Duterte, CBCP approve ‘ceasefire’

Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star
Duterte, CBCP approve �ceasefire�
President Duterte meets with Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines president and Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles at Malacañang yesterday. Looking on is the President’s special assistant Bong Go.

Bishops vow ‘critical collaboration’

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte and Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president Archbishop Romulo Valles yesterday agreed to refrain from issuing statements related to the Church in an effort to ease the tensions sparked by the Chief Executive’s controversial remarks on God.

Duterte and Valles had a private meeting at Malacañang as the President continued to weather a barrage of criticism for saying that God is “stupid” for letting temptation corrupt His work.

The meeting started at around 4 p.m. and lasted for 30 minutes, according to Duterte’s longtime aide and special assistant Christopher “Bong” Go.

“PRRD (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte) agreed to a moratorium on statements about the Church after the meeting,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in a statement.

It was not the first time Duterte vowed to be quiet on his quarrel with the Catholic Church, the religious group of more than 80 percent of Filipinos.

In a speech delivered last June 28, Duterte promised to “shut up” on his issues against the clergy and claimed he was just “shaking the tree” when he made the provocative remarks about God.

The promise, however, did not prevent Duterte from taking pot shots at the Church in his succeeding speeches.

Last week, Duterte said he would resign immediately if someone could prove that the “God” of Christians exists. He also asked religious leaders to be “neutral” when it comes to the government because of the separation of church and state.

Duterte also warned members of the clergy not to use God when criticizing him, saying he would not hesitate to cite the Supreme Being when he hits them back.

Dinner with clergy

A day before yesterday’s meeting between Duterte and Valles, Roque dined with Catholic bishops and discussed state-church relations.

Roque said he and 18 bishops attended a dinner hosted by former president and incumbent Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at her residence in La Vista, Quezon City last Sunday.

Roque said the dinner was just a “social” event but admitted that the guests talked about current issues.

“It was a social dinner although there were prayers said and there was of course a general consensus that the church and state should work together in upholding the general welfare of the people,” Roque said at a press briefing at Malacañang yesterday.

The dinner came after Duterte caught the ire of religious groups for saying that God must have been stupid for allowing temptation to corrupt his creation.

Duterte, a Roman Catholic who claimed to believe in God but not in religion, has formed a four-man committee to reach out to religious groups, including the Catholic Church, offended by his remarks.

Last June 29, Council for Philippine Affairs secretary-general Pastor Boy Saycon and Roque met with Italian Archbishop and Papal Nuncio Gabriele Giordano Caccia who, according to Malacañang emissaries, expressed support for the dialogue.

Asked if the bishops raised issues with Duterte during the dinner, Roque replied, “I would lie if I were to say no, at least one person actually brought it up, one bishop, archbishop did but there was no substantial discussion on it because everyone’s awaiting the meeting between Archbishop Valles and the President.”

Roque said he cited the common stand of Duterte and the CBCP on abortion, same-sex marriage and divorce during the dinner. The Catholic Church and Duterte are opposed to the three proposals.

Roque added that he tried to pry into the content of the CBCP pastoral letter to be issued after the bishops’ plenary assembly but failed to get any information.

“I did not get any indication on what will be in the pastoral letter. I was, however, assured that it is not Bishop (Broderick) Pabillo who will be writing the pastoral letter,” he said, referring to one of the most outspoken critics of Duterte in the religious sector.

Roque said Arroyo regularly hosts the dinner with bishops “to emphasize the need for a close relationship between the church and the state.”

The hosting only stopped when Arroyo was placed on hospital arrest in 2012 for plunder. The former president has been cleared of the charges.

Critical collaboration

Amid the attacks and differences of opinion, the CBCP yesterday gave assurance it is willing to work in critical collaboration with the Duterte administration.

At the end of its three-day 117th Plenary Assembly, the CBCP issued a two-page pastoral exhortation titled “Rejoice and Be Glad” where it mentioned that throughout history, the Catholic Church has co-existed with various forms of government and collaborated with various leaders.

It draws the line and would not compromise, however, when it comes to the core teachings of the Catholic Church.

“The Church respects the political authority, especially of democratically elected government officials, as long as they do not contradict the basic spiritual and moral principles we hold dear, such as the sacredness of life, the integrity of creation and the inherent dignity of the human person,” Valles said on behalf of the CBCP.

He also clarified that since they are neither political leaders nor political opponents, they could work with the government toward achieving a common goal – they have been partners of government units, such as the barangays or the local government, several times, especially in addressing the needs of those who are most disadvantageous in society.

“Sometimes, we qualify collaboration as ‘critical,’ mainly to distinguish our differences in terms of ultimate goals, even as we partner in some shared endeavors. Needless to say, on some specific issues, collaboration might not be possible because of our spiritual and moral beliefs, which we persistently propose, but never impose on the unwilling. In such instances, we can only invoke our right to conscientious objection,” Valles said.

The CBCP president also said they recognize the constitutional provision on the separation of church and state.

“When we speak out on certain issues, it is always from the perspective of faith and morals, especially the principles of social justice, never within any political or ideological agenda in mind,” he explained.

And for those who have called God “stupid,” Valles said “a good number of people are pained by this” but the prelates reminded the people that they should take comfort in the words of St. Paul: “For the stupidity of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”

3-day prayer, fasting, almsgiving

Meanwhile, Valles asked the faithful to observe a three-day prayer, fasting and almsgiving from July 17 to 19 and ask for God’s mercy for those who blasphemed God’s name.

“Let us spend a day of prayer and penance, invoking God’s mercy and justice on those who have blasphemed God’s Holy Name, those who slander and bear false witness and those who commit murder or justify murder as a means for fighting criminality in our country,” he said.  – With Evelyn Macairan

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