Philippine Catholics Distrust President Duterte’s Apology After Latest Slur

The volatile leader again backtracks after his caustic tongue lands him in trouble.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte attends a South Korea-Philippines business forum hotel in Seoul June 5.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte attends a South Korea-Philippines business forum hotel in Seoul June 5. (photo: JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)

In his typical form of following insults with reversals, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte offered an apology to God July 11, after he called the Divine Creator “stupid.”

The expression of regret came shortly after he defiantly said an apology was not forthcoming despite the angry backlash from the clergy and laypeople in this predominantly Catholic country.

Known for his foul language aimed at high-profile dignitaries, including former President Barack Obama and Pope Francis, Duterte outdid himself by aiming his latest crude remark at God. The offensive words came during a speech at a technology summit June 22 in Davao City, in southern Philippines.

“Adam ate [the apple], then malice was born. Who is this stupid God? This s-- of a b----- is stupid if that’s the case,” he said. The president dug in his heels during a second speech July 6, saying that he would resign if anyone can prove to him that God is real through a “selfie.”


Authoritarian Rule

However, beyond his words, Duterte has also earned a reputation for authoritarian policies since launching his presidency in 2016 with a hardline campaign against illegal narcotics by calling on his military and the general public to execute suspected drug dealers and users. His brutal crackdown has resulted in the death of thousands of Filipinos and provoked outrage over human rights violations.

Responding to the president’s remarks and extreme policies, Archbishop Romulo Valles, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), issued a pastoral exhortation calling on Filipino Catholics to observe day of prayer and penance Monday followed by three days of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, which concludes Thursday.

“Let us spend a day of prayer and penance, invoking God’s mercy and justice on those who have blasphemed God’s Holy Name, those who slander and bear false witness, and those who commit murder or justify murder as a means for fighting criminality in our country,” the archbishop wrote in his exhortation.

Without mentioning Duterte, the exhortation also states, “To those in this world who boast of their own wisdom, those who arrogantly regard themselves as wise in their own estimation and the Christian faith as nonsense, those who blaspheme our God as stupid, St. Paul’s words are to the point: ‘For the stupidity of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.’” (1 Corinthians 1:25)

In an attempt to mend relations and ease tensions, Duterte met with Archbishop Valles July 9, resulting in an agreement that the contentious leader will refrain from issuing statements related to the Catholic Church.

But many are not convinced the president will follow through.

Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Manila wrote in his blog, “There is a call on the side of the government for dialogue with the churches. We welcome dialogue. It should have been done long before in the first place before the tirades should have come. We cannot then fault people who see this offer for dialogue as a damage control measure for the strong protests against Duterte and his cohorts. It may just be offered as a face-saving strategy. Is there really sincerity in this offer of dialogue? Unfortunately, the track record of this government does not point to this.”

Some of Duterte’s followers were also disturbed by his speeches. Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a former Philippine police chief, supports Duterte’s administration but was reported by Philippine news outlets to have been displeased with the president’s comments about God. Lacson said that when the president insulted God “to whom I pray every single day and with whom I’ve found solace and comfort in all my difficult times, I don’t even have to think of my choice.”

“May my God forgive him and make him atone for all his sins,” Lacson continued.

But the Catholic Church is not alone in vocally opposing Duterte’s extreme measures and foul language.


Checkered History

Bragging in 2016 about his war on drugs, Duterte incurred the ire of the international community when he remarked, “Hitler massacred three million (sic) Jews. Now, there is (sic) three million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them.”

Even with Duterte’s erroneous estimate of the number of Jews killed during the Holocaust, the condemnation that followed his statement was swift and unequivocal.

“It is impossible to make any comparison to the unique atrocities of the Holocaust,” said German Foreign Ministry Spokesman Martin Schäfer.

World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder called Duterte’s comments “revolting.”

“Drug abuse is a serious issue. But what President Duterte said is not only profoundly inhumane, but it demonstrates an appalling disrespect for human life that is truly heartbreaking for the democratically elected leader of a great country,” Lauder said.

And yet, Duterte himself has confessed in 2016 to abusing Fentanyl to treat an injury from a motorcycle accident. A synthetic drug 30-50 times more powerful than heroin and 50-100 times more potent than morphine, Fentanyl is the same drug that killed the pop music legend Prince.

“I am perpetually in pain,” Duterte said in comments carried by a major media outlet in the Philippines. He has described how he had used a whole patch of Fentanyl at a time instead of cutting it into four pieces as was medically prescribed.

“There was a time that I used the whole thing because, more than just the disappearance of pain, you feel that you are on cloud nine, as if everything is okay with the world, nothing to worry about,” he said.

He was known to have backpedaled his comment, saying, “Fools, I just made up that story and you believed it.” Asked how he could be waging a war on drugs when he himself was abusing Fentanyl, Duterte responded to a media outlet, “I’m not an addict. Only when it is prescribed. Addiction is only with regularity.”

Duterte also incurred the condemnation of many when he confessed in late 2016 that he had killed three men.

“I killed about three of them. ... I don’t know how many bullets from my gun went inside their bodies. It happened and I cannot lie about it.”

The comment contradicted a statement made by his spokesman that the president never killed anyone.

As mayor of Davao for two decades, he said he would patrol the streets, looking for trouble.

“I was really looking for a confrontation so I could kill,” he said.

During his time as mayor, he earned a reputation for brutality in the name of suppressing crime, and was accused of supporting death squads.

The president began his six-year term in June 2016 and his administration has been marked by tumult and divisiveness, and a contentious relationship with the Catholic Church.

“Duterte was very much against the Church after the election because the church leaders cautioned the people about his track record of killings in Davao, about his use of foul language, about his lack of respect for human rights,” Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo said.

Register correspondent Maria Caulfield writes from Wallingford, Connecticut.