Is Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's stepped-up criticism of the Catholic Church a smokescreen to deflect people's attention away from his administration's failings? That's the bold assertion of Father Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the public affairs committee of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines. The president has recently unleashed yet another round of scathing remarks against the church and its clergy. "It's obvious that he delights in creating controversy to deviate people's attention from his government's inefficiency," said Father Secillano. Reacting to Duterte's call
for Filipinos to just put up makeshift altars in their homes instead of going to church, the priest said: "I'm not sure if the president's suggestion can be considered 'pastoral necessity.'"
The church, he explained, houses the Eucharist, which is "Christ in the form of the host [bread], which is reserved in the tabernacle." It cannot be placed in houses, as the "danger for its desecration may occur." Father Secillano said the president's ignorance of the church's workings "tells us Catholics that we should neither believe this guy nor even take him seriously." "The church is a house of prayer, it is a place for worship. Remember that there are proper places for man's activities ... People should pray in the church, which is the proper place for worship," said the priest. On church donations, another issue often mentioned by Duterte, Father Secillano said the church never obliges people to donate money. Catholics are only encouraged to donate or make "love offerings" when they go to church to help pay, for example, its electric consumption and maintenance, among others. Last month, the Philippine president accused Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kaloocan
, a vocal critic of Duterte's policies, of pocketing money from donations. "My parents never taught me to steal," answered Bishop David. "I think he has confused me for someone else," added the bishop. "You see, people who are sick sometimes do not know what they are talking about, so we should just bear with them." Later, Duterte insinuated that the prelate might have been involved in illegal drugs, without offering any evidence. Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles
, president of the bishops' conference, said he was "saddened and disturbed" by Duterte's statements against Bishop David. "Very many of us bishops have come to know Bishop David as a very good bishop, a dedicated shepherd and father of the flock in the Diocese of Kalookan," said the Davao prelate. He described Bishop David as "very passionate in his ministry, bringing 'mercy and compassion,' especially to the poor and suffering among his people." The Catholic Church in the Philippines has been consistent in its staunch defense of human rights, even at the height of the Marcos dictatorship from 1972 to 1986. Amid the Duterte administration's bloody war on drugs, which has clearly undermined due process and the rule of law, church leaders are taking the right step in bringing pressure to bear on the government to uphold and respect human rights guaranteed by the fundamental law. Ernesto Hilario is a commentator and editor of several media outfits in Manila.
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