At least three Filipino Catholic bishops welcomed President Rodrigo Duterte's statement early last week in which he said he is ready to develop a "good rapport" with the country's church leaders. Bishop Teodoro Bacani, retired prelate of Novaliches in the northern part of the capital Manila, said the president's pronouncement was a "good start." "I am happy, but he must listen to God's word and respect every human life and treat all with dignity," said the prelate. Several Catholic bishops and priests have been vocal in their opposition to Duterte's "all-out war" against illegal drugs. According to government statistics, there have been close to 12,000 deaths since the president's war against narcotics was launched last year. At least 3,000 were determined by authorities as "drug-related," and which occurred during police anti-narcotics operations. Other cases were either "deaths under investigation" or crimes committed by common criminals. Archbishop Martin Jumoad of Ozamiz said the desire of Duterte to develop a good relationship with church leaders would have a "good impact" on his image, especially among the international community. "Our country cannot move forward and progress without a good relationship among our leaders," said the archbishop. Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon welcomed the president's peace overture, but added that a "good rapport" with the bishops does not mean that they will have to give up their role as "prophets." "[The bishops] remind all people, including government officials, to respect the rights of God, of man and of nature," said Bishop Bastes. The prelate said violations of "God's law and the law of nature" would hinder "true rapport" between the government and church leaders. Duterte had said he wanted to develop a "good rapport" with church leaders "for as long as we listen to each other." "All is good when you listen to other people," said the president while attending the wake of the late Cardinal Ricardo Vidal of Cebu on Oct. 23. The president's conciliatory statement was in contrast to his oft-repeated rants against priests and bishops who criticize his war against drugs. The presidential palace has issued a statement assuring that Duterte is not "anti-Catholic" but is merely dispirited by the "adversarial" position of church leaders.
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Even before he was elected president, Duterte had been waging a war of words against the country's bishops, even calling the Catholic Church "the most hypocritical institution."