Duterte creates 3-man panel for ‘reconciliatory’ talks with Church

By Genalyn Kabiling and Leslie Ann Aquino

President Duterte has created a three-man committee to hold dialogues with leaders of the Catholic Church and other groups in the wake of his controversial attacks about the Catholic faith.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte (ACE MORANDANTE/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN) President Rodrigo Roa Duterte

The President has designated Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ernesto Abella, and EDSA People Power Commission member Pastor Saycon to lead the dialogue with the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and other religious groups.

According to Roque, the President agreed with the proposed dialogue with the Church leaders to iron out any conflict and try to improve their relations.

“Siguro ang tema ng mga pag-uusap paano mabawasan ang hidwaan sa pagitan ng gobyerno at simbahan. Alam ko po may separation of church and state, hindi kinakailangan makipagdayalogo, pero minabuti ng Presidente na sige buksan ang proseso ng diyalogo] [The theme of the dialogue is how to lessen the rift between the government and the Church. I know there is a separation of church and state and that there was no need for dialogue but the President still decided to open the process of dialogue,” Roque said during a press conference in Davao City.

Asked if the government's dialogue was connected with the President's recent attacks on the Catholic Church, Roque said he would be lying if he claimed there was no relation.

"Meron siguro relasyon din 'yan. At ninanais ng presidente na dahil parehong kabahagi ng lipunang Pilipino ang simbahan at gobyerno, siguro walang mawawala kung mas mabuti ang samahan sa panig ng simbahan at gobyerno [Maybe there is a relation. The President wants the dialogue since both the government and the

Church are part of the same Filipino society, there is nothing to lose if the Church and government will have better relations]," he said.

Roque said Saycon has been directed to reach out to the CBCP leadership to relay the government's willingness to hold a dialogue. The President's spokesman, on the other hand, will communicate with the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches.

The government is optimistic that the planned dialogue with the Church would prosper in resolving the concerns from both sides.

Roque said they look forward to a “fruitful dialogue” with the Catholic Church given the friendly ties between the President and CBCP President Archbishop Romulo Valles. Both hail from Davao City.

The President recently appeared unapologetic for his "stupid God" remark despite criticisms from some groups, and instead invoked his freedom of religion. Duterte said his God was "perfect" and "more supreme" than the gods of men.

"Your God is not my God. Your God is stupid. My God is perfect and has a perfect common sense," Duterte said during the oath-taking of Northern Mindanao barangay captains in Cagayan de Oro City.

Duterte clarified that his "stupid God" remark was in connection with his criticism of Australian missionary nun Patricia Fox, who faces a deportation case for her alleged involvement in political activities.

Roque, meantime, defended anew the President's controversial statements about the Catholic faith, saying he was entitled to his own religious beliefs.

He acknowledged that the President was probably still feeling the trauma after being abused by a priest when he was young.

He also said the President was only human to react to the constant criticisms hurled by the Catholic Church since he assumed office two years ago.

“Dahil nasabi na ni Presidente ang gusto niya sabihin, tignan natin kung papaano mapapabuti ang samahan dahil iisang lipunan naman ang pinaglilingkuran ng gobyerno at ng Simbahan ," he said.

Pray for the President

Lingayen Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas has asked the youth in his archdiocese to pray for President Duterte's healing and for God's forgiveness on him.

In his message, the prelate said the President could be a victim of his scarred past and his wounded background.

"He must have received so much rejection and hurts in the past that he blurts out so much hatred and angst now," Villegas said in his fatherly message to the youth and children in his archdiocese entitled "God is Love."

"If he had been loved much, he would be giving so much of that love too. He could be a victim of his scarred past and his wounded background," he added.
But while we pray for his healing and for God’s forgiveness on him, Villegas said there is also a need to rebuke his errors about the Christian faith.

"He is a person in authority and some of you might get confused when you hear him," he said.
"You have heard the President attack our Christian beliefs. The story of creation is being taunted repeatedly. You have been hearing him curse God. God has been called insulting names--words we always told you not to say or even write. You are even being challenged to leave this Church of your birth, the Church of your grandparents," added Villegas.

The Lingayen Dagupan prelate said he wrote the message to defend the youth from "gross errors" that they have been hearing.

He added that as priests, they have the duty to teach the truth.

And to help them know the truth, Archbishop Villegas urged the youth to read more about the faith and study the true teaching of the Church.

He also them to frequently pray the rosary, go to confession and receive Holy Communion saying we are in a "spiritual warfare" against error and sin.

The prelate also discouraged them from bashing those who bash them in social media.

“Take courage but be loving all the time. Be firm in the faith. Bawal ang duwag pero huwag makipag-away. Conquer evil with good," said Villegas.

No more insults

The Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC) on Tuesday appealed to President Duterte to refrain from issuing insulting statements against the Christian faith.

In a statement, the group said as the foremost leader of a nation that is by nature religious, Duterte should lead in fostering respect toward different religious beliefs.

PCEC National Director Noel Pantoja said as firm believers in God and in the Bible as His inspired Word, they are immensely offended by the President's recent remarks that God and the Bible’s teachings on creation are “stupid."

"PCEC finds it completely inappropriate for our nation’s President to derisively curse at the God of the Christian faith, who is deeply worshipped not only by a majority of Filipinos but also by a vast number of people from all over the world," he said.

He said PCEC’s objection to the religious insult of President Duterte also stems from the democratic principles of our country.

"In view of the diversity of faith traditions in our society, every Filipino is mandated to respect other faith convictions. History teaches us that religious intolerance can lead to animosity and violent conflict," said Pantoja.

"PCEC therefore denounces insulting another person’s religion, which sadly, the President has on several occasions demonstrated," he added.

They also caled on all Evangelical Christians in the country to continue to pray for President Duterte and his administration that they may be able to lead our nation with the "knowledge, wisdom and righteousness" that come from God.