Duterte vs God



To mark two years as president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte has taken on his biggest sparring partner yet. God now joins the likes of former US president Barack Obama and the UN as targets in Duterte's ranting. It would be laughable if he hadn't spent his presidency turning the country into Revelations, where even priests are being gunned down in the streets.

Duterte'Adam ate [the apple], then malice was born. Who is this stupid God? This son of a bitch is stupid if that's the case. You created something perfect and then you think of an event that would tempt and destroy the quality of your work,' Duterte was reported as saying in his hometown of Davao City last month. His comments sound more like a young student set to fail religion class than the leader of one of the world's most populous Catholic-majority countries.

Rebukes were swift but he doubled down. He was merely insulting the God of his critics, not his own. Their God is stupid, his is full of common sense. He also promised to resign if evidence of the existence of a Christian God could be produced. Duterte, like over 80 per cent of the Philippines, was born and raised Catholic but does not consider himself practising and is not afraid to be seen as areligious.

Duterte's political brand is rooted in 'machismo', a form of heightened masculinity with roots in Spanish colonialism. Since his days as mayor of Davao City, Duterte has been brusque, brash and offensive. And his popularity has only grown. It's this swaggering attitude which had made him president and seemingly untouchable.

Only one body is within reach of bringing the president to heel. The powerful Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has been critical of the administration's bloody war on drugs, drawing the ire of Duterte. The uneducated proselytising is something different though — it has fundamentally undermined the function and purpose of the church. He was forced to meet with the CBCP.

Duterte and CBCP leadership met at the presidential palace on Monday to hash out a 'ceasefire' in which the president would stop commenting on the church and God. He has made this promise before. In June last year Duterte swore he would no longer bring up his unorthodox views on Catholicism, but returned to peppering speeches with his colourful ideas almost immediately.

During the meeting, bishops were forced to defend clergy, saying there is no wider conspiracy to overthrow the government — an allegation Duterte and his supporters frequently make. This allegation appears to be entrenched in Duterte's regular characterisation of opposition as architects of a potential coup. That the CBCP consistently sticks to scripture (see commentary surrounding a move to legalise divorce) as policy has seemingly not occurred to him.


"Three priests have been killed in the Philippines within the last seven months alone, with the church drawing links to the priests' outspoken condemnation of drug-related violence."


It's no mere war of words. Shortly after the CBCP-Duterte detente in Manila, a gunman fired shots at the residence of Cebu City Archbishop Jose Palma. Thankfully, Palma was still in the capital. The gunman, identified as Jeffrey Cañedo, was killed in the housing complex during a shootout with police. While his motives are unknown, the attack does follow a frightening trend of clergy being gunned down during the first two years of Duterte's presidency.

Three priests have been killed in the Philippines within the last seven months alone, with the church drawing links to the priests' outspoken condemnation of drug-related violence. In one such statement, the Order of the Carmelites blamed the 'culture of impunity' in the Philippines and appealed to the president to 'stop his caustic and divisive remarks that harass Church people'.

Duterte is accustomed to murder though. War on his streets hasn't kept him awake at night and it's unlikely these tragedies will either. Maybe plummeting poll numbers will? He's repeatedly said he will not stand for re-election but popularity is integral to the success of a populist president.

He dropped 11 points in June according to the Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey released Tuesday. The poll was taken just days after his initial 'God is stupid' comments. He now sits at plus-45, a figure SWS categorises as 'good' but is his lowest yet and certainly far below the 70-plus results he enjoyed early in his presidency. These results are most marked in Manila, where he dropped 20 points.

Has Duterte finally pushed it too far? For all his sins during the first two years of his presidency he has maintained widespread support. Attacking God and insinuating the religion of the vast majority of Filipinos is 'stupid' is a supreme misstep.



Erin CookErin Cook is a Jakarta-based journalist with a focus on South East Asia, and editor of the SEA news digest Dari Mulut ke Mulut.

Topic tags: Erin Cook, Duterte, Philippines, Catholicism



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Existing comments

I suspect this bloke doesn't dare venture outside without a bullet proof vest.

john frawley | 15 July 2018  

Duterte is incredibly dangerous in the sense he thinks he is above the law and unassailable. However in taking on the Catholic Church, which has a powerful voice in the Philippines , he may be biting off more than he can chew. Sadly Priests, who speak for the ordinary Filipino, are becoming the target of Duterte's vigilantes; a repeat of the Marcos years. Erin, you are correct to label Duterte as machismo, but from my dealings with the average male Filipino over three decades , his behaviour only represents a minority of male Filipinos. As is the case here in Australia, most Australian men do not behave like the rude, brash image represented by Paul Hogan . John, I totally agree with you, nothing would surprise me if someone takes a pot shot at him. They had better be a good shot, as if he survives an assassination attempt, he would impose marshal law, a threat he has made a number of times in an attempt to silence his critics. What is not being reported in our media is the almost daily demonstrations by ordinary citizens against the extra judicial executions of so called drug dealers in Manila and elsewhere in the Philippines.

Gavin O'Brien | 16 July 2018  

I suspect Rodrigo Duterte, mastermind of the Daveo Death Squads,(he was mayor of Daveo for 20 years), will stop at nothing to get his own way. In other words now he is in power, civil rights activists and religious leaders who speak out against him will be detained or eliminated. In his war against drugs over 12,000 suspects have already died a violent death so whats a few priests more or less? As Erin correctly says he does not believe in God. There are no trials for these drug suspects, they are just shot out of hand. How guilt is determined is completely in the hands of informers. Duterte is their judge, jury and executioner. He urges citizens to arm themselves and kill drug dealers themselves and says he will honor them with a medal. "Duterte has been suspected of playing a role in many killings of suspected criminals by motorcycle-riding assassins dubbed the “Davao death squads”. Human rights watchdogs say he has not been criminally charged because nobody has dared to testify against him in court." The Guardian 6 June 2016. He is in power until June 2022.

Frank Armstrong | 16 July 2018  

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