MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte, an open critic of the Catholic church, has agreed to engage in talks with religious leaders in the country in a bid to assuage the rift between him and the Church following his controversial “stupid God” rant.
In a press briefing held in Davao City, Tuesday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. said the President ordered the formation of a four-man committee to oversee the conduct of a dialogue with the Catholic Church and other religious groups.
The committee will consist of Roque, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ernesto Abella, EDSA People Power Commission member Pastor “Boy” Saycon and Cabinet Secretary Leoncio “Jun” Evasco.
“Ang tema ng mga pag-uusap ay paano mabawasan ‘yung hidwaan sa pagitan ng gobyerno at ng simbahan (The theme of the talks is how to minimize the rift between government and the Church),” Roque said, noting that the agenda would be defined by both parties once the dialogue commences.
Roque said the President’s decision came after calls were made by different church groups, including the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEP), for government to hold talks with them.
Saycon was also asked to notify the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) of the government’s move.
CBCP president Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles welcomed the dialogue, saying it would result into goodness.
“That is most welcome development. To dialogue is to listen to one another, [and] is always good,” Valles said as quoted by Radyo Veritas, a Roman Catholic radio station owned by the Archdiocese of Manila.
Despite the attempt to talk to religious groups, Roque said Duterte would not apologize for his remarks.
He even defended Duterte’s remarks about the Church, stressing that even the Chief Executive is entitled to his own religious freedom.
Last June 22, Duterte criticized God’s logic in the Bible’s creation story, which drew the ire of many Filipinos.
“Who is this stupid God? You created something perfect and then you think of an event that would destroy the quality of your work. How can you rationalize that God? How can you believe him? So now we’re all born with an original sin. Even in the womb, we already have sin. What kind of religion is that?” he said in a speech during the opening of the 2018 National ICT Summit in Davao City.
‘A diversion,’ ‘an attempt at damage control’
ACT-Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio said Duterte’s statement was a violation of the freedom of religion.
“Patuloy na paglabag ito sa freedom of religion, sa kalayaan sa pananampalataya na ginagarantiya ng Konstitusyon at tungkulin ng Pangulo na ipatupad (This is a repeated violation of freedom of religion, of free exercise of faith that is guaranteed by the Constitution, and the duty of the President to comply)” he said.
For the progressive lawmaker, Duterte’s dialogue with religious groups was just a clear attempt at damage control.
“Mabilis naman ang Malacañang sa ganyan eh, kapag may nasabing kahindik-hindik sa publiko isang maniobra na nila palagi ‘yan na hihimas-himasin ‘yan… (Malacanang is quick about it, if it said something creepy in public, it easily does something to soothe it)” Villarin said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, for his part, pointed out that the whole issue was a mere distraction from the crumbling state of the country’s economy.
“Isang pamamaraan para i-divert ang attention ng tao sa mga issue (It’s one way to divert attention of the people from the issues),” he said.
“Sabi nga nila lalong dumami ang DDS ngayon, Dating Duterte suporter na galit na sa pangulo at nagising na sila (They say the DDS has expanded, the ‘former Duterte supporters’ who are angry now with teh President and who have awakened),” he added, as he called on the Church to confront Duterte and hold him accountable not just for his irresponsible statements but also for the extrajudicial killings and human rights violations under his watch.
Tinio also linked the President’s tirades to the slay of three priests by unknown gunmen in a span of six months.
“‘Yung mga atake niya sa Simbahan ay lumilikha ng environment kung saan for the first time, sunod-sunod na pinapatay sa simbahan pa mismo ang mga pari (His attacks on the Church have created an environment where, for the first time, there was a series of killings of priests even inside the Church),” he said.
Roque, earlier pressed whether Duterte’s criticisms of the Church could have encouraged some people to kill priests, said there was no “empirical basis” for this.
Last June 10, Fr. Richmond Nilo was shot dead by still unidentified gunmen in the Nuestra Señora de la Nieve Chapel in Zaragoza, Nueva Ecija as he was preparing for mass.
On April 29, 37-year-old Fr. Mark Ventura, an anti-mining activist and an indigenous peoples advocate, was also shot dead after celebrating a mass in Gattaran, Cagayan.
Last Dec. 5, meanwhile, 72-year-old Fr. Marcelito Paez was gunned down at Jaen town in Nueva Ecija province, hours after he facilitated the release of political prisoner Rommel Tucay in Cabanatuan City. Paez was also a known peace advocate and is pushing for the resumption of the peace talks.(davaotoday.com)