Lay people lead a march during a Day of Reparation for attacks on the church and its clergy in the Philippine province of Pangasinan in this June 2018 file photo. (Photo by Karl Romano)
Filipino Catholics are not letting relentless attacks by President Rodrigo Duterte on the church and its leaders go unchallenged.
An influential lay organization has called on Catholics "to stand up for God and defend our faith in Him ... [and] renew our commitment to go and fill our churches."
The Sangguniang Laiko ng Pilipinas, the Council of the Laity, said "more than ever, [Catholics] are called upon to live a life worthy of our Christian vocation."
Julieta Wasan, its president, called on Catholics to proclaim their faith "courageously" not only through words but especially "by the life that we live as faithful followers of Christ."
The Catholic Theological Society of the Philippines, meanwhile, has expressed its "solidarity" with Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan, who has been a major target of Duterte's vitriolic attacks.
The president claimed the prelate stole money from church collections and even insinuated that the bishop may even be involved in illegal drugs, making him a target for extrajudicial killing, according to some observers.
"In siding with the victims of this war, [Bishop David] has become a model of what it means to be a good shepherd who defends his flock from marauding wolves," the theologian group said.
It described Bishop David as "a beacon of hope for the church and our society, an example of what it means to care for those who cannot defend themselves."
The group called for an end to the culture of impunity in the Philippines and for the creation of a “just and inclusive society."
The Ecumenical Bishops Forum also called on the public to "help protect their bishops and priests."
Father Wilfredo Ruazol, executive secretary of the church group, warned of the dangers of Duterte's recent pronouncements to kill members of the clergy.
"Whatever he says, his minions do," said the priest. "The last time we heard him give a kill order against drug addicts, we counted thousands of body bags," he added.
On Dec. 5, Duterte launched more attacks against the Catholic Church, which has been critical of his deadly war on drugs and anti-crime drive.
The president called bishops "useless" and even went as far as urging their killing for criticizing his administration.
The presidential palace later downplayed Duterte's remarks.
"I think that's only hyperbole on the part of the president. We should be getting used to this president," Duterte's spokesman Salvador Panelo said.
He said the president "makes certain statements for dramatic effect."
Panelo said he does not think Duterte's remarks will encourage people to kill priests. Duterte, "just like any ordinary human being, is upset when the good things that he does for this country are not appreciated by people who are supposed to support it, like the church."
Ernesto Hilario and Mark Saludes contributed to this report.