President Rodrigo Duterte speaks at the annual conference of the Prosecutor's League of the Philippines in Puerto Princesa City on April 4. (Photo courtesy of the Presidential Communications Office)
Members of the Philippine clergy and human rights groups have rounded on President Rodrigo Duterte after he threatened to arrest "all" his critics.
At a gathering of prosecutors on April 4, the president threatened to declare a "revolutionary war" if his critics “push me to my limit."
"I will arrest all of you. I will put you together with the criminals, rebels, and drug lords," he told the annual conference of the country's prosecutors.
"If you make it hard for me, I will declare a revolutionary war until the end of my term," said Duterte, adding that he was willing to be hanged. "I’m willing to die," he said.
Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos in the central Philippines said even without this, "killings are rampant."
"Poor people already live in fear," said the prelate of the diocese where 14 farmers accused by the police of being communist rebels were gunned down on March 30.
"We pray [Duterte] won’t do it," said Bishop Alminaza, adding that a crackdown will only fuel more unrest.
Father Wilfredo Dulay of the Missionary Disciples of Jesus congregation said the "noose is tightening" around Duterte, referring to a series of videos alleging that drug money has been funnelled into bank accounts owned by Duterte’s children.
The Dutertes have denied the allegations. Son, Paolo Duterte, a former mayor of Davao City, however, indicated that he knew the identity of the accuser.
"Exposure is well possible, especially his son’s arrogant clumsiness. [The president] needs any flimsy excuse to exercise absolute power," said Father Dulay.
Bishop Antonio Ablon of the Philippine Independent Church called people to respond appropriately to tyranny.
"Natural quick reactions should now become sparks of prolonged vigilant actions and mobilization to awaken the people and gather the millions to stop attacks against the people," said the bishop.
Redemptorist Brother Ciriaco Santiago Jr., who has been documenting the drug-related killings, said that with the many human rights abuses of the current administration "what other rights are there left?"
"The Church flourishes in every chaos," he told ucanews.com. "In times when it is persecuted, more take up the challenge to put on the robes of prophets."
"Today’s challenge is for all of us to band together to oppose this threat of dictatorship," he said.
Father Danilo Pilario, a theology school dean, said the president’s comments sounded "illogical."
"He is feeling the pressure. Endless criticism about Chinese incursions, the killing of drug addicts and farmers, and more recently, the alleged involvement of his family in drug syndicates can push him to the edge," said the priest.
"They have used up their credible excuses. This is an expression of a desperate man," he added.
Antonio La Vina, former dean of colleges of law and governance and founder of a coalition of human rights lawyers said, "Duterte is testing the waters again."
"He is flexing his muscles," he said, adding that, people will have to hold firm... Otherwise he would feel he could do anything he wants."
Duterte's recent tirade came after legislators warned that his administration must be careful when reviewing government contracts because procedures have to be followed so that the government does not breach its obligations.