MANILA - Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr., a former rebel priest, is the newest addition to a 4-man panel that will hold a dialogue with leaders of the Catholic Church, Malacañang said Thursday.
President Rodrigo Duterte formed the committee as he sought to mend ties with the institution and other Christian groups, after his controversial remark calling God "stupid."
"He (Evasco) is an ex-priest himself and is familiar with the dogma of the Catholic Church," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a press briefing.
The government panel hopes to meet with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) next week, said Roque.
"The end goal is for both institutions to work together to serve society in general… We want closer cooperation not just in dogmas," he said.
"We want closer cooperation in the fields of anti-drugs, of reducing poverty, on land reform, on issues that affect human beings which both the Church and the state should be involved in," he added.
The President previously branded the Catholic Church as the "most hypocritical institution," while some CBCP leaders have denounced Duterte's anti-narcotics drive.
As the Duterte administration enters its second year, the President hopes that "the elections would have been forgotten and that he would have already been accepted even by those that did not vote or endorse him as president," said Roque.
Roque is also a member of the dialogue committee, together with political strategist and self-proclaimed civic leader Pastor “Boy” Saycon, and Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ernesto Abella.