MANILA, Philippines – The head of the Philippine bishops’ conference said it was time to “get up” and be faithful to God, as millions of Filipinos elected Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte president.
In a May 9 pastoral letter, issued as votes were being counted, Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, bishops’ conference president, said the church would not back off from “reminding (Christ’s) disciples of what fidelity to him — in all things, including political life — demands.”
The archbishop said the church was praying for wisdom and discernment of God’s will for those who won office. He said they should remember that God had a hand in their victories and that God calls public officials “to service and to care for the weakest and the most distressed in our midst,” particularly children in need and exploited women.
“The greatest promise the church can offer any government is vigilant collaboration, and that offer, we make now. We will urge our people to work with the government for the good of all, and we shall continue to be vigilant so that ever so often we may speak out to teach and to prophesy, to admonish and to correct — for this is our vocation,” the letter said.
During the campaign, Duterte, 71, running on the promise to kill the country’s criminals in his first six months in office, told the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines to quit criticizing his ways.
However, in his letter, Archbishop Villegas said: “Several critical, even spiteful, voices have asked us to desist from “interfering” in politics. We cannot. We do not aspire after office and we have sought none. We do not even impose upon the Catholic faithful a set of anointed candidates. But it would be a denial of Christ’s universal lordship were we to desist from reminding his disciples of what fidelity to him — in all things, including political life — demands.”
Filipinos voted for 18,000 offices, from president to local neighborhood councilors. For those that lost their bids for various offices, Archbishop Villegas’ message was to not be discouraged and instead to challenge themselves “by asking how it is that the risen Lord sends you ‘to make disciples of all nations.'”
Last year, Duterte called Pope Francis a “son of a whore.” In January, the mayor sent the pope a letter, to which a legate replied that the pope would pray for Duterte and invoke on him “divine blessings of wisdom and peace.”