Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte says he is not keen on celebrating the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christianity in the Philippines in 2021.
The president, who repeatedly berates Catholic Church
leaders, said there is nothing special about the "subjugation" of the country by Spanish colonizers.
"Five hundred years of Christianity? Really? What’s so special?" Duterte said in a television interview hosted by Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, who claims to be the "Appointed Son of God."
Quiboloy, a friend of Duterte from the southern city of Davao, is founder and leader of a “cult” called the "Kingdom of Jesus Christ, The Name Above Every Name, Inc."
"I’ll celebrate the start of the subjugation of my country for 400 years? You must be kidding. I celebrate the day when the heroes of my country were slaughtered?" Duterte asked.
Spain brought Christianity to the Philippines in 1521 with the arrival of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan in Cebu.
The archipelago, which was named after King Philip II
, became a colony of Spain until 1898.
"Now the priests are asking what’s the plan. I have no plans. Why should I celebrate the coming of imperialism to my country?" said Duterte.
"They brought religion? Fine. But you didn’t have to subjugate my country and place my fellow brothers and sisters under the yolk of imperialism for 400 years," he added.
The president said Catholics are free to celebrate the arrival of Christianity if they want to, even as he slammed them for their inconsistency.
He said that while Filipinos celebrate independence from Spain, "[they] will go to church and kneel down ... to pray and pay homage."
"Filipinos never learn. Whatever the priest says, then we revere also. We revere the conquistadores. Not me," said Duterte.
"We do not celebrate anything. Coming of Christianity? That started our travails and agony and sorrow," he said.
Catholic bishops, however, shrugged off the president's statement, saying the Church is not imposing the celebration on people.
"Anyone is welcome to celebrate with us," said Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga, adding that the celebration is an occasion to thank God for His protection for the past 500 years.
"Christianity is God's gift to us. It is His blessing and we are blessed. And we have to be grateful to God," said Bishop Santos.
Bishop Honesto Ongtioco of Cubao said Duterte has the right to express himself. "Our faith is beyond what people say and how they react," said the prelate.
Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon said Filipino Catholics will celebrate the occasion even without Duterte. "We do not need the opinion of Duterte. We will celebrate it without him," he said.
Since his election in 2016, Duterte has taken swipes at the Catholic Church and its leaders for criticizing his administration's "war" against narcotics.
The president said that priests are welcome to criticize him but said they should not use the pulpit because it opens the religion to criticism.
He said he has his own God "who is all-knowing.... God who does not create hell, does not create heaven. He did not create human beings just to be thrown to hell or to enjoy heaven."