President Duterte has declared January an annual “National Bible Month”, amid thinly veiled criticisms of his war on drugs from the Archbishop of Manila.
Presidential Proclamation No. 124 aims to recognise the “religious nature of the Filipino people and the elevating influence of religion in human society.”
The decision seems acutely at odds with his previous statements on religion, particularly the Roman Catholic church, whose leaders he has accused of being “hypocrites.”
He has also insulted Pope Francis, calling him a “son of a bitch” for causing traffic jams in Manila during the papal visit of January 2015.
The new Bible Month expands substantially on a recent proposal for a single Bible Day by boxer-turned-senator Manny Pacquiao.
Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, used the opportunity of the Feast of the Black Nazarene to take a swipe at the president’s policies.
Preaching on a theme of how Jesus allowed himself to be baptised by John the Baptist, despite being free of sin, he reminded his congregation of millions about the dangers of judging others.
He said: “Brothers and sisters, this is one kind or aspect of love that we need so that we can unite.
“This is because division is often the effect of prejudice: They are wrong, I am right. We are different. You are dirty. I am clean. We are different. You have a foolish mind. I am upright, with a clear mind. We are different.
“And if it is always like that, we cannot achieve unity because we do not have the capability to say we aren’t really different from each other.”
Speaking more directly on the character of Jesus, the Nazarene, he said: “He was not ashamed to be identified and seen along with the lowly, those persecuted because they’re known to be sinful. No. He was not ashamed of that. He made them feel: ‘You are no different from me. I am here to be one with you’.”
The Archbishop delivered a similar message at a “Day of Hope” service at Manila Cathedral yesterday (January 8).
The Mass was a thanksgiving for former drug addicts who have reformed their lives. “Let’s stop pretending to be clean – ‘Hmm, stay there, we’re here!’ Let’s stop judging others – ‘You are sinful, dirty; we are upright, clean.’ The light of Christ is for all.”
The church has previously been critical of the president’s vigorous anti-drug policies — prompting predictably angry ripostes.
However, today’s Feast of the Black Nazarene also saw some grassroots protests against extrajudicial killings, with some participants spotted wearing t-shirts bearing the message “Huwag kang papatay” (thou shall not kill).