Barbs and the Bible: The continuing clashes between Duterte and Bishop David

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — In July 2016, Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David shared on his Facebook page that he celebrated the mass inside the Caloocan district jail, where 1,400 were being held in facilities designed for just 120.

He said that he learned from the jail warden that most of the detainees are involved in drug-related cases. “One of my ardent wishes is to be able to establish in the diocese a rehabilitation center for people with addiction,” David said then.

President Rodrigo Duterte, who was catapulted to electoral victory  on a promise of a ruthless war against illegal drugs and criminality, has since taken the helm of the nation.

In February 2017, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines issued a strongly-worded pastoral letter that was read in church services to remind the Catholic faithful that “[killing] is considered as normal, and, even worse, something that needs to be done."

"To consent and keep silent in front of evil is to be an accomplice to it. If we neglect drug addicts and pushers, we have become part of the drug problem," the pastoral letter read.

Duterte, who has been openly critical of the Catholic Church and its officials—including Pope Francis—has recently trained his crosshairs on David, a vocal critic of the government's approach to the country's drug problem.

Here is a list of some of the times the two have butted heads and exchanged words.

Alleged involvement in illegal drugs

Duterte's freshest attack against the bishop of Caloocan happened on Monday night in Davao City.

In a speech, Duterte remarked: "I’m telling you, David. Nagdududa nga ako bakit sige ikot ‘yan ng gabi. Nagduda tuloy ako p***** i** nasa droga ka (I am puzzled as to why you always go out at night. I suspect, son of a b****, you are into illegal drugs).”

READ: After donation theft slur, Duterte now says he thinks Bishop David into drugs

David was quick to deny the accusation and said that he, thankfully, does not even need to take maintenance drugs. He says he only takes vitamins with a fruitshake in the morning.

"Into drugs? No sir, I'm not into drugs of any sort, whether legal or illegal. Never been. I only help in rehabilitating people addicted to drugs," the bishop said. 

Stealing people’s donations

Duterte, in a speech last week, said that a certain “Bishop David” has been stealing church donations and giving them to his family.

The president, in a speech in Tanza, Cavite, said: “Alam mo sa totoo lang, sabihin ko sa inyo, iyong mga offerings, iyong mga pinya, avocado, saging, saan napupunta yan? Gusto nyong malaman? Gusto niyo ng video? Ibigay ko sa inyo. Doon sa pamilya niya.”

(If you want to know the truth, I'll tell you. The offerings, the pineapples, avocados, bananas? Do you know where those go? Do yuo want to know? Do you want it on video? I will give it to you. They go to his family.)

“Ikaw, David, tumahimik ka ha. Sige ka lang hingi ng contribution diyan sa mga… Saan ang pera ng mga tao? Ang g*** sige lang hingi, may second collection pa,” Duterte said.

(You, David, should shut up. You're always asking for contributions... Where is the people's money? This fool is always asking. There is even a second collection.)

While the president did not specifically name the Caloocan prelate, David said on Facebook: “I am the only Bishop David in the CBCP.”

He added: “You see, people who are sick sometimes do not know what they are talking about, so we should just bear with them.”

READ: Bishop Pablo Virgilio David says Duterte mistook him for someone else

All Saints' Day

Duterte mocked the Catholics’ tradition of All Saints' Day, and said in jest that the Church should just recognize him as a patron saint instead of observing the holiday.

“These f*cking Catholics, why do they observe All Souls’ Day and All Saints’ Day? We don’t even know who those saints are. Who are those stupid saints? They’re just drunkards,” Duterte said in a mix of English and Filipino.

David, in reply, encouraged the faithful to pray for the "sick."

“I think it should obvious to people by now that our country is being led by a very sick man. We pray for him. We pray for our country,” he added.

“There’s nothing new about our saints being called ‘fools and drunkards.’ St. John the Baptist was even called ‘devil-possessed.’ Jesus himself was called a ‘glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners,’” David also said.

EJK victims will go to heaven

In one of his speeches in August, the president made light of the thousands of lives—the government has acknowledged the deaths of more than 4,900 while human rights groups have higher estimates—taken away in the government's brutal war against drugs.

“God promised me all extrajudicial killing victims will go to heaven, iyan ang hiningi ko sa Dios. Sabi naman ng Dios, ‘pwede, pwede," he said then.

(That’s what I asked from God and God said, it can be done, it can be done.)

David stressed that even as the president meant it in jest, the deaths are definitely "not funny."

"And I think anyone who laughs at such a joke must be as sick as the joker himself," he added. 

Duterte's jokes are often met with laughter from the crowd, whether they are Overseas Filipino Workers, business executives, or government officials. Salvador Panelo, the president's spokesman has even used that to justify the president's controversial remarks.

RELATED: Palace on Duterte's comment on saints: People laughed, weren't offended

The Catholic bishop shared: "I asked the widowed wife of an EJK victim how she felt about the joke. She did not laugh. She said, in reply: 'Salamat po sa inilunsad niyang rehab center. Puwede po bang iparehab doon ang asawa kong na-EJK?'"

 (Thank you for the newly inaugurated rehab center. Can I have my dead husband [an EJK victim] rehabilitated there?)

'Your concern is human rights, mine is human lives'

In his shortest SONA yet, Duterte accused human rights advocates of lashing out at the administration and law enforcers over the killings but failing to direct their protest against “drug-lordism” and drug trade.  

“Your concern is human rights, mine is human lives,” the chief executive said, using an oft-repeated but inaccurate dichotomy that support for human rights is support for crime suspects.

But David said that Duterte's statement implied that those killed in the government's war against drugs are "not human lives."

“Isn’t it obvious that they are also victims, and that they also need to be saved, not killed? The fight against illegal drugs must indeed be Relentless, but the Killings—either by the Police or by Masked vigilantes—must be stopped! This will remain as our Stubborn and Relentless Plea,” David added.

RELATED: Groups hit Duterte’s remark on human rights during SONA

The Bible's creation story

Duterte, in June, criticized the creation story in the Bible, particularly the part when the serpent tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, which she later gave to Adam.

Duterte called God “stupid” for allowing temptation to destroy His work.

The Caloocan bishop replied that “the criticisms made by the president are his own interpretation of the Bible. That is not how the Catholic Church teaches Catholics.”

“I am sure that is not taught in the catechism by our religious education teachers in Ateneo (de Davao University) and San Beda (University),” David added, referring to schools the president has attended.

READ: Bishops: 'Duterte’s tirades on God his own interpretations'

Kian delos Santos case

One of David's earliest and strongly-worded criticsm is when police recorded one of its bloodiest weeks in August 2017.

Among those slain in police’s anti-narcotics operations is17-year-old Kian Loyd Delos Santos who was merely closing his parents’ shop.

 “I don’t know of any law in any civilized society that says a person deserves to die because he or she is a ‘drug suspect,’” David said in a report from CBCP News.

David also said: “You might be surprised to find your name in the list one of these days. Anyone can be listed as a ‘drug suspect.’”

The Caloocan court Presiding Judge Rodolfo Azucena Jr. terminated the trial on August 30, and set the promulgation of the court’s decision on November 29.

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