Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s call to kill the nation’s bishops was just “hyperbole,” according to his spokesman.
Speaking on Dec. 5, the controversial leader spoke of his personal belief in God, before adding, “But these bishops, kill them, those fools are good for nothing. All they do is criticize.”
The president’s remarks came just over a week after he threatened to have the “head cut off” an unnamed bishop called “David” – although believed to be Duterte critic Bishop of Caloocan, Pablo Virgilio David.
“I think that’s only hyperbole on the part of the president. We should be getting used to this president. He makes certain statements for dramatic effect,” Salvador Panelo, the presidential spokesman, said on Thursday.
“The president, just like any ordinary human being, is upset when the good things that he does for this country are not even appreciated by people who are supposed to support it, like the Church,” he added.
Catholics make up nearly 90 percent of the population in the Philippines.
Duterte has been at odds with the country’s Catholic Church since before he took office in 2016. Church leaders have condemned his bloody crackdown on the drug trade which has left thousands of people dead in extrajudicial killings, as well as his efforts to reintroduce the death penalty.
The president’s frequent remarks about killing drug dealers is credited by his critics for declaring an “open season” for the security forces to murder those in the drug trade with impunity.
Duterte’s latest remarks even led Philippine National Police Chief Director Oscar Albayalde to deny the security forces would target the country’s hierarchy.
“He did not say anything about going above the law so what’s his problem with the bishops is probably quite personal,” Albayalde told journalists.
“We perform our duties within the limits of the law. Probably, it’s just a part of him on how he says and emphasizes these things,” the police chief said.
However, Church leaders are less reserved, with one bishop saying Duterte’s latest remarks come from a “psychotic mind.”
“He is sick and a megalomaniac… He is really a murderous madman! No Filipino should take his statements lightly from this time on,” said Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes on Thursday, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
“His advisers must already give him advice never to utter such kinds of statements. He is really a murderous madman,” the bishop said.