A look at the Church's 'tirades' vs Duterte
In this 2017 file photo, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, CBCP president at the time, reads a statement against the drug war.
CBCP photo

A look at the Church's 'tirades' vs Duterte

Ryan Macasero (Philstar.com) - January 16, 2019 - 2:33pm

MANILA, Philippines — Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said last week to justify President Rodrigo Duterte's rants against the Catholic Church that "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."

It is unclear what tirades Panelo was referring to but the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines — an assembly of Church leaders — has officially only addressed Duterte directly once.  That was in 2015, when the Davao mayor was running for president. 

The statement was in response to Duterte cursing Pope Francis over gridlock in Metro Manila triggered by his visit to the Philippines.

READ: Bishops slam Duterte for cursing Pope Francis

Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, who was president of the CBCP at the time, responded to this in a statement titled “Mayor Duterte?” 

“Vulgarity is corruption. When we find vulgarity funny, we have really become beastly and barbaric as a people,” he said.

“When a revered and loved and admired man like Pope Francis is cursed by a political candidate and the audience laughs, I can only bow my head and grieve in great shame. My countrymen has gone to the dregs.”

He ended the statement by asking: “Is this the leadership by example that Mayor Duterte excites in us? Is this the leadership by example that makes a public official deserving of the title 'Honorable'? I grieve for my country....!”

Only on rare occasions does the CBCP address politicians directly. 

While official statements are normally uploaded on the website and are signed off by the CBCP’s president, this one was only posted on Villegas’ official Facebook page. 

When asked by news site Rappler at the time if he was speaking for himself, Villegas said he was speaking “as CBCP president.” CBCP members may speak their opinions on certain issues on their own, but only statements signed by its president reflect the episcopal conference's official position.

Prior to this statement, the CBCP only addressed one other president when it condemned the results of the February 1986 snap election as fraudulent.

Although they did not name late dictator Ferdinand Marcos — who was named winner in the election —  in the statement, they alluded that power assumed “through fraudulent means has no moral basis.”

READ: Don't be offended by Duterte comments on beliefs, Catholics told

CBCP's positions on government policy

Duterte, who was about to begin his campaign for the presidency at the time, did not reply to Villegas’ statements immediately. 

A scan of the CBCP's website show that while they do not criticize Duterte directly, they do issue official statements on where the church stands on his administration’s policies and legislative agenda. 

For example, in January 2017, the CBCP urged Congress not to lower the age of criminal liability, and in March that same year, they condemned the House of Representatives’ vote to restore the death penalty.

While Duterte often repeats his distaste for the Catholic Church is due to alleged sexual abuse by a priest when he was younger, it was only in the beginning of January 2017 when he began to step up his attacks on the Church due to its criticism of the drug war and his human rights record. 

“The church right now is asserting its influence, that’s why in the coming months the church will be at the forefront in leading against extrajudicial killings,” said Fr. Jerome Secillano, the CBCP’s public affairs chief to reporters in January 2017.

READ: Bishops issue strongest statement vs Duterte's drug war

Attacks on the Church

In 2018, attacking the Church has become a part of almost every public speech of the president. 

He has accused bishops of living luxurious lifestyles, womanizing, corruption, among other accusations.

In November 2018, Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles, the current CBCP president, issued a statement defending Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, an outspoken critic of the drug war, whom Duterte had accused of stealing donations and of using drugs.

RELATED: 'I don't even take maintenance drugs': Bishop hits back at Duterte

The statement did not mention the accusations directly, nor did it name Duterte in the statement.

While Duterte has vowed to continue his attacks on the church until it "corrects itself," Panelo said he is open to dialogue with the church, which Senate President Vicente Sotto III offered to facilitate.

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