Updated: January 27, 2017 09:43 AM GMT
Philippine and overseas Catholic bishops join in prayer the last day of the World Apostolic Congress of Mercy in Manila on Jan. 20. (Photo by Mark Saludes)
Philippine Catholic bishops will be talking politics in their bi-annual assembly on Jan. 28, days after being attacked by the country's president for being "hypocrites."
The bishops have invited "experts" who will talk about various issues — the drug-related killings, the proposed revival of the death penalty, among others — during the three-day meeting.
Also on the agenda is a proposal by President Rodrigo Duterte to change the country's system of governance from its present unitary form to a federal system.
Father Marvin Mejia, secretary-general of the bishops' conference, said prelates need to understand the issue before making a statement.
"That's what the bishops usually do. They study, reflect, and pray," said Father Mejia, adding that the bishops should be "knowledgeable."
Duterte has been pressing for a constitutional amendment to pave the way for a federal system, which he believes is key to bringing peace in the conflict-ridden region of Mindanao.
Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato in Mindanao, however, urged the president to "implement the doable ... that does not need constitutional revisions."
In an interview with ucanews.com last year, the prelate said federalism is a long-term project. "What needs to be done is in the nature of urgent and short-term," he said.
Part of the bishops' schedule on Jan. 29 will be the showing of a documentary film about the killings of suspected drug users and dealers.
At least 7,000 people have died at the hands of assassins and policemen after Duterte declared an "all-out war" against illegal drugs last July.
Father Mejia said the film is "not really part of the plenary" but it is "open to [the bishops] who want to watch it."
Statements made by some bishops critical of the government's anti-drug war have irked Duterte who has called Catholic Church leaders "hypocrites."
The president has challenged the country's bishops to resign over allegations of corruption and sex abuse cases.
"I challenge the Catholic Church. You are full of shit. You all smell bad, corruption and all," said the president, adding that church leaders have no right to criticize because of their own sins.
Father Jerome Secillano, of the public affairs office of the bishops' conference, said that despite the president's rants, church leaders would continue to criticize drug-related killings.
Father Secillano also said the church will continue to be "understanding" and "very patient" with the president.
"We just need to understand the president. I think [his tirade] was an outburst born out of anger," said the priest, adding that the church "is not the enemy of the president or of the government."
Duterte's spokesman earlier announced a plan to hold a dialogue with Catholic bishops, a move welcomed by several church leaders.
Father Secillano said the decision is in the hands of majority of the bishops.
The three-day plenary meeting that will end on Jan. 30 will discuss other "socio-political" issues, including the ethical use of social media.
Father Mejia revealed that social media accounts of at least three bishops were hacked. "There is also the proliferation of fake news," said the priest.
He said that because of the many issues that will be discussed during the meeting, it would be up to the bishops when they will issue a statement.
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