Aside from the drug cartels, another group that has found itself in the cross-hairs of President Rodrigo Duterte’s vitriol is the Roman Catholic Church.
Since assuming his office, Duterte has rarely spared the Clergy from his infamous foul-mouthed rants. Just earlier this month, he dubiously claimed that “90% of Catholic priests are gay”.
That followed his statement in September telling priests they “should die from venereal diseases”. In that same month, Duterte also ridiculed a Catholic priest after his church building in Benguet province collapsed – the area was ravaged by the powerful Typhoon Mangkut.
Prominent Catholic Archbishop Teodoro Bacani was also publicly shamed by Duterte, who made the claim that the former “has two wives” in a speech before the widows of slain Special Action Force (SAF) commandos. Those claims were never substantiated by the President, and it is widely suspected that his lashing-out was a response to Bacani’s constant criticism of his war on drugs.
Even before his election as President, Duterte already attacked the Catholic Church. In 2015, he gave a profanity-laden speech criticizing Pope Francis after the latter’s visit in January that year caused massive traffic jams in Manila.
Most recently, this week the President allegedly told Catholic priests present at the handing over of the historic Balangiga Bells to “remove their Roman collars” so as not to offend him. The function was the ceremonial turnover of the church bells from the United States, whose army seized the artifacts as war loot during the Philippine-American War of 1898-1901.
The reason for his emotional stance against the Roman Catholic Church? An alleged experience with sexual abuse at the hands of a priest during his time at a Catholic school.
Duterte claimed that an American Jesuit priest molested him as a schoolboy, but says he has “forgiving him” and even called the ordeal “a part of life”. It is bizarre to be nonchalant about such a traumatizing affair and yet continuously vent out anger at the Catholic institution.
If Duterte has indeed forgiven his abuser and has let go of his traumatic experience, what then is causing his frustrations with the Church?
What seems most obvious is the fact that the Catholic Church remains among the most vocal critics of the President and his cruel, hardline approach to busting crime. Bishops have loudly protested Duterte’s infamous war on drugs, the Church has also “expressed alarm” over the rise of killings perpetrated by members of the police force.
Rather than seeing the targeting of the Catholic Church by Duterte’s administration as a “war on religion”, it can be more accurately described as a “war on dissenters”.
To further prove this point, consider the religious institutions in the Philippines who have enjoyed support – rather than face criticism – from President Duterte: the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) and Pastor Apollo Quiboloy’s Kingdom of Jesus Christ (KJC).
In contrast to the Catholic Church, both the INC and KJC have been largely supportive of the President and his policy agenda. Pastor Quiboloy, the founder of KJC, even offered the use of his private jet and helicopter to Duterte – “at no cost” – during the latter’s campaign in 2016.
The Pastor and the President share an amicable friendship despite the scandal-laden past that Quiboloy has. Earlier this year, he was held in custody in the United States after cash amounting to $350,000 and an assortment of gun parts were found inside his private jet.
In October, it was revealed that the charges laid against him were more serious than previously thought. In a Hawaii court, Quiboloy faces allegations of running a child sex ring.
These heinous accusations against Quiboloy has not deterred Duterte from continuing their friendship, to date the evangelical preacher has not copped a foul-mouthed attack from the President the way that Catholic clergymen have.
Another Philippine-based sect, the Iglesia ni Cristo, also have a checkered history of violating the law themselves. In 2015, its leadership was embroiled in a massive scandal that involved the kidnapping and forced detention of their former church minister and his family, who wanted to abandon the faith.
Police raids on church properties uncovered a huge cache of firearms, enough for authorities to describe as “a sea of firearms”. The investigation yielded not just dozens of high-powered rifles but also a sizable stockpile of grenades and other explosives.
Why a religious organization would require such an opulent supply of weapons is a mystery, but the mere act of possessing such a large quantity of firearms is illegal in itself.
Despite that, Duterte remains a supporter of the INC. In February, he appointed one of the Church’s leaders – Eduardo Manalo – as a special government envoy for overseas Filipinos’ affairs.
The appointment was widely welcomed by the INC. Duterte also publicly congratulated the Church on their 103rd anniversary in 2017, and has been cordial to the institution ever since becoming President.
In August this year, President Duterte called the Catholic Church as the “most hypocritical institution”. He says this in response to the number of abuses that are perpetrated by Church officials and remain unresolved, which is a fair point to make.
However, Duterte’s anger at the Catholic Church for the injustices they commit reeks of hypocrisy itself. How can he be critical of one abusive religious institution, but not of others?
If the President is indeed making a principled stance of attacking religion and its wrongdoings, he needs to make it a point to lambaste any and all faith-based institutions that do commit grievous sins.
Two two big religious groups supporting him, the INC and KJC, are not full of saints themselves either. The respective scandals that both organizations faced in recent years have remained unresolved, and yet they do not receive the same opprobrium that Duterte dishes out on the Catholic Church.
This blatant double standard in Duterte’s so-called “war on religion” should make us re-evaluate the true motivations for the President’s antagonism: is this an attack on the excesses of religious dogma, or those who dare blaspheme against President Duterte himself?