He never pretended to be pious, much less religious. But even by his own personal standards, President Rodrigo Duterte certainly said the unthinkable – or the unsayable – when he called God “stupid” last week.
Duterte used as reference the biblical account of Creation, and how humanity lost its innocence when Adam and Eve partook of the fruit from the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”. Having broken God’s command not to eat the fruit of this tree, Adam and Eve become conscious of their nakedness and learned of remorse and the concept of sin. They are then banished from the paradise that is the Garden of Eden and all their descendants from then on have been stained by the original sin.
There are many interpretations of this Creation story, but certainly none as simplistic as that expressed by Duterte, who said it simply demonstrated God’s stupidity for creating such an idyllic setting as Eden only to allow Satan, working through Adam and Eve, to ruin everything.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque defended Duterte’s right to express his beliefs and his thoughts on religion. And he is right. In a democracy, everyone does have the right to believe – or not believe – in any God or faith system, as well as the right to express one’s opinion on this matter.
But maybe both Duterte and Roque need reminding about such a crime as “offending religion”, as demonstrated by the case filed by a Catholic organisation against tour guide and cultural organiser Carlos Celdran. Celdran was hauled to court after he interrupted a religious gathering at the Manila Cathedral when, dressed as Filipino industrialist Jose Rizal, he strode up to the altar holding up a placard decrying the Catholic bishops’ interfering in the then-pending bill on reproductive health.
Duterte’s real offence, it seems, is not speaking out against the Catholic religion, but rather in failing to choose the proper time or occasion, and even his audience, before airing his toxic views.
Certainly, the faces of his audience, and those who shared the stage at his latest tirade, speak eloquently of their puzzlement and confusion. This was, after all, a conference on Information and Communications Technology, and the audience members who are presumed to be knowledgeable and worldly, must have wondered what set off this latest attack on religion and even on God.
A report in this paper says that the president’s latest remarks are simply part of ongoing verbal attacks on the Catholic Church that began even before the 2016 elections.
Roque tried to explain away Duterte’s dwelling on the foibles of the Church and of religious leaders by citing the president’s sad history with clerics, referring to his alleged molestation at the hands of a Jesuit priest while Duterte was a student at Ateneo de Davao University.
It is indeed a painful memory, traumatic and life-changing. But must the president dwell on it, mentioning it in both direct and circuitous ways at the most unexpected moments? Can’t he, as the Marcoses and Gloria Arroyo are fond of saying, simply move on?
People have wondered why, in the face of Duterte’s latest outrage, Filipinos, more than 90 per cent of whom are Roman Catholic, have not risen up in righteous anger. In the same way, perhaps, folks in other countries and expressing different beliefs have rioted in the streets and attacked and even set fire to churches and mosques and other places of worship whenever they feel their religions have been insulted.
To be sure, a number of Filipinos have expressed their ire and indignation at Duterte’s latest volley. Especially since his anger has not been confined to bishops, priests or the Catholic Church, but to God himself. Memes in social media have been devised to declare one’s pride in being Catholic, while even political allies have expressed alarm and scandal at the insult aimed at the Creator.
Others – including me – have chosen instead to wonder when, if ever, divine retribution will befall the president.
After all, as superstition holds, when you aim for the Lord, expect returning fire. One can only hope God’s patience won’t take much longer to expire.