A leading senator in the Philippines says he will try and mediate between President Rodrigo Duterte and the Catholic Church.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said on Monday that “there’s nothing to lose,” and he was trying to get in touch with the leadership of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines to “find out more about their perspective.”
“Then at the first chance that I get to talk to the President, we’ll try to mediate if it’s possible at all. If not, at least we tried,” Sotto told the Philippine News Agency.
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 also has earned flak from Church leaders for calling God stupid and for suggesting that people should not go to church to attend Mass.
Duterte, who claimed to have been molested by a priest when he was a student, called on church leaders not to use the “platform of religion” to criticize him.
Last month, he drew condemnation for saying the bishops should be “killed” just days after saying a bishop named “David” – presumed to be Duterte critic Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Caloocan – should have his “head cut off.”
On Monday, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo told reporters Duterte is “only defending himself from attacks.”
“It’s self-defense,” he said. “If you can unleash tirades against the president then be ready to receive some in return.”
Panelo also claimed the bishops “are living in comfort, while the people are wallowing in poverty,” and the president’s “style” was aimed at “shaking long-held religious tenets and beliefs that instead of molding them into being righteous individuals make them cling to religion as an opium.”
Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that Duterte has “uttered absolutely silly things.”
“And his ‘fans’ consider his murderous words as a mere joke. Is it a joke to advise people to kill?” Bastes asked. “There should be a mass movement among decent Filipinos to make him desist from speaking like a devil.”