Palace to Church: Don't be 'adversarial' when criticizing Duterte

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte is open to criticism but not when it is expressed in an "adversarial" manner, said Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella.

Speaking to media days after Duterte unleashed curse-laden remarks against the Catholic Church, Abella suggested that religious leaders reach out to Duterte instead of preaching from their "moral high horse."

"While the government is open to criticism, it would appreciate if it were not adversarial and coming from a moral high horse. After all, we are all referring to simply one country, we are building up one nation," said the spokesman on Thursday, January 26, during a Palace news briefing.

Abella explained to the media why the President felt insulted enough by the Catholic Church to launch expletive-rich tirades and challenges against its outspoken priests, bishops, and cardinals. (READ: The 100-day word-war: How Duterte handles criticism)

The "holier than thou" manner of criticism by religious leaders will only antagonize the President, said his spokesman.

"Hey, we're all sinners here and we can all cooperate in the work but not from a place where somebody else is saying, 'I'm better than you, I'm holier than you.' He would like more collegiality between institutions," said Abella, himself a former pastor.

When a reporter pointed out the contradiction of Duterte asking for "collegiality" when the President himself has spoken publicly about scandals hounding some church leaders, Abella said the President was only reacting strongly to the clergy's statements. For Duterte, the church leaders started it.

Abella stressed that Duterte, by ranting against the Catholic Church, does not seek to silence criticism.

"It would certainly benefit the government and the nation if we were less adversarial. Critical yes, but less adversarial, and create an atmosphere of collegiality," said Abella.

He suggested church leaders reach out to Duterte to express their concerns with him face-to-face.

"Why doesn't one institution, if it feels it has a moral responsibility, reach out to the government and create a bridge where they can actually talk? After all, both have resources, both have apparently the same goals which is nation-building," said Abella.

On Monday, Duterte described the Catholic Church as "full of shit" and accused prominent figures like Novaliches Bishop Emeritus Teodoro Bacani of having "two wives."

He also accused priests of corruption and sexual harassment of young men.

His rant was prompted by recent statements by cardinals and bishops criticizing his administration's campaign against illegal drugs. –

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at