In a summit on national communication and information technology in Davao, southern Philippines on June 22, President Rodrigo Duterte digressed to the unlikeliest of topics: Creation. And rambled in a booming voice: “Who is this stupid God? He is really stupid, “Estupido talaga itong p***** ina** (the latter phrase meaning “son of a bitch”, an expletive with a double tart in the native tongue). “You created something perfect and then you think of an event that would tempt and destroy the quality of your work.” Further on, “God created something perfect and then allowed the first humans, Adam and Eve, to ruin it by bringing sin into existence because of the forbidden fruit… Now all of us are born with an original sin … then you will (need to) be baptized by a priest…”
He amplified this in another forum before a different audience: “Your God is not my God because your God is stupid. Mine has a lot of common sense.”
Shortly before his God potshots, he interjected a rousing breaker in a usually long and winding speech, directed at the Catholic Church, the dominant church in this country whose God he alluded to: “After my term, I will set up Iglesia ni Duterte (Church of Duterte),” and invited people to join.
Within days apart, the unabashedly irreverent and usually fulminating leader certainly levelled up his cursing arrow to the divine being, after inundating almost two years of his term spewing SOBs and insults on lesser mortals like Obama, Trudeau, Pope Francis, UN rapporteurs, European Union legislators; and at home, on women and men of stature in politics, big business, churches, human rights. (Rappler, the online news and commentary media run by respected and multi-awarded Filipino journalists whom he has bad-mouthed as well, has to date counted 71 distinct insults he uttered, in The Duterte Insults List in their media site.)
The anti-God remark had a razor edge that provoked a tsunami of “stand up for God, fight the devil” rants in the mass and social media notably Facebook, some coming from long-silent critics and breaking- away supporters. The reactions ranged from “holy anger” to rabid mudslings to ouster calls, from a cross-section of the citizenry. Sunday homilies in the churches re-defined God and reminded the faithful of heaven’s wrath against those who take the name of God in vain. Local and foreign media have enthusiastically followed the story.
Expectedly, the top officials of the prominent Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) quickly stood up for their God. Bishop Pablo David of Caloocan, Vice President, and a leading Bible scholar asserted that “Duterte’s version of the Creation story is not found in the Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Orthodox, and Iglesia ni Cristo Bibles.” In a Facebook post, he also asked, “How can he be a president for all Filipinos if he does not have respect for the Catholic faithful?”
Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president and most- welcomed shepherd in a growing number of protest activities particularly on human rights, wrote to the youth that “We need to pray for the president with compassion but he also needs to be rebuked for spewing errors on Christianity”.
The president must have underestimated the nearly five hundred years of Christianity planted on Philippine soil by Spanish colonizers which have spawned in the country the largest number of Catholic churches in Asia and generations of devout Filipino families. Likewise, he must have missed the lively mushrooming in the almost five decades of born-again Christian groups fueled by a thirst for a more personal, Bible-centered approach in the Christian religion.
To calm the waves, the government’s apologists have asked the people to understand that the president loves to humor (falling short of calling him a joker), and ribbed that people should have gotten used to it by now. Worse, they tried to explain away the leader’s behavior as a result of a molestation by an identified Jesuit priest when he was in high school (fact check: the Jesuit leadership just announced that the date of incident does not match the date of his presence in Davao but admitted there was such history of molestation with other youth and the priest has been dealt with). Presidential daughter, herself the tough mayor in their province, further joined the fray by asking people not to listen to her father’s comments on religion as he is not a priest, only to his pronouncements as president.
In a casual official stance, the president’s men later announced a Palace invitation to the Church for a dialogue to thresh out continuing issues between the two parties. Citizens saw through the plan to deflect and cosmeticize the incident. Before the dialogue could happen though, the unstoppable strongman said he would not apologize for the “God is stupid” remark, which was considered proof of an insincere heart to take to the table.
Is blasphemy (as the Church would label such disrespect for God) enough to turn the tide for a president still enjoying high ratings in the surveys and applauded by audiences each time he spoke lewd and ugly as the well-mannered blush and squirm?
Is the anti-God remark just a wild foray by a regarded narcissist, an earlier pronounced psychologically ill husband, and self-confessed fentanyl-taker who is otherwise in most days exhibiting a strong political will and unconventionally tough leadership for the country and people he professes to love so much?
Is the religious attack an entitlement to anyone (and he is an anyone, his allies argue) in the spirit of freedom of expression?
In the political landscape, can the act be stretched to an issue of unconstitutionality? Brother Eddie Villanueva, president of the 5-million strong Philippines for Jesus Movement, a presidential candidate three seasons back, thought so. In a full TV interview at ANC’s Headstart, he opined, “When you are the highest leader of the nation, and you mock the God being acknowledged by your Constitution, you are actually violating the soul of the nation.” Asked in another episode of the program to react, illegally ousted Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno agrees it is unconstitutional but unsure if it can be acted on.
One post on Facebook, with thoughts echoed in many more, struck me. Netizen Vincent says that as he raged in holy anger in defense of his God, he heard God say instead, “I do not need you to speak for and defend me because I am God. What I need you to do is to speak up and lend your voice for my people who are unjustly treated. Because whatever you do to the least of your brothers and sisters, that you do unto me.” Yes, even if President Duterte did not throw such tantrums on God, there remain gut-wrenching and considered moral issues in his administration with heavy costs on life, career, and on the reputation of the targeted. Among them: the extra-judicial killings in his drug war which has claimed some 20, 000 lives without due process; harassment of staunchest critics led by brilliant and strong women in politics (among them, a lady senator then justice secretary who first exposed his violent rule as town mayor and got her punishment with ongoing (more than a year) jail detention for trumped-up charges; the chief justice of the Supreme Court whose ouster he is suspected to have manipulated through illegal means; the vice president whose vote is being recounted on the instigation of a defeated VP candidate who is son of the dictator-plunderer Ferdinand Marcos and friend of Duterte; discriminatory treatment of the poor including the newly enforced illegal round-off of neighborhood loiterers; the near-surrender of our territorial waters in West Philippine Sea to his friend and biggest creditor country, China, the losing party in the dispute at Hague.
God is stupid? The remark may not easily slide over for it has slithered down the heart and soul of Christian Filipinos, their humanity more personal and meaningful than politics. Surveys, applause, votes in time will tell though… and it is the every Filipino, more than the demagogue, who will be judged.