'The president is easy to talk to,' insists spokesman
A government spokesman said Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is open to dialogue with the country’s bishops, after the president recently suggested that citizens of the country kill the Church leaders.
Tensions have increased between Duterte and the bishops as Church leaders have continued to condemn the president’s brutal war on drugs. Since Duterte’s rise to power in 2016, thousands of people have reportedly died in extrajudicial killings.
In a speech on Dec. 5, Duterte said people should “kill and steal” from Catholic bishops, stating “this stupid bunch serve no purpose – all they do is criticize,” according to UCA News.
Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon and Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga condemned the statement, describing the comments as dangerous and inappropriate remarks that cannot be dismissed as an attempt at humor.
“Again, his mouth has uttered absolutely silly things! And his ‘fans’ consider his murderous words as a mere joke! Is it a joke to advise people to kill?” said Bastes, according to Philstar.
“It is no longer funny and does not deserve laughs or applause from audiences but condemnation. The advice just promotes criminality, encourages lawlessness. What kind of authority that calls for killing?” said Santos.
Salvador Panelo, Duterte’s lawyer and spokesman, responded to the bishops on Jan. 13. He said the president was open to conversation with the Catholic leaders, according to UCA News.
“[Duterte] is up for talks, if that’s what [the bishops] are asking for,” said Panelo. “Anything that is beneficial to the nation, the president is easy to talk to.”
Vicente Sotto III, president of the Philippine Senate, has offered to mediate a discussion between Duterte and the Church leaders, noting that the tension between the parties has citizens in the largely Catholic country worried.
Duterte has a history of criticizing the Catholic Church. He has called the bishops “idiots” and “sons of wh-res” and told the people that they should stay at home and pray rather than attending church services.
According to the president’s spokesman, the context for Duterte’s insults is the sexual abuse he underwent in Catholic school. Duterte has said he was molested by Fr. Mark Falvey, SJ, who has been accused posthumously of serially sexually abusing children. In May 2007, the California province of the Society of Jesus reached a $16 million settlement with at least some of his victims.
Duterte has been accused of “social cleansing” for his bloody war on drugs in the country. The country’s bishops offered to provide sanctuary for any whistleblowers in the Philippine police department who spoke out against various human rights abuses. In response, Duterte said the Church was “full of sh-t.”