Saving President Duterte



IN denouncing the extra-judicial killings in President Rodrigo Duterte’s seven- month-old anti-narcotics war, the bishops did well, in my view, to call attention to what was clearly wrong in his otherwise laudable campaign, without at all condemning his person. The mission of the Church is to save, not to condemn, and that’s what the bishops, in their February 5, 2017 pastoral letter, tried to do–to save DU30 from his own hubris and his avowedly good intentions.

Unfortunately, he failed to appreciate the episcopal favor. In a kneejerk reaction, he said, “Come to hell with me, if you want to end drugs” — whatever that means. A few days earlier, he had declared in Davao, “Do not believe that you will go to hell. There is no such thing as heaven and hell. You know, it would take a very stupid God if he creates me as a human being and at the end of my earthly life he would just send me to hell.”

A question of hell
This is nothing which the right dose of correct teaching cannot cure. But if DU30 has read Inferno in Dante’s Divine Comedy, he would have remembered the author, guided by the Roman poet Virgil, journeying through Hell. Hell is depicted here as nine concentric circles of suffering within the earth for “those who have rejected the spiritual values by yielding to bestial appetites or violence, or by perverting their human intellect to fraud or malice against their fellowmen.” Dante’s literary masterpiece did not invent hell; hell inspired Dante’s immortal oeuvre.

As for God being stupid for “sending” to hell an unrepentant sinner after creating him, this proposition mocks Catholic theological teaching. God doesn’t send anyone to hell at all. The damned go there on their own. As St. Augustine puts it, “God who created you without you cannot save you without you.” God created man out of Love, without any need for Him to do so, but He gave him a “free will,” so that he would be free to choose between God and creatures. Those who choose God will likely end with God, those who choose creatures will likely end elsewhere.

Now, angered by the bishops’ pastoral letter, DU30 suddenly rediscovered the place of damnation and suffering as a place where he could take the entire Philippine episcopacy with him, and he asked them to join him there. But not even Philippine National Police Chief Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa could adequately echo his master. I could not quite make out what he was trying to say; he reminded me of the young British MP who asked Disraeli whether he should now be heard by his peers in the Commons, to which Disraeli replied, “No, better that they should wonder why you are not speaking than they should wonder why you are speaking at all.” Bato did not have a Disraeli to restrain him, so he spoke without being intelligible.

Killings condemned, but not DU30
Having long waited for the bishops to speak out, I was quite delighted that they finally spoke. And even more delighted that when they did, it was not to damn DU30 but rather to invite him to correct his mistakes and make things much better. They did not ask DU30 to abandon his anti-drug campaign, they only asked him to give up the summary killings. This should allow the police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, which has primary jurisdiction over the problem, to focus on the large drug producers, manufacturers, financiers, distributors who have kept the traffic going from China, Latin America and Africa, and turned the Philippines into a huge transshipment point and repackaging center.

From the very beginning, I have written against the killings, and the other things associated with the culture of death, which a couple of misguided technoquacks are trying to pack into DU30’s “reform program.” But I have never lost hope that DU30, for all his faults, is worth saving and could still be saved. He alone could prove this wrong.

A potential Saul of Tarsus?
As I listen to DU30 insult God, the Church, the bishops and priests, which leads others to regard him as the devil’s kin, I could not help but hope that he might yet end up as another Saul (of Tarsus), who persecuted Jesus, until a great light struck him on his way to Damascus, and he heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?”

Paul himself narrates what happened. “And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.’…And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord? And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise and go to Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ And when I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.

“And one Anani’as, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And in that very hour I received my sight and saw him. And he said to me, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Just One and to hear a voice from his mouth, for you will be a witness for him to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name’.” (Acts 22:8-16).

I continue to pray for DU30’s “Damascus moment,” and I thought the bishops’ letter was the nearest equivalent of that voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” DU30’s moral and spiritual blindness is not benign, but it need not be permanent. Like Saul, he needs an Anani’as to give him back his sight so that he may see more clearly than he ever did before. The Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army/National Democratic Front seems to be performing that role, albeit without intending to, and in a most unexpected and unusual manner. Where before DU30 had looked to the CPP/NPA/NDF as an ideal coalition partner, he now considers it a terrorist organization, after the NPA killed three soldiers while the ceasefire in support of the Oslo peace talks was still on.

Effects of the terrorist organization
In this, DU30 takes the same view as the US government, which has refused to lift the “terrorist” classification from the organization. DU30 has since cancelled the ceasefire, scuttled the peace talks, and threatened to arrest the NDF leaders in Oslo upon their return to the Philippines. So far, the newspapers have reported two arrests. Now DU30 will have to decide what to do with his Cabinet and other officials who are high-ranking members of the “terrorist organization.” There will have to be a purge of the CPP/NPA/NDF members who had been appointed without the benefit of a peace agreement, and it will have to begin, logically, with the most powerful man in government next to the President.

