PRESIDENT-IN-WAITING Rodrigo Duterte minced no words Sunday when he called the Catholic Church the most hypocritical institution and questioned its relevance to Philippine society at a press conference Sunday.
The long-time mayor of Davao City was clearly smarting from a pastoral letter read during mass all over the country before the May 9 elections urging millions of Catholics not to vote for him.
“They campaigned against me, everybody was saying ‘Do not vote for Duterte.’ Fine. I said, let this election be a referendum between me and the Catholic Church… Look, were you able to stop me?” asked Duterte, who enjoyed a 6.2-million vote lead over his closest rival in the unofficial count, despite the last-ditch Church campaign.
Duterte then tore into the Church for what he called a long history of sins, including bishops who took mistresses, or pressured the government during the Arroyo administration into giving bishops luxury vehicles that they enjoyed, while many poor Filipinos went hungry and had no medicine.
“Aren’t you ashamed, you sons of bitches?” he said, addressing the bishops directly in Filipino.
“You asked for that during the time of Arroyo. That is graft and corruption, don’t you know that?”
Duterte also reminded the bishops of the separation of church and state, and promised to lecture them on the sins of the Catholic Church until June 29, one day before he becomes president and must speak more circumspectly.
The mayor’s outburst can be viewed from several perspectives.
On the one hand, it suggests there will be change, indeed, as Duterte promised during his campaign. Where previous presidents have genuflected to the Church and sought its blessings, the incoming 16th president is clearly averse to doing the same.
This has serious implications on how state affairs are conducted in a country where a law that establishes a rational program of reproductive health and population management was held hostage for more than a decade simply because the Catholic Church opposed birth control.
Duterte and the Church are also likely to be on a head-on collision over the death penalty, which he wants reinstated.
It was tempting at times, particularly during the campaign, to dismiss Duterte’s bombastic statements as sound bytes aimed at provoking conflict and drawing public attention to the mayor.
At least one of his remarks on Sunday, however, seemed right on target. If the last election were a referendum between Duterte and the bishops, there is no doubt which side won.
Perhaps things may yet settle down, once Duterte assumes the mantle of the presidency. But if change comes in the form of a truly secular state in which no religion, no matter how powerful or influential, can intrude on state affairs—that is change we can live with.