As more bishops bash Duterte, Palace tells Church not to meddle in state's affairs

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 17 2019 03:10 PM | Updated as of Jan 17 2019 03:40 PM

MANILA - Malacañang on Thursday urged Catholic bishops not to meddle in the affairs of the state, as more prelates have come out to condemn President Rodrigo Duterte’s violent rhetoric towards the members of the clergy.

At least 3 bishops have publicly criticized Duterte for suggesting that bishops should be killed, and for seeking to invalidate Catholic doctrines.

Balanga Bishop Ruperto Santos said Duterte’s presidency is a disgrace to the country, while Novaliches Bishop Emeritus Teodoro Bacani challenged the President to roam the streets without security escorts.

The latest to score Duterte was the outspoken Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, who said he is more worried that the President’s attacks on the Catholic Church will impact him more than affect the religious institution.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said going by Villegas’ argument, the members of the clergy should therefore not be affected by the President’s tirades.

“They should not be concerned, alarmed, or angry at any tirade against the Church, because as he correctly says, it has been there for thousands of years, so it is entrenched, so di maapektuhan. So bakit sila magrereact?” Panelo said in a Palace press briefing.

Panelo said the bishops are free to express their minds but they should avoid criticizing the government.

“If you are men of the cloth ang talagang trabaho mo eh talagang spiritual awakening sa mga faithfuls. Huwag mo nang pakialaman ang estado with respect sa mga methods na ginagawa ng estado para sa kabutihan ng bayan,” he said.

The Catholic Church has demonstrated its influence over Philippine society over the last four centuries, and since 1985, it has been instrumental in the ouster of two presidents, Ferdinand Marcos and Joseph Estrada.

But since Duterte assumed office in mid-2016, the Catholic church's influence has been tested in the face of the tough-talking leader’s relentless attacks against the institution.

Since assuming the presidency, the President has made the Church one of his favorite punching bags, slamming it for criticizing his policies, such as the controversial war on drugs and his push for the death penalty.

Born and raised a Catholic, Duterte has accused the Church of hypocrisy, saying it has no right to criticize his policies since it has yet to discipline members of the clergy who committed abuses.

Malacañang has repeatedly defended the President’s violent rhetoric towards members of the clergy, saying it was just his way of conveying his message. It has also expressed dissatisfaction with priests and bishops “using the pulpit” to criticize the President.

Tense exchanges between Duterte and some prelates have continued despite a July 2018 meeting between the President and his fellow Davaoeño, Archbishop Romulo Valles, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines.

Panelo said the President remains open to talks with the Church hierarchy, after Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he was willing to mediate between the two sides.