This is Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr., who runs the Office of the President, 18 critical grassroots-related agencies, the nationally organized Kilusang Pagbabago (Movement for Change) and its Masa-Masid grassroots base. Evasco is now NDF vice chairman, after Fidel Agcaoili who is NDF chairman, and Benito Tiamzon, who is secretary general. The purge will have to include all CPP card-bearing members, which include all regional coordinators and top officials of the KP and of Masa-Masid, which has been integrated into the local government official structure in 80 percent of all the barangays. They constitute the more active portion of the DU30 government. A purge could cripple the government.

A few days ago, I spoke to a group of Protestant pastors on some burning issues. At least two of them stood up to declare proudly that they were members of Masa-Masid, which they described in glowing terms. Clearly the “terrorist organization” is now deeply imbedded in government, and how to uproot its members from their current positions could be as difficult as pulling a tooth from an unsedated tiger.

It would help if the President were to formally renounce his own membership in the NDF National Council to which he was reportedly elected, upon Evasco’s nomination, at the 12th NDF National Conference in July 2010. He was still mayor of Davao then, and one of the eight non-CPP members elected to the council, out of a total membership of 88. Renouncing that membership could be a life-changing decision for someone who proudly describes himself as a socialist.

Still, if DU30 wants to transform himself and his government, he will have to do that and more. He will have to recognize that this is a predominantly Catholic Christian country whose values are at odds with those of the “terrorist organization” whose members are now running the government. As President, he will have to stand with the majority and express not only the will of that majority, but above all the reason behind the will of that numerical majority. This is the true meaning of democracy.

The bishops’ letter allows DU30 to retrace his steps toward that majority, to reshape and refocus his drug campaign, according to the wishes of that majority, and consequently expand his range of governance and presidential activity. The result should be a more confident, responsible, mature and hopefully less caustic and abrasive presidency.

One encouraging sign is the President’s belated admission on Monday that he had gone to a hospital in Guangzhou, China after the New Year to have a “circumcision” (an obvious joke), despite spirited denials of previous allegations, quoted exclusively in this column, that he had gone to Fuda Cancer Hospital at a time Malacañang was trying to convince everyone he was resting in Davao. The President is entitled to the best medical care he needs, and the nation deserves to know he is getting it. So, this admission is good for everyone.

A half-page ad in the January 31, 2017 issue of Philippine Star titled, “The Truth about Pres. Duterte’s visit to Guangzhou Fuda Cancer Hospital in China” by the “Representative Office of Fuda Cancer Hospital in Manila” says the President may have spent his New Year’s holiday in China, but he definitely did not visit Fuda. The ad describes Fuda as “a world-class international tumor specialty hospital, with over 10 years’ experience in treating advanced cancer patients from over 80 countries and regions around the world.”

With this admission, the President could now go back to Fuda anytime he needs to, without any elaborate cover-up, and without President Xi Jinping having to host a One Belt, One Road meeting, like the one for Cabinet ministers in May, which DU30 has reportedly agreed to attend. This would make DU30 a more transparent and normal President, and his spokesmen could probably leave to US President Trump’s Sean Spicer the sole honor of confounding the media on the issue of presidential credibility and competence.


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  1. Please read Sir Tatad’s article carefully before commenting. All start with hatred for the Church instead of listening to her first. I think everyone listened to Duterte. But Duterte keeps on making inconsistencies.

    We do not pay the Church obligatory tithes but we pay taxes to Government. We should not ask the Church to do what we want nor expect the Church to provide us with our basic needs! Separation of Church and State di ba? Basic needs, is supposed to be provided and regulated by the government. We pay taxes after all.

    Ngayon, if the Church speaks let her! Let Protestants speak, let Muslims speak, let Budhhist speak, let Atheists speak. Masasaktan ba ang gobyerno? Dito ang usapin, hingin mo ang nararapat na ibigay ng Gobyerno. Kasi lahat nagbabayad sa kanya.

  2. The Great Defiant on

    as usual, useless write-ups of a Frankenstein pretending to be better than any one else.
    we’ll tell me, who do you really think can save this country, you?\

    you are worst than DU30 himself…

  3. John Chameleon on

    What an effrontery! A liar can’t be trusted like you Tatad. The bishops are starting to fold because Duterte are making the right move in exposing their pretense and deception. So what do you think of the boneheaded spurt of the archbishops and bishops that Duterte should resign? This f**kin’ writer is a liar of no comparison, a hack!

  4. Mr. Tatad I agree with with you and hope and pray that Duterte has his Damascus moment. Unfortunately his approach to date shows him running the country without due thought for his actions. For example, after being responsible for more than 7000 deaths as a result of his destructive war on drugs, he now believes that the police, who have been tasked to carry out his war, are corrupt and unfit to do so. Similarly he made so many concessions to the Communists, and now suddenly claims they are terrorists. Does he not have any reliable advisers or perhaps he would not listen to them, even if he had good advisers.

    For the sake of the country I hope he realises his follies and changes for the better.

  5. Filipino people

    we have taken back our gov’t,

    now come let us also take back

    our churches from the neo-prayle Damasos

  6. The problem with Pres. DUTERTE is he is acting like GOD. He decides who is going to LIVE and who is going to DIE in his campaign against drugs. He is SINCERE, but many times, he is SINCERELY WRONG.

