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Don’t tell us to keep out of politics, say bishops as Philippines elects new President

Archbishop Socrates Villegas (AP)

The head of the Philippines bishops’ conference said they would not stop “interfering” in the country’s politics, as millions of Filipinos elected as president the firebrand Rodrigo Duterte.

In a May 9 pastoral letter, issued as votes were being counted, Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, bishops’ conference president, said: “Several critical, even spiteful, voices have asked us to desist from “interfering” in politics. We cannot.”

During the campaign, Duterte, 71, a former city mayor running on the promise to kill the country’s criminals in his first six months in office, had told the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines to stop criticising his ways.

In a letter before the election, the bishops asked Filipinos not to support a candidate “whose speech and actions, whose plans and projects shows scant regard for the rights of all, who has openly declared indifference, if not dislike and disregard for the Church especially her moral teachings”.

In his election-night letter, Archbishop Villegas said: “It would be a denial of Christ’s universal lordship were we to desist from reminding his disciples of what fidelity to him – in all things, including political life – demands.”

The archbishop said the church was praying for wisdom and discernment of God’s will for those who won office. He said they should remember that God had a hand in their victories and that God calls public officials “to service and to care for the weakest and the most distressed in our midst,” particularly children in need and exploited women.

“The greatest promise the church can offer any government is vigilant collaboration, and that offer, we make now. We will urge our people to work with the government for the good of all, and we shall continue to be vigilant so that every so often we may speak out to teach and to prophesy, to admonish and to correct – for this is our vocation,” the letter said.

Last year, Duterte said he was annoyed that Pope Francis’s visit had delayed traffic, and wanted to tell him: “Pope, son of a whore, go home. Don’t visit anymore.” In January, the mayor sent the pope a letter, to which a legate replied that the pope would pray for Duterte and invoke on him “divine blessings of wisdom and peace.”