MANILA, Philippines – Five months before Rodrigo Duterte won the presidency, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) issued a rare statement chastising the Davao City mayor for cursing Pope Francis.
Led by Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the CBCP in the same statement denounced murder and adultery, crimes that critics associate with "The Punisher."
The CBCP, on December 1, 2016, titled its statement "Mayor Duterte?" – one of the few times they singled out a politician in an official document.
Despite statements like this from bishops and priest, voters in the Philippines – where 8 out of 10 people belong to the Catholic Church – ended up still electing Duterte.
Now in power for a year, Duterte has challenged the influence of the Catholic Church, attacking bishops and priests, and overturning the moral standards of many Catholics.
"It's an eye opener for us," Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo told Rappler.
"Lumalabas na medyo manipis 'yung aming pastoral education sa mga tao," he added. (It appears that our pastoral education for people has not been enough.)
'End does not justify the means'
Pabillo said many Filipinos, for example, have not fully understood the Catholic Church's teaching that "the end does not justify the means."
"Hindi marami ang nakakaintindi diyan. Kaya tuloy, para sa kanila, parang okay lang pumatay para mawala 'yung problema ng droga," Pabillo said. (Not many people understand that. That's why, for them, it seems okay to kill to eliminate the problem of illegal drugs.)
Bishops, religious congregations, and lay groups – including CBCP president Villegas – have issued statements against the drug-related killings under Duterte.
In February, up to 10,000 Catholics joined the Walk for Life, a grand procession to oppose extrajudicial killings and Duterte's bid to revive the death penalty.
Still, Duterte's anti-drug campaign has gained much public support. (READ: Understanding public support for Duterte's drug war)
A Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey in March showed 78% of respondents being satisfied with Duterte's war on drugs.
At the same time, however, 73% of respondents said they were worried that they or someone they know could fall victim to extrajudicial killings.
"Manipis 'yung faith pa ng mga tao, 'yung kanilang moral standards," Pabillo said. (The people's faith, their moral standards, remain lacking.)
Kalookan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David meanwhile said he doesn't think people have accepted the killings during Duterte's first year in office.
"Hindi ko siguro sasabihing natanggap nila. Natatakot lang sila. Alam nila 'yung nangyayari sa kanilang paligid pero takot magsalita 'yung tao – baka madamay, baka paghigantihan, o baka saktan 'yung kapamilya. Ito 'yung kultura ng takot na namamayani sa atin, na palagay ko hindi maganda," David said.
(I wouldn't say they've accepted it. They're only afraid. They know what's happening around them, but people are afraid to speak – they might get involved, they might suffer revenge, or their relatives might get hurt. This is the culture of fear that prevails among us, which I think is not good.)
On the high approval rating for the drug war, David added: "Obvious naman na hindi solusyon ang pagpaslang. Hindi solusyon ang pagpatay. Kapag tanggap na natin na ito'y solusyon, parang pinapatay natin ang kaluluwa ng ating bayan mismo."
(It is obvious that killing is not a solution. Once we've accepted that this is a solution, it's like we're killing the soul of our country.)
On top of this, Duterte has attacked the Catholic Church for sexual misconduct and other misdeeds involving priests. For this, Duterte has often cited Altar of Secrets, a book by the late Rappler senior investigative reporter Aries Rufo.
Duterte has also slammed bishops and priests for supposedly doing nothing to address illegal drugs.
Duterte said in January: "Kayong mga pari, mga obispo, ang gaganda ng suot ninyo, mga kotse. Meron ba kayong isang bahay lang, maski limang kuwarto para rehab? Ano'ng ginawa 'nyo sa simbahan ninyo?"
(You priests and bishops, you have beautiful clothes and cars. Have you built even just one house, even just 5 rooms, for rehabilitation? What has your church done?)
In contrast, the Catholic Church said it has run drug rehabilitation programs for years. One of these is Galilee Home in Doña Remedios Trinidad, Bulacan, which has existed for nearly 27 years.
Pabillo said the Catholic Church adopts a stance of "critical collaboration" with the Philippine government.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government, for instance, is one of the Archdiocese of Manila's partners in its Sanlakbay drug rehabilitation program. (READ: Cardinal Tagle slams drug trade, launches rehab)
The CBCP has also formed a group of bishops to remain open for dialogue with the Duterte administration.
Sources told Rappler that one of the bishops who has contacts in government is Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle.
'Examine the truth'
Aside from Duterte's tirades, however, one of the biggest problems faced by the Catholic Church is propaganda launched mostly by Duterte's supporters.
The propaganda against them comes in the form of fake news.
One of the most vicious pieces of fake news against the Catholic Church concerns the Manila archbishop.
In this piece of fake news, Duterte supposedly confronted Tagle about the drug problem, and left Tagle stumped. "No, I cannot solve the drug problem," Tagle supposedly told Duterte, in this fake news article.
Asked how the Catholic Church is addressing the fake news problem, Pabillo said: "Ano namang i-a-address mo diyan? 'Pag mas nag-comment ka, mas kakalat pa." (What will you address in that? If you make a comment, it will just spread.)
The best response to these fake news articles, Pabillo said, is silence.
In any case, the CBCP also issued a pastoral letter on June 21, urging Catholics to stop spreading fake news, which bishops said is a sin against charity.
As the Duterte administration enters its second year, Pabillo urged Catholics to carefully examine the Duterte administration.
"Marami na siyang salita, na ipinangako, na wala namang nangyari…. Ano ang talagang positibong nagawa niya? Kasi ang lumalabas, sa kanyang isang taon, ang mas malakas na dating sa mga tao ay ang violence," he said.
(He has said many things, and has made many promises, that ended up nowhere…. What positive things has he achieved? Because, it turns out, in his one year, the most prominent thing for people is violence.)
Pabillo said, "Dapat talagang suriin 'yung katotohanan." (We should really examine the truth.) – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at email@example.com.