Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has often called the bluff of his increasingly unhinged opponents by stating he will resign either if there is a genuine popular will among Filipinos for him to do so or otherwise if his opponents can prove their salacious allegations about him are true. During a speech before supporters on the 6th of July, Duterte upped the stakes by saying that he will resign if his opponents who have grown hysterical over his recent remarks on the relationship between church and state, have ever been to heaven and personally met with God.
Before proceeding, it must be clarified that Duterte himself is a believer in God or as he often says in a “universal being” who is compassionate, logical and consistent. However, Duterte has increased his always frequent rhetorical attacks on the doctrine and hypocritical practices of the Roman Catholic Church in The Philippines or as it ought to be called the deep church.
Yesterday, the Philippine President said the following,
“If there is anyone of you there, the noisy ones, who would say that you have been to heaven, talked to God, saw him personally, and that He exists, the God that is yours, and if He does is true, I will step down the presidency tonight.
I just need one witness who will say, ‘Mayor, those fools at the Church ordered me to go to heaven and talk to God. God really exists. We have a picture together and I brought a selfie”.
Duterte further challenged the deep church, stating
“If you are really helping people, why do you ask money from them?”
In an age of instant communication, Duterte has become masterfully adept at throwing fresh meat to his opponents in the way that a zoo keeper is able to placate hungry beasts by throwing them pieces of flesh. In each case, Duterte’s opponents who yearn for his political demise or public humiliation grow ever more frantic when Duterte remains firm in his position and issues new psychological challenges to those who for years have grown accustomed to predictable and unexciting politicians.
Duterte’s latest challenge regarding one’s ‘selfie with God’ is meant to expose the hypocrisy of those who have called him a blasphemer in spite of the fact that he has on multiple occasions stated that he is not an atheist – even though being an atheist is technically legal in the generally religious Philippines. Like other believers, Duterte does not have a selfie with God but many of his opponents whether in the Liberal Party of The Philippines, the deep church or Duterte’s self-appointed rival Antonio Trillanes tend to act as though they have.
In reality, there are many paths to spiritual enlightenment as is the crux of Duterte’s overarching argument regarding religion’s role among human beings and in society as a whole. Those opposing Duterte for rhetoric which he admits is designed to shake people from the “doldrums” of complacency and mental laziness are in effect saying that there is only one path to spiritual enlightening and everyone who disagrees is a blasphemer. Is this the kind of rhetoric fit for the 21st century? Furthermore, is it fit for a country that while overwhelmingly Catholic nevertheless has a sizeable Muslim minority whose moderate leaders have rallied towards Duterte’s peace plan for Mindanao? In reality, it is not Duterte who is intentionally causing offence. The truth is that Duterte is intentionally challenging people to question their own dogmas, their own unnecessary sense of guilt and their own adherence to neo-colonial institutions awash in cash in a country where millions remain poor. By contrast, his opponents in making a clear inference that some paths to God are correct and others are wicked, are in fact the ones truly causing offence to millions of free thinking Filipinos and millions more around the world who find extremist attitudes towards faith as dangerous and abhorrent.
Veteran Russian opposition leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky was once asked by an interviewer why his style is often loud, flamboyant and confrontational. He stated that when he first rose to prominence in Russian politics in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the overwhelming chaos which permeated through the political atmosphere meant that unless someone was loud, memorable and grandiose, he would never be heard. This is the same technique Duterte has used to “shake the tree” of Philippine political complacency.
When Duterte again questioned the deep church doctrine of original sin by challenging the logic of someone being labelled as sinful “even if you are just a seminal thing inside the balls of your father”, Duterte was clearly trying to once again awaken the nation from its intellectual and spiritual slumber.
For Duterte, The Philippines is capable of becoming a society where worldly wealth and interpersonal faith can exist harmoniously. For Duterte, The Philippines should be a place where spiritual figures are there to uplift and inspire rather than molest the bodies of young children and molest the political sovereignty of a legally secular nation. For Duterte, the last vestiges of the colonial mentality will only end when clerics begin working for the people rather than working for their own agenda that often times has little to do with God, charity or The Bible – in many cases the deep church’s agenda runs contrary to God, charity and The Bible simultaneously. Ultimately, Duterte seeks to give his people freedom balanced by lawful order where one’s religiosity, family life and future are a matter of conscience decided from within rather than dogma dictated to by institutions who refuse to change with the times.
Once again, Duterte’s opponents have shown themselves to be overly focused on the specifics of Duterte’s rhetorical style rather than on the broad sweep of his profound overarching message. Ultimately, since none of those who have appointed themselves pontiff, judge, jury and executioner over Duterte have their would-be “selfie with God”, Duterte is going to clearly remain in office until he has executed the full duty to his people that he was elected to serve.