Catholic Church leaders in the Philippines said they are not part of any "destabilization plot" against the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte
. A Catholic bishops' conference official said "if there is such a plan, [church leaders are] not part of it." "I'm not in the intelligence community, I cannot say if such a plan really exists," said Father Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the bishops' public affairs committee. "This is the assurance I can give you, the church has no part in it," he added. Duterte earlier claimed that political rivals and critics were plotting to oust him from power in October. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana alleged the threat comes from communist rebels who started planning to oust the president in 2016. "The destabilization plot is true, but it is coming from the communist rebels.... I don't know if other groups will be riding on this," Lorenzana said. Manila Auxillary Bishop Broderick Pabillo
, however said, "in a healthy democracy there should be strong opposition to abuse of power." "The opposition is not to be crushed but to be engaged to arrive at best actions for the common good," the prelate said. Bishop Pabillo, who has been a vocal critic of Duterte, described alleged destabilization moves against the government as "an old tune strongmen use when they land in hot water." "The church has to speak out and warn the people of the dangers of authoritarianism," said the prelate. Father Secillano said Duterte should not treat church leaders as enemies because they can be partners in pursuing what's good for the people. "We always say that we are their partner," said the priest, adding that whatever church people do "it is always for the sake of the people we promised to serve." He said that while some church leaders, including bishops, may not agree with some of the president's statements or policies, they take notice of his accomplishments. The bishop cited Duterte's order to rehabilitate Boracay Island
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"What he did there has a big impact on the environment," said Father Secillano. "We saw his political will when it comes to these things," he added. The priest, however, lamented that Duterte seems "more concerned with politics" instead on focusing on other issues like the economy. Church groups, including Catholic priests, nuns, and seminarians are set to join protest rallies around the country on Sept. 21 to mark the declaration of martial law by late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1972.