Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly attacked church leaders during public speeches. (Photo courtesy of the Presidential Communications Office)
Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte, is open to talking with church leaders, according to his spokesman, following another diatribe in which he called on people to kill and rob bishops.
The president has long been at odds with church leaders who have been critical of his bloody war on narcotics that has reportedly killed at least 20,000 people.
Duterte has repeatedly accused Catholic priests and bishops of corruption and of sex abuse.
"[Duterte] is up for talks, if that's what [church leaders] are asking for," said Salvador Panelo, who is also the president's lawyer.
"Anything that is beneficial to the nation, the president is easy to talk to," Panelo told reporters on Jan. 13 after the president urged people to "kill and steal" from "rich bishops."
Bishops Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon and Ruperto Santos of Balanga condemned the president's statements, describing them as "absolutely silly."
The prelate said if the "murderous words" were intended to be a joke, they are "no longer funny and do not deserve laughs or applause from audiences but condemnation."
"They just promote criminality, encourage lawlessness. What kind of authority figure calls for killing?" said Bishop Santos.
On Jan. 13, Senate President Vicente Sotto III volunteered to mediate between Duterte and the bishops, saying their ongoing dispute was making Filipinos "uneasy."
"There are attacks and counterattacks, [both] by the Palace and the members of the Catholic Church," said the legislator.
At the weekend, Bishop Bastes called the president's public statements alarming and condemnable.
"There should be a mass movement among decent Filipinos to make him desist from speaking like a devil," said the prelate.
Bishop Santos said Duterte's presidency had become a "disappointment and disgrace."
"If he does this with bishops, how much more to ordinary citizens? What kind of head of state [is he] who encourages killing?" the prelate said.
Spokesman Panelo said the president was saddened by the prelate's remarks.
"Like the bishop, the president is imperfect, but unlike him [Duterte] looks at the innate goodness of man," said Panelo.
"What is a disgrace is when a member of the clergy uses unsavoury language against [Duterte] who only fulfills and complies with his constitutional mandate to lead the government," he added.
Roy Lagarde contributed to this report.