Controversial Davao city Mayor Rodrigo Duterte nearly committed a terrible mistake by picking up a big and meshy fight with the Philippines’ influential Catholic church.
This morning, he apologized to the Catholic church for cursing Pope Francis on Nov. 30 in a public speech for causing massive traffic jams in Manila during the pontiff’s visit to the Philippines in January this year.
However, both sides have already traded quick punches against each other before Duterte issued his apology — after presumably being warned by his advisers that a bitter war against the Catholic church could mean a quick end to his presidential ambition.
Responding to Duterte’s unwarranted attack on the Pope, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the most senior leader of the Catholic church in the Philippines, issued a statement denouncing the Davao city mayor’s disparaging remarks toward the Pope and questioning his credentials and fitness to become the next president of the country. His statement that was widely disseminated by the media can be read in this web link — http://www.cbcpnews.com/cbcpnews/?p=68684
Villegas is currently president of the influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBC P). Retired archbishop and former CBCP president Oscar Cruz also denounced Duterte and described him as “dangerous” to have as the country’s next leader. He added the country has already seen and experienced what it was like to live under a dictator and he wondered if Filipinos will want to live under another dictatorship — in apparent reference to Duterte.
Stung by quick tirades from Catholic church leaders, Duterte slammed Catholic church leaders for keeping quiet and failing to take actions against priests and other members of the church who have sexually abused minors or had children out of wedlock from parishioners. Duterte also threatened to reveal the name of a member of the religious who allegedly abused him sexually, together with other boys, while he was studying at Ateneo de Davao.
Until last night, Duterte was gearing up for a big war with the Catholic church, attacking the latter for deviant sexual abuses of some of its members — easily one of the weakest and most sensitive spots that the Catholic church always avoids like a plague.
But in a dramatic retreat, Duterte issued an apology to the Catholic church this morning. Presumably, his closest advisers must have warned him that declaring war with the Catholic church will sink his ambition to become the next president of the country.
Duterte will never win the presidency if he picks up a big fight against the Catholic church — even if the Catholics won’t provide a bloc vote unlike the Iglesia ni Cristo religious group.
But realities are realities. There’s no changing quickly and significantly certain realities in the Philippines — and aspiring politicians like Duterte and his rivals in the presidential race should recognize this.
With about 80 per cent of the country’s 100 million population comprised of Catholics and Catholic leaders now openly speaking out against the “evils” of Duterte’s brand of leadership, his feud with the church must have inflicted significant damage to his presidential bid. Outpouring of support for the Pope and denunciations of Duterte in the traditional and social media will bear this out.
Even in the remotest villages across the country’s, there’s an army of Catholic priests and pastors who provide services to the poorest of the poor. Pastoral letters from the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines, denouncing the “evils” of a Duterte national leadership will certainly damage his ambition to become the next president. This extensive national network of churches and chapels and an army of priests and civilian volunteers are vital elements that Duterte and his vice presidential running mate, Peter Cayetano, do not have.
Catholic church leaders and priests openly speaking out against a Duterte presidency will serve as the single biggest nemesis of the feisty Davao city mayor — more than the competition posed by presidential rivals Jojo Binay, Grace Poe and Mar Roxas.
Will Duterte’s apology repair completely his relations with leaders of the Catholic church? It looks unlikely. The damage has already been done. He can no longer take back his punches at the Catholic church.
Duterte has already shown to everyone that he can and will attack anyone even without the slightest provocation or any justifiable or valid reason. His choice of language — often marked by expletives — and his mercurial frame of mind — coupled with revelations that his claims to law and order and governance success in Davao city may not be rock solid — now raise big questions on whether or not he is the best choice for the next president.