02/25/2019, 00.00
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Duterte changes his tune, says hands off the priests

In a letter to the Filipino president, Card Tagle speaks out against death threats against Bishop David and priests. Since he took office, the president has lashed out at the bishops. Less than three months before the country’s general elections, he says “Stop threatening them or you will have to face me”.

Manila (AsiaNews) – Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte is changing his tune. “Do not touch the priests, they had nothing to do with politics,” he said recently, urging anyone who threatens the clergy to “Lay off!!”; otherwise, they’ll have to face his anger.

Under the current president, relations between the country’s bishops and the government of the most populous Catholic country in Asia have been troubled.

Since he took office, Duterte has been repeatedly lashed out at Church leaders for criticising his administration on issues like human rights and respect for life. In his latest tirade, the president said bishops were "useless" and called on the faithful to kill them.

Now, three months before the mid-term general elections of 13 May, the president used a campaign rally to change his tune.

Yesterday evening, Duterte quoted part of a letter sent to him by Card Luis Antonio Tagle, archbishop of Manila. In it, the prelate mentions death threats against Bishop David and some priests from “someone claiming to be working for the president’s family.”

Duterte did not say who Bishop David is but the latter is likely Mgr Pablo Virgilio Siongco David, bishop of Caloocan who was at the receiving end of some of Duterte’s rants – such as the accusation that he stole donations and that he was involved in the drug trade.

Responding to the cardinal’s letter, the president said that there was nothing of the sort, warning “Do not touch the priests, they had nothing to do with politics.”

“Either Muslims or Christians, they had nothing to do with us,” he said. “Do not do it. Do not try to do it. Ang (The) religious [leaders] had nothing to do with the vagaries of life. Lay off! Stop threatening them or ako ang makakalaban ninyo (you will have to face me).”

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