MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte is not bullying the Catholic Church or its bishops, his spokesman said Monday, adding that raising questions on Christian beliefs does not make one anti-Christ.
The President last week dubbed the Christian concept of the Holy Trinity as "silly", saying one "cannot divide God into 3." Duterte previously mocked the Bible's story of creation and Christ's last supper.
"When you say anti-Christ, you go against the teachings of Christ... When the President gives specific instances of wrongs by a particular church or the followers, then those acts are anti-Christ," Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo told ANC.
"But when you question doctrines, it doesn't mean you're anti-Christ. You're questioning the concept and it's for you to explain to the non-believer," he added.
Panelo said Duterte's comments against the Church are part of "intellectual discourse."
"I cannot even understand why people in the Church will be offended by this. When certain people question your doctrines, it is your job to explain, to justify. I will not call it abusive. I will call it intellectual discourse, questioning the validity of certain doctrines of your religion," he said.
The President, he added, is not bullying the Church.
"When you say bully, you create fear, you intimidate people... You do that to defenseless people. The Church is not defenseless. It is in fact an authority on certain doctrines and it can defend itself," he reasoned.
Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, in an open letter to his godson last week, advised caution against anti-Christs who call God stupid, use foul language and drugs, make fun of women, and mock priests.
The former president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines did not name anyone in his letter, but Duterte in separate instances last year called God stupid and said bishops are better off dead.
The President has also drawn ire for supposed misogynist comments and frequent cursing.