The office of Rodrigo Duterte, the controversial Philippine president, on December 6 was forced to play down remarks he had made about killing bishops, claiming it was only “hyberbole” and not a genuine threat. In a speech to local government officials on December 5, Mr Duterte, who has a running feud with the influential Catholic Church over its criticisms of his drugs war, lashed out again, calling it “the most hypocritical institution” and denouncing priests as “useless.”
“These bishops, kill them, those fools are good for nothing. All they do is criticise,” he said, according to the Rappler news site.
Salvador Panelo, the presidential spokesman, later clarified to reporters that the president’s provocative statement was borne out of frustration that his efforts to improve the country were being under-appreciated.
“I think that’s only hyberbole on the part of the president. We should be getting used to this president. He makes certain statements for dramatic effect,” he said.
“The president, just like any ordinary human being, is upset when the good things that he does for this country and not even appreciated by people who are supposed to support it, like the Church,” Mr Panelo added.
However, the country’s Commission on Human Rights slammed his statements against religious leaders as “gravely alarming,” warning that they could embolden violence against government critics, reported the Philippine Star.
“Churches and priests… work directly with communities and families who continue to suffer the many forms of human rights violations allegedly stemming from the government’s drug campaign,” said Jacqueline Ann de Guia, the CHR spokesperson.