Duterte’s taking cudgels for the clergy — reconciliatory or an election bait?

Published March 15, 2019, 12:50 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



Elinando B. Cinco
Elinando B. Cinco

“Is that him talking?”

Last week, newspaper editors and headline writers were in a state of disbelief. As they were going over news stories sent in by their reporters covering the Malacanang campaign team rally in Cebu City, the news desk came across a line that said President Duterte fired a warning shot:

“Do not harm priests, or I will be your enemy!”

The crowd in that Sunday rally, as well as newspaper readers the following day were not prepared for that turn-around presidential cautioning. What they were accustomed to were threats and cuss words against the Catholic clergy spewed from the President’s mouth since taking over Malacanang in June, 2016.

Rabid opposition stalwarts and die-hard critics were also stunned. But, of course, they were skeptical of the presidential announcement.

Anyway, what they entertained that day was a common conjecture —  the Chief Executive was extending his hand of reconciliation and appeasement. Was it for real?

“Oh, well, it’s election time, and probably he wanted to attract to his fold those who are not with him,” guessed the unbelievers. And there are plenty of them!

You see, there is this theory that the administration’s senatorial candidates are being propped up by two Malacanang political parties because, as a whole, they are concededly weak (except the re-electionists).

Their vulnerability as senatoriables was somehow proven when they refused to debate with the candidates of “Otso Diretso,” citing unconvincing reasons.

And each one needed a presidential cheering up,  the manpower and corresponding logistics.

And doesn’t the Palace by the Pasig have a bottomless store-house of those?

In that Sunday event in Cebu, the President further astounded everyone in the audience when he said:

“Do not touch the priests. They have nothing to do with politics. Stop threatening them, or ‘ako ang makakalaban ninyo’.”

Yet, just a little over three months ago – on November 3 last year – he deported a harmless religious nun to her native Australia – Sister Patricia Fox, 72 years old —  for allegedly joining and speaking in human rights advocacy rallies here. She had been in the Philippines for 27 years doing missionary work.

The focus of the Cebu meeting was precipitated by a letter of Cardinal Luis Tagle to the President  informing him that some priests (three of them appeared in primetime TV news night show last Monday, March 11)) and bishops have been receiving death threats.

As expected, the Duterte warning elicited a snappy response from PNP Chief Director General  Oscar Albayalde who said he had already offered security plans not only to priests but also, in particular, to Caloocan City Bishop Pablo Virgilio David.

The monsignor had allegedly been singled out by the unknown sender of the reported death threats.

As an offshoot of the perceived reconciliation move by the Palace and PNP, the CBCP appears lukewarm to the security offer.

In a statement, its officials said, “The Church will survive a hundred Dutertes!”