Church. After Duterte’s speech on June 22, they expressed their displeasure by releasing a statement intended for youth in order to reaffirm the Church’s doctrines. Even the Philippine Council for Evangelical Churches commented on Friday’s speech, asking that Duterte “refrain from issuing insulting statements against the Christian faith.”
In his speech, Duterte referenced the creation story in Genesis. Questioning why God made man and allowed him to fall into temptation, he said, “Who is this stupid God? This son of a b***** is then really stupid.” He went on to say that the very concept of original sin was a “very stupid proposition.”
Several opposition senators had something to say about Duterte’s statements. Senator Panfilo Lacson, formally a supporter of Duterte, felt he had no choice but to defend God. “I pray every single day…I’ve found solace and comfort in all my difficult times, I don’t even have to think of my choice,” said Lacson in a press release. In a similar statement, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV maintained that “It [was] the height of arrogance of power not only to disrespect and spit on an individual’s faith but also to act as though he is God.”
Bishops within the Roman Catholic Church had similar reactions. UCanNews.com reported that Bishop Arturo Bastes said “Duterte’s tirade against God and the Bible reveals that he is a psychological freak, a psychopath, an abnormal mind who should not have been elected president of our Christian nation.” Bishop Rupero Santos was much milder in his word selection, but he agreed the speech delivered had “crossed a line.”
This is, sadly, not the first time that Duterte has taken aim at the general Church and, specifically, Roman Catholics. When the pope came to visit in 2015, Duterte cursed Pope Francis because of how much traffic his arrival caused. He accused priests of hypocrisy because he believed they had affairs with women. In April, an uprising occurred when the president tried to deport an Australian nun for protesting lethal violence against criminals. At one point, he even said the Roman Catholic Church was “full of s***”, pointing to the supposed corruption of the clergy.
The Roman Catholic Church has showcased their disapproval for the way Duterte practices politics. The Church organized a rally to bring attention to priests who were being killed as a reaction to the president’s vehement words against Christianity. They also spearheaded a campaign against Duterte’s handling of drug dealers, leaving many dead at the hands of law enforcement. In an attempt to make the president answer for his egregious crimes against society, churches offered protection to those who testified.
Needless to say, tensions were running high before the speech was given last Friday. Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque has tried to sooth ruffled feathers by explaining that the president has a right to his own religious viewpoints. Nevertheless, he, too, recognized the situation between the two parties needs to diffuse. In light of this, Roque announced, on June 26, that a panel has been created within the government to mediate the relations between church and state. “We know that there is a separation of the powers of church and state,” Roque explained, “but the president thought it was wise to open our doors to dialogue.”