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Caritas chief questions Duterte's priorities after address

Philippine president urged to focus on unity to fight coronavirus instead of promoting a 'culture of death'

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Caritas chief questions Duterte's priorities after address

A health worker in protective gear marches toward the state university grounds in Manila on July 27 ahead of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s State of the Nation Address. (Photo: Ted Aljibe/AFP)


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Rodrigo Duterte has failed to unite the Filipino people against the country’s “true enemy” — the coronavirus — according to a Catholic bishop in a scathing attack on the Philippine president’s recent State of the Nation Address.

Bishop Jose Bagaforo of Kidapawan said Duterte’s speech on July 27 should have highlighted the country’s solidarity and avoided pushing an agenda that further divided the people.

The bishop, who is also national director of the Church’s social action arm Caritas, said Duterte had the perfect opportunity to unify the Filipino people during his address but did not take it.

“The pandemic could have been the silver lining for the government to push for a whole-society response toward unity and solidarity. But pride, prejudice and power prevailed over better judgment and people’s welfare,” Bishop Bagaforo said.

He said the Philippines needed national unity instead of enduring a “divisive” and “rhetorical” speech for an hour and 40 minutes.

The bishop also noted that Duterte’s address was a repeat of previous speeches on drugs that led to a propagation of a “culture of death” with extrajudicial killings and the proposed revival of the death penalty law.

“He [Duterte] is so enraged with past disappointments that all he can think of is revenge, which at the end of his speech just divided further an already broken nation,” Bishop Bagaforo added.

The prelate also criticized Duterte for not presenting a “clear roadmap” of governance and management to fight the coronavirus pandemic that has infected more than 85,000 Filipinos.

“The president failed to clearly present his plans on how to improve the healthcare system in this country and deliver public service to vulnerable sectors,” he said.

Bishop Bagaforo pointed to testing being only available to people showing symptoms of the virus.

On July 29, the Department of Health announced the number of recorded Covid-19 cases had reached 85,486, with some Manila hospitals saying they could no longer accommodate Covid patients.

At least four hospitals in the capital announced they were full to overflowing and were encouraging coronavirus patients to spend quarantine time at other state facilities.

The bishops’ commission on prison ministry has also said that penitentiary clinics must be equipped with adequate hospital beds and ventilators should the virus spread in prisons.

“Even prisoners deserve the right to be hospitalized and to receive proper treatment. Just because they were convicted of crimes does not mean the state should brush them aside in terms of health care,” Father Jobert Oliveros, secretary of the prison ministry, told UCA News.

Father Oliveros said the billions of dollars the country is borrowing to fight the Covid-19 pandemic must reach all “social strata” of Philippine society, particularly the poor and prisoners.

It is estimated the Philippines has run up debts amounting to 9 trillion pesos (US$183 billion), much of which was earmarked for the pandemic battle.

“I hope the huge amount the government borrowed will go directly to meet the needs of the people, not only corrupt politicians. This is something the president should have focused on in his [address],” Father Oliveros told UCA News.

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