Palace defends Duterte’s God rant
President Duterte was expressing a “personal belief” when he called God “stupid,” Malacañang said on Monday amid public uproar over what many denounced as a “blasphemous” rant.
One senator called Mr. Duterte “evil” and his remark blasphemous, while other lawmakers hoped the President would atone for his sins, apologize and stop distracting the public from pressing issues with his rants.
“That’s his personal belief. Individuals are entitled to their personal beliefs. That’s the nature of freedom of religion,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in Cagayan de Oro City, responding to the furor over Mr. Duterte’s comment.
“I think the President has a personal spirituality but that is up to him, and there is no need for one to interpret it,” Roque said in a TV interview.
The Palace official tried to place the President’s remark in context by saying it could have arisen from his traumatic experience of sexual molestation at the hands of a priest when he was in high school.
“This is an issue that the Church should face and it must be really that by chance the victim is a President,” said Roque, who called for an investigation of abuses by priests.
Speaking in Davao City on Friday, Mr. Duterte questioned the basis for belief in God and the concept of the original sin.
“Who is this stupid God? You created something perfect and then you think of an event that would destroy the quality of your work. How can you rationalize that God? How can you believe him? So now we’re all born with an original sin. Even in the womb, we already have [sinned]. What kind of religion is that?” he said.
Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV said he was joining the nation “in expressing outrage against Mr. Duterte’s verbal attack against Christianity and God himself.”
Mr. Duterte practically spat on the faithful in a country that is predominantly Roman Catholic, Trillanes said.
“It is the height of arrogance of power not only to disrespect and spit on an individual’s faith but also to act as though he is a god,” he said in a statement.
“It should be clear now to everyone that Duterte is one evil man,” he added.
In reaction, Roque said: “Trillanes appears fixated on identifying devils on Earth. I guess he’s now the ghostbuster.”
Crossing the line
Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Sunday suggested that Mr. Duterte had crossed the line with his harsh comments about God. He said he hoped the President would be forgiven and be made to account for all his sins.
“May my God forgive him and make him atone for all his sins,” Lacson, an administration ally, said in a statement.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros said what was objectionable about the President’s comments was not only that it insulted the Catholic faith, but that “it has nothing to do with government programs and with policy.”
“These are just stream-of-consciousness ramblings and rantings . . . [that] distract us from burning issues,” Hontiveros said over ANC.
She said it seemed Mr. Duterte made the comments to deflect attention from recent controversies facing his administration, including “priest killings, extrajudicial killings, corruption and incompetence.”
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said he was confident that Mr. Duterte would apologize once he realized that his words had hurt many Catholics.
Activist priest Robert Reyes urged Catholic bishops to adopt a stronger stance on attacks against the Church.
“He (Mr. Duterte) has proven himself to be a murderer. There is no more time. He is a murderer. He is a blasphemer. He has declared war against the Catholic Church,” Reyes told reporters during the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ commemoration of the abolition of the death penalty.
The Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals (BCBP) issued a pastoral letter expressing concern about Mr. Duterte’s rants.
“These should not be allowed to pass without our community taking a stand for our Lord Jesus Christ and for the Catholic Church to which we belong,” it said.
A Christian pastor called for a sober discussion.
“Is the President denouncing the idea that there is a God? I don’t think so. Is he confused as to the idea of who God really is? That’s an obvious yes. Does his confusion stem from a bad experience with religion and wrong doctrines taught him while growing up? Yes. So given those things, how do we help him? That’s for every one of us to decide,” Destiny Church senior pastor Leo Carlo Panlilio said on Facebook.
Chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo said Mr. Duterte’s remarks were not blasphemous.
“He didn’t call God stupid. What he said was the theory of creation as expounded by the writers of the Bible is a stupid proposition,” Panelo said in a statement.
“That’s a personal thing to him. You mean to tell me a President will be divested of his right to express his own opinion on matters of [religion] and politics? I don’t think so,” he said.
In October 2016, five months after he was elected to the presidency, Mr. Duterte spoke of how improbable his victory was, given that he had no financial resources and a national political machinery: “I tend to believe now that it was God who gave it to me.” —WITH REPORTS FROM JULIE M. AURELIO, TINA G. SANTOS AND JODEE A. AGONCILLO
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