  7. The Church supported Aquinos… that says it all. Time to fold for them… they have been useless for the people in the last 60 years!

  8. Nehemiah U. Tan on

    Catholic Church is why there’s scarcity of food because of OVERpopulation, kapit sa patalim as they say because of poverty. Instead of criticizing Duterte why don’t the Catholic Church help curb people production. And I also he is Paul instead of Saul as all past Presidents bow to the whims of the Carholic Church or Roman Empire.

  9. The Catholic Church and the rest of all churches and fellowships and sects in the whole world are all poor losers. They easily condemn anybody of crimes against humanity and shouted out loud “living under a reign of fear or terror.”

    You are all in unison declaring the power of prayers. But look! Have all your prayers made a sense? For sure you have been praying for peace and that there should be no killings intentional or otherwise. That there should be no corruption. That there should be no rapes. That there should be no calamity, famine, devastating typhoons etc, etc, etc. Have your prayers been heard? KAILAN KAYO MAGIGISING SA KATOTOHANAN NA ANG ITINAKDA NG DIOS ANG MAGAGANAP. PRAYERS CANNOT CHANGE GOD’S PLAN.

  10. On the contrary, it is the bishops and you mr tatad who need saving, not duterte. The fact that you don’t realize that, is a testament to the fact that you’re so deep in a la la land. Good luck and God bless, you and the bishops are in need so much of blessing, not Duterte because he is already being so blessed. You don’t need to die in order to go to hell, Mr. Tatad; right now, the way you wrestle against reality on the ground, you are already in hell with your dark perspective. Your high polluting analysis and explanations will never never save you and the bishops. Hindi bobo ang tao Mr Tatad, yun kasi ang akala mo. We see Duterte as a blessing to us, hoi polloi. At long last, someone is truly fighting for our sake; someone is truly standing up for us. Thank you God for our dear president. God is truly good to the Filipinos.

  11. The president shows he’s a thinking man. There’s good sign of hope that along the path he takes he opens up to a new road sign telling him, “Detour. Keep out of Danger.” Kudos ot you, sir!

  12. The church should have been preaching about the evils of drugs and doing something to help those addicted. The drug evil destroys families and communities. That is what the church should be protecting and trying to keep safe.

    • How would the church do that? Do you think priests are all pro-God? The Catholic Church fools the ‘faithful.” Have you not observed during the rite pertaining to accepting the flesh (bread) and blood (wine) of Jesus that the administering priest only serves the bread? What an incomplete ceremony. What happened to the blood (wine)?

  13. is it the mission of the church you are referring or the mission of the yellows after the VP’s visit to CBCP? so what happened when the late Cardinal Sin leads the march to EDSA in 1986? It is when the elites and the church starts skyrocketing their wealth.

  14. Jose A. Oliveros on

    Hell is not a physical place as depicted in Dante’s “Inferno” and as what Catholics have long been made to believe. In the July 28, 1999 General Audience, the late beloved Pontiff, now St. John Paul II, declared that hell “is the ultimate consequence of sin itself, which turns against the person who committed it. It is the state of those who definitively reject the Father’s mercy, even at the last moment of their life.”

    Citing passages in both the Old and New Testaments, he went further to state:

    “The images of hell that Sacred Scripture present to us must be correctly interpreted. They show the complete frustration and emptiness of life without God. Rather than a place, hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy. This is how the Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes the truths of faith on this subject: ‘to die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’ merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell” (n.1033).”

  15. Who do you think is the trouble maker, the Bishops or Du30?

    But what are each of them their mandate, that if one encroach others is the trouble maker.

    Surely, DU30 is mandated by the people to govern the people. And how about the Bishops? The Bishops through the Church is mandated by Christ for what mission?

    Jesus gave the church no specific mission on economic and social order, but gave her the religious mission of bringing Good News to the people.

    Now, going back to the question of who is the trouble maker? The clear must have been the Bishops, who is in fact inciting the congregation all over the country to uprising against the administration, seemingly like a state of Anarchy to speak against the false accusation of EJK, government sponsored killings ordered by DU30 in the more or less 7,000 killings in the war on illegal drugs. So who is the accuser and therefore, the trouble maker? In the Bible the accuser is identified as demon or devil, that is clear.

    • FYI. The good news has also rules to live by, not that Jesus died for our sins only, but He also made rules and confirm the rules made by God in the old testament.

    • Please check your Bible thing, sir. Sigurada ka ba sa opinion mo? Also, medyo palundag-lundag parang frog ang argument mo, so the conlusion cannot stand the rules of logic. The effect: misleading our readers.

    • Thanks Pidro for your observation, most welcome. You could have been more specific to help me improve myself, You can add more of that and know that you are doing good to someone’s predicament…

  16. Thanks for not saying “first read”….

    Well the presidents is nuts…difficult to argue with the illogical.

    Better to concede we elected a nut case and stuck with him for awhile. More and more he is electing himself above God and dictating his beliefs to his dwindling following….He raises some valid questions yet the angle of disbelief is not original.

    His main point seems to be do we value life or death….