Multiple media outlets are falsely reported that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte “apologised” for his recent remarks regarding God and organised religion. Duterte has done no such thing. Instead, Duterte has revealed that he privately prayed to the God he always claimed to believe in asking for forgiveness if his words were misinterpreted. Duterte however has made no apology to the Roman Catholic Church in The Philippines nor to his political opponents who continue to scandalously hide behind the Cross.
As part of his wider efforts to break the political control of the deep church over the temporal politics of The Philippines, Duterte has met with televangelist Brother Eddie Villanueva to discuss matters of faith in politics. Duterte reiterated that his remarks were criticising the “stupid God” that was falsely worshipped by his critics and not the loving and rational God that Duterte believes in from outside of the confines of organised religion. The Philippine President further stated,
“If you review the tape, I said that my God is good, has common sense and does not create trouble for my country”.
Duterte once again demanded that his political critics refrain from cloaking their arguments in religion as this does a disservice to an honest democratic debate which ought to remain secular in nature owing to the country’s constitutional separation between church and states. Regarding this, Duterte said,
“You can criticize us anything at all, from the garbage collectors to the Generals and even to the Vice President and Senators, but never use the name of God as a front to attack the government, because that is not the proper way to do it”.
The Philippine President further stated that his God would care less about those throwing rhetorical stones at a political leader than about those who hypocritically try to insert religion into the political life of a nation while neglecting their own holy duties to care for the poor, the hungry and the downtrodden. Once again stating that he will never apologise to his political rivals or clerics but only ever to God, Duterte explained that his God’s penchant for forgiveness in the following way,
“He (God) would really happy to listen to my apology, why? because my God is all forgiving, why? because he does not remember past hurts, why? because God created me to be good and not to be bad”.
Ironically, Duterte’s “apology” has been as misreported as were his original remarks. In reality Duterte’s position has remained totally consistent while it is the views of his rivals which seems to shift based on clear attempts to undermine the President on the part of liberal mainstream media in The Philippines. Duterte’s position on God is similar to that of many 20th century anti-colonial leaders who were personally devout but who rejected the colonial mentality of many organised religious institutions.
Duterte has in fact joined a long list of politicians, artists, revolutionaries and activists across the developing post-colonial world in guiding his countrymen and women to embrace views of religion which accept and worship God as a universal God of all the world, rather than merely the deity that a colonial entity forced upon conquered or enslaved subjects. Jomo Kenyatta, the first Prime Minister and later President of Kenya is thought to have coined the following quote on the matter of religion and colonialism:
“When the Missionaries arrived, the Africans had the Land and the Missionaries had the Bible. They taught us how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible”.
Likewise, Muhammad Ali spoke similarly when telling interviewer Michael Parkinson that he had never preached against wealth and earthly happiness but had instead used his position as an activist and spiritual authority to tell his people that the key to happiness lies in a rejection of the colonial mentality which posits that only white offspring of imperialists have a right to earthly pleasures while others must wait for an afterlife. When challenged by the white television host, Ali said,
“We teach our people that heaven is not in the sky — heaven is on earth. Hell is not underground — hell is on earth. The white man told us that heaven is in the sky and hell is under the ground and he takes everything in the middle”.
Likewise Bob Marley offered frequent criticisms of organised religion throughout his poetic lyrics. Marley once said,
“Every man got a right to decide his own destiny, and in this judgement there is no partiality”.
his lyric relates to Duterte’s own preaching against original sin and a God that is brutal in his judgements rather than compassionate in his forgiveness. Marley also said,
“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds”.
Likewise, it is Duterte who is working to emancipate his countrymen and women from the mental slavery passed down through generations of neo-colonial clerical “leadership” and the misguided policies of countless politicians. Indeed, Libyan revolutionary leader Muammar Gaddafi warned of putting clerics in a position of political power as the Catholic establishment in The Philippines have persistently sought to do. Gaddafi who like Duterte was a deeply spiritual man but one who was not afraid to challenge religious leaders with political ambitions, stated,
“Once a ruler becomes religious, it becomes impossible for you to debate with him. Once someone rules in the name of religion, your lives become hell”.
When discussing a rejection of any one path to God, Christian Bishop and anti-Apartheid activist Desmond Tutu stated,
“God is not upset that Gandhi was not a Christian, because God is not a Christian! All of God’s children and their different faiths help us to realize the immensity of God”.
Tutu who himself was a cleric rejected the supremacy of any one clerical path to divinity and likewise, Duterte has rejected narrow institutional dogma in favour of a universal and fraternal approach to divine peace and wisdom.
In joining the ranks of many historic and recent revolutionaries, poets, activists and leaders throughout the developing in using his position to inspire a new kind of faith and indeed a renewed view of faith among his people that has been sorely lacking for decades if not for centuries, Duterte has not harmed but has elevated both the level of political and spiritual discourse in The Philippines.
Duterte’s apology therefore is a further attempt at striking a political compromise whereby religious figures will continue to enjoy the free speech they often take to levels far more extreme than Duterte ever has, while communicating to them clearly that if they do not cease their interference in the political life of the nation, that the President is prepared to continue to use his own temporal pulpit in order to highlight the shortcomings, ideological fallacies and hypocrisy that is rife in many organised religious institutions.
While Duterte has shown that he answers to a higher power than his critics, he has refrained from offering a capitulating apology to those he continues to admonish regarding their politicising of God and their meddling efforts in respect of blurring the liens between church and state.
In this sense, while fake news media may be wilfully misinterpreting Duterte’s words, his own message of spiritual and political integrity remains both consistent in terms of its content and consistently refreshing in terms of its overarching meaning.