PRESIDENT DUTERTE AND THE PHILIPPINE CHURCH – A Reflection on Politicization in the Philippines

Fr Leonard E. Dollentas

President Duterte was on the headlines once again. This time it was not about what he said but what he did. As always, the hot news sends a sensational theme for the media: “Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines’ controversial president has stoked outrage by kissing a woman on the lips while meeting the Filipino community on a three-day official visit to Seoul, South Korea.” (The Telegraph News, June 4, 2018) The kiss-frenzy has added more fuel to the constantly flaring agitations against him. Duterte humorously explained himself that he used to kiss women, and that he has kissed already a thousand women. This has stirred an even more virulent reaction from his critics.


My mother says, “If only President Duterte would avoid those rugged manners, he could be the president all Filipinos could be proud of.” I agree. After his being elected as president, after gathering 16 million votes, Duterte’s efforts are amazingly satisfying for many, and the people are happy to see the changes that have come about. However, it is becoming evident that along with the changes are the presidents’ downsides that need heavy metamorphosis. The international media have branded him as having “gutter mouth,” “irreverent style,” and hurling “sexist remarks and antics on women.” Despite of this, people like him because they can relate to his humor. His approval ratings remain high, with his Q1 (Quarter 1) 2018 results leading to a 56% net satisfaction rating. He is gaining more supporters such that if one were to denounce his actions as unbecoming and his words as immodest and unbecoming of a president, that person will be anathematized and accused of being a supporter of his political enemy. His supporters will be quick to tongue-lash the person.

Not to be outdone, his opponents are always ready and equipped to throwback blows of even more hostile words, revealing the political calisthenics that has been in the societal mainstream of the Filipinos for a long time. We assume that politics is an endless competition. Just as we watch basketball games and beauty contests, we always have a never-ending abhorrence towards our political opponents. We always see them as the depraved, the corrupt, the immoral and the ruthless, and the rest are the lesser evils. But then again, this is not always true; we can find many people in Philippine politics and governance who are upright and responsible.


Describing the present political situation in the US as “politicization of everything,” Dovid Efune, editor-in-chief of Algemeiner a Jewish newspaper in America, offered some solutions which might apply to the present Philippine political condition as well: “Part of overcoming the politicization of everything is listening to the other side, engaging with the other side, and respecting the person with the other view, even if you don’t respect the view, but also trying to take a slightly more nuanced approach and recognizing that no one person is all bad or all good.” In a democratic country we are free to yell around how bad the president is, but we also have to admit the amount of good things and the changes that the President has initiated.


President Duterte had launched a series of obscenity-filled attacks on the Catholic Church. Many would admit that they feel repulsion and hatred toward both the president and his apparent lapses. If we challenge his wrath with revenge, it will do no good and will not dissipate the confusion. We would be just be on the same level as his opponents and his supporters who are continuously criticizing each other. This is an opportunity for us go one step further, not so much to hate the sin and love the sinner in a sentimental way, but to hate the sin with a perfect hatred and love the sinner with a perfect compassion. This kind of “love the sinner” attitude does not mean being nice to him superficially, but having a deep Christian compassion which sees him as a poor, wounded child of God needing His mercy and love.  Therefore, we need to tell him that we are hurt by those invective words from his “gutter mouth,” we are offended with his “irreverent style,” and we are sad at his “sexist remarks and antics.

St Josemaria Escriva used a powerful formula when confronted with a confusing and crushing situation, which he summarized in three words: pray, smile, forgive. This is always possible with God’s grace. Hence, we will respond to his call for war with our powerful artilleries of prayers. The president’s ruggedly aggressive demeanor is already destroying him more than his political opponents. We don’t worsen the harm by contributing to destroy him more, but by praying for him the more.


If the President would just modify his bearing and respect the most important office we entrusted to him, his opponents would have less to say against him and Filipinos will learn to admire him more. It might even propel him to the heights of honors. Filipinos (that includes those of us here in Macau) are challenged to do away with politicization of everything. Let there be disagreements within the healthy atmosphere of politics, and at the same time let everyone move forward to strive towards excellence in work, in our skills, and in relationships and find God in the midst of our work. Henry Ford said: “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”

Fr Leonard Dollentas is a Filipino diocesan priest and missionary in Macau. His ministry is concentrated at St Joseph Seminary and in the English speaking community of Macau Cathedral. He can be reached at his email:

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