Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte urged the Philippine people on Sunday to join him in hell as his government continues to implement policies meant to eradicate drug crime, which has killed thousands since Duterte took office in June 2016.
His invitation to hell followed the publication of a letter condemning Duterte’s “reign of terror” and calling for an end to the drug war by the heads of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
“You Catholics, if you believe in your priests and bishops, you stay with them,” Duterte said at a press briefing Sunday in southern Cagayan de Oro. “If you want to go to Heaven, then go to them.”
He then offered an alternative: “Now, if you want to end drugs … I will go to hell. Come join me.”
Duterte has previously stated that he does not believe in hell. “There is no such thing as heaven and hell,” he said this month, speaking before the Philippine Association of Water Districts. “You know it would need a very stupid God if He creates me as a human being and at the end of my earthly life He would just send me to hell. … Why the heck create me if You let me suffer?”
Duterte’s statements on Sunday followed an official presidential office statement with significantly less bombast against the CBCP letter. “The efforts of these Church leaders might be put to better use in practical catechetics that build strong moral character among the faithful,” the statement, read by spokesman Ernesto Abella during the weekend, read, “and so contribute more to the reign of peace felt by ordinary citizens everywhere, especially those who are innocent of illegal activities.” Abella accused the bishops of being “out of touch with the sentiments of the faithful who overwhelmingly support the changes in the Philippines.”
A poll published last week by the firm Social Weather Stations (SWS) found that 85 percent of Filipinos approve of the job President Duterte is doing. An estimated 80 percent of the population of the Philippines is Catholic.
The large Catholic population of his country has not stopped Duterte from criticizing the Church. His statements this weekend were mild compared to his blistering criticism two weeks ago, when he told an audience that a Catholic priest had molested him at age “13 or 14” and that most priests were “all filthy” and “full of sh*t.”
“There is a God. You better cultivate your relationship between you and God,” Duterte said at the time. “Do not go to confession.”
Duterte has also encouraged priests to use methamphetamine to better understand the devastating nature of abusing that drug and why he has vowed to eliminate its presence from his country by any means necessary.
The letter from the CBCP in question was a rallying cry to opposing President Duterte’s war on drugs, the signature policy in his presidential campaign. The letter emphasized the role of fighting poverty in eradicating drug crime and called for an end to arbitrary extrajudicial killings.
“An additional cause of concern is the reign of terror in many places of the poor. Many are killed not because of drugs,” the letter read. “Those who kill them are not brought to account. An even greater cause of concern is the indifference of many to this kind of wrong.”
“The deep root of the drug problem and criminality is the poverty of the majority, the destruction of the family and corruption in society. The step we have to take is to overcome poverty,” it continued. The Philippine website Rappler noted the language of a “war on the poor” appears to echo that of international human rights groups like Amnesty International.
While Duterte continues to defend the drug war, he has put on hold the initiatives that won him the presidency after an embarrassing incident for police in which they killed a South Korean businessman, allegedly as part of a larger drug raid. Instead, Duterte has demanded the head of the national police, Ronald dela Rosa, conduct a strict review of every policeman’s record and do away with anyone who is involved in corrupt activities. “You are corrupt to the core. It’s in your system,” Duterte told police at an event last week.
Dela Rosa, whose tendered resignation Duterte refused to accept, announced he would lead the initiative. “We will cleanse our ranks. … Then maybe after that, we can resume our war on drugs,” he explained. “Rogue cops, beware!”