Filipino bishops call for positive dialogue with the Duterte administration

Mgr Socrates Villegas acknowledges differences in principle, but adds that they should not “prevents us from cooperating). He urges bishops and government to tone down the confrontation. For the CBCP president, silence is not an option; “disregard for human life” must stop. Contrary to what some believe, the Catholic Church is not an enemy of the Duterte administration, says Mgr Antonio R. Tobias.

Manila (AsiaNews/CPCPNews) – Despite differences over the war on drugs and extra-judicial killings, Filipino bishops remain committed to a positive relationship with the Duterte administration.

This week the Filipino Church held a number of meetings with senior government officials, the first on 31 March, at the headquarters of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) in Manila, in order to iron out differences.

On 4 March, in an interview with ANC television, CBCP president Archbishop Socrates Villegas said that the dialogue with the authorities is the best way to proceed.

“There are issues where we differ in principle, but we should not allow such differences to prevent us from cooperating,” Villegas said. “We should support him (the president) on peace-making, alleviating the situation of the poor and everything that is for the benefit of the people”.

The CBCP president did not name the officials he met, but said that they had made a “breakthrough”, noting that both sides wanted to “tone down” attacks against each other.

“You stop, we stop,” said Villegas. “You can’t tell us to stop talking when issues are so unchristian and against our beliefs.”

For the prelate, if the killings stop, if the disregard for human life end, “then you can trust that we will tone down [our] statements because we will see goodwill”.

Mgr Villegas added that the bishops are concerned that, in case of their silence and no protests, "people may think that this is the new normal."

At the same time, Church is not against Duterte as a person, but against issues concerning morals. Whilst hoping to see the president succeed, “solutions should be within parameters of morality,” he added. 

In recent months, many Catholic leaders have spoken out against a "culture of death" promoted by Duterte’s policies.

For his part, the president has often launched in harsh attacks against the bishops, guilty in his eyes of criticising the bloodshed caused by his war on drugs and opposing his attempt to reintroduce the death penalty.

Contrary to what some believe, the Catholic Church is not an enemy of the Duterte administration but an ally, a helper of the state, this according to Mgr Antonio R Tobias who spoke during last Sunday’s holy Eucharistic mass at the Sto. Niño parish church in Bagong Silang about the victims of extra-judicial killings and their families.

In his homily, Mgr Tobias focused on to the rising number of widows and orphans generated by the president’s war on drugs, which has so far left 7,000 people dead.

“Mr President,” said the prelate, “the Church and the bishops you curse, together with the priests [. . .] are the ones who help the victims of your fight against drugs”.

In lieu of the death penalty, the bishop called on the government to help Filipinos overcome the bondage of addiction through treatment and rehabilitation.

He also criticised the idea that addicts are good for nothing, noting that what brings divisions is judgemental attitudes towards others. As a society, all Filipinos are accountable for the high level of drug abuse.