Updated: October 12, 2016 05:04 AM GMT
President Rodrigo Duterte speaks before personnel of the Philippine National Police in Zamboanga City. (Photo by Toto Lozano)
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte lashed out at a Catholic bishop for criticizing the government's war on narcotics that has resulted in the death of some 3,500 suspected drug users and dealers.
"I'm really appalled by so many groups and individuals, including priests and bishops, complaining about the number of persons killed in the operation against the drug problem," said the president.
Duterte singled out retired Archbishop Fernando Capalla of Davao, in the southern city where the president was mayor for two decades.
"This Capalla, our bishop there, is criticizing me," said the president in a speech before police personnel in the southern Philippine city of Zamboanga on Oct. 10.
He accused the bishop and priests — who have voiced concern over the rising number of killings — of having mistresses. "These priests are sons of bitches," said Duterte.
The president was reacting to Archbishop Capalla's statement on Oct. 8 raising concern over the spate of killings linked to Duterte's war on drugs.
The retired prelate, who is convenor of the Bishops-Ulama conference, a group that promotes understanding between Muslims and Christians, said the killings are "getting into a spiral and it seems intensifying."
"Wrong is wrong even if everybody is doing it and right is right even if nobody is doing it," the prelate said in a television interview.
"Our sense of morality, our moral values, our sense of right and wrong is not anymore strict. Our conscience has become callous, the end does not justify the means," he said.
The archbishop urged Duterte "to listen to the people, to the poor people who are also suffering."
The president, however, said the country is facing a big problem. Duterte said he is worried that if he will put an end to his war against drugs "the next generation will be lost.”
Duterte denied that the government approves of the executions of suspected drug users and dealers. "I lose two policemen a day all over the country. How can you say we tolerate the killings?" he said.
Duterte's thorny relationship with clerics
Even before he was elected president, Duterte has been waging a war of words against church leaders, even calling the Catholic Church as "the most hypocritical institution."
The heat just went up as the country's Catholic bishops and other religious groups issued statements condemning the government's war against illegal drugs.
On Oct. 7, Catholic prelates in the central Philippines lashed out at Duterte's "incendiary statements that tend to encourage the killings of drug addicts."
"We are deeply concerned that this alarming insensitivity could lead to a deadening of conscience and the dawning of a culture of death," read a joint-pastoral letter of the dioceses of Bacolod, Dumaguete, San Carlos, and Kabankalan.
Several church leaders said that they would not be surprised if their relationship with the president will worsen in the coming days.
"It will not improve," said Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa. "It will not improve because that is his character," he said.
Archbishop Arguelles said he expects the president to make true his threat that he will expose anomalies involving priests and bishops.
The prelate, however, said he expects the worst. "There is also a need to purify the church," he said, adding that many have tried to destroy the church in the past but did not succeed.
"It is only right," he said, adding that he cannot blame Duterte for his attitude toward the church because of the criticisms he received from some church leaders.
Retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz of Lingayen-Dagupan said church leaders would not be silent "because there are certain realities that are not acceptable especially the killings."