Duterte as Catholic

/ 05:07 AM June 19, 2018

He remains marked by his Christian upbringing—that is to say, President Duterte remains very much a cultural Catholic. We can see it in his throwaway lines or in his rhetorical transitions:

“Though I am or has been or have had a good Christian education, noong dumating ako sa gobyerno ang paradigm shift ko umiba (when I started in government my paradigm changed),” he told educators and school administrators gathered in Malacañang Palace last week, the day after Independence Day. (All quotes are from the transcripts provided by the Presidential Communications Operations Office.) In the same speech, he used ready-made phrases that are Catholic in inspiration. “Hayaan mo pagka maawa ang Diyos (Never mind. When God has mercy). Maybe in the fullness of God’s time.”


On the same day, addressing a different audience (this time made up of newly promoted officers of some of the uniformed services), he said, unprompted: “if I completed, by the grace of God, if I get to finish this presidency…”

I think we can agree that he is Catholic in the sense that his speech patterns and his habits of thinking were forged in the crucible of “a good Christian education.”


But he is also a Catholic in the sense of being a lapsed one — and perhaps “lapsed” is too generous a label. He has taken direct aim at the Catholic Church and its practices: He infamously cursed Pope Francis when he was still a presidential candidate and threatened to spill secrets about churchmen when he was still president-elect.

Mere months into his presidency, he described the Church as being “full of shit” (“I challenge you now. I challenge the Catholic Church. You are full of shit. You all smell bad, corruption and all”), and in recent months he has ramped up his criticism of the Church. That kiss with the married woman in Korea? He had asked her to come up the stage to receive a copy of the book the President mistakenly thinks is anti-Catholic.

He has been consistent in his mockery of the Catholic religion. In that same Korean forum earlier this month, he said: “If God wants me to be President, I will be President. The God that I believe in, ’yang God… dyan, kap*tahan na istorya ng Katoliko. Kalokohan,” he said. Last Saturday, at the Eid’l Fitr ceremony he attended at the SMX Convention Center in Davao City, he said: “Do not waste your time about the behavior of [Speaker Pantaleon] Alvarez. He can take as many wives as he wants. Sometimes he is a Christian, sometimes he is a Muslim.” This is the former Catholic as heretic.

(Heresy, in Thomas Aquinas’ definition, is “a species of infidelity in men who, having professed the faith of Christ, corrupt its dogmas.”)

But it is not the outer limit. Apostasy is. In Seoul, the President, perhaps entirely as a joke, perhaps only in part, also said: “May bago tayong relihiyon, paglabas natin. Iglesia ni Rodrigo tayong lahat (We have a new religion, when we come out. We will be the Church of Rodrigo). Walang limit, may obligasyon ka sarili (no limits, but you have an obligation to yourself), make yourself happy.”

While this is happening, four assassination attempts have been made on the lives of four different priests in the last six months. Three of them died; one sustained serious injuries. Not since the Philippine Revolution have so many priests been killed in such a short span of time.



We should also note that President Duterte had a complicated, perhaps even conflicted, relationship with his late mother, the formidable “Soling.” Before retelling an anecdote, he said: “But the only single solitary human being that kept her faith in me is my mother.”

I would not say that this is a specifically Catholic, even Christian, notion; of course other faiths see mothers in the same loving way. But as it turns out, the anecdote he told the assembly of educators and administrators described the way his mother punished him, “almost thrice a week,” with a horse’s whip. In a horrifying way, it is a good story, in the sense of a well-told, almost-tall-tale, complete with his father appearing like a Greek chorus—but a story about child abuse.

Indeed, the President also said, laughingly, if his mother were still alive, “Ah demandado ‘yun (she’ll be sued), child abuse.” Cue audience laughter, and the President’s favorite expletive.

On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand

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