Many were in utter disbelief. Was it really President Duterte asking Filipinos to “emulate our saints”? And did he really think that saints “deeply inspired us to grow in faith, hope and love”? Or was it more likely that our President thinks saints are foolish and those who revere them are idiots?
It’s easy to dismiss President Duterte’s candid remark last All Saint’s Day as nothing but a “playful jab” at saints to elicit laughter. But it’s certainly not funny to devout Catholics who rely on saints to intercede for them in pleading for favors from God, who understand the tedious process to sainthood, and how miracles need to happen in beatification and canonization to prove a saint truly deserves to be one.
Likewise, many who know Mr. Duterte, or think they know him, whether they’re rabid critics or avid supporters, may find laughable what is supposed to be a solemn presidential message delivered on a solemn occasion. After all, his disdain for reading prepared text made by a speechwriter is no secret. His habit of discarding an entire written speech or parts of it is well known. Thus, it’s no wonder if he can be oblivious of the work of a Malacañang message writer.
Some who’re very familiar with our President – how he thinks and speaks – could have fallen off the chair and die laughing upon reading the All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day message printed on Malacañang stationery that bears his signature.
“We Filipinos welcome the month of November with open hearts as we remember our saints and our dearly departed loved ones, whose lives have deeply inspired us to grow in faith, hope and love,” it read. “I call on the entire nation to honor those who have gone before us in the grace of God. Their legacy remains an important part of who we are today and we have much to gain from their virtuous example… Together, let us emulate our saints…”
Wow, really? Does the President hold in the highest esteem the saints revered by millions of us who have much to gain from their virtuous example?
One would really think he wanted Filipinos to emulate the saints, were it not for what he uttered in a conference later in the day. “Happy All Saints’ … Bakit naman … tarantado talaga itong mga Katoliko, ang puta, bakit ba may All Souls’ Day at All Saints’ Day? Hindi natin alam kung sino mga santo na ‘yun. Mga gago na ‘yun, mga lasenggo. Dito na lang kayo. I’ll give you a patron. Get hold of a picture of mine, iyan lagay niyo sa altar, Santo Rodrigo.”
Of course, he said it in jest, gauging from his folksy demeanor at the time. And those who laughed viewed it as a joke.
“A joke is a joke and the same does not require an explanation. Nor should it be given a religious slight,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said. He’s probably right – Catholics are supposed to be meek and shouldn’t be offended. The Christian faith requires one to turn the other cheek and not retaliate, as Christ taught in the Sermon on the Mount.
And that is where Mr. Duterte is admirable. Among his favorite pieces of advice is never to miscalculate. He knows a predominantly Catholic Philippines wouldn’t mind if he attacks the Church, or even if he calls God stupid. And he surely knows he can’t do that with other religions, lest all hell will break loose.
By this time, many Filipinos are used to his antics, how he refuses to abide by conventional and presidential behavior, how he dishes out profanity and insults, how he entertains audiences with trash talk as if he’s in a beerhouse where his listeners boisterously guzzle endless bottles of beer as if there’s no tomorrow.
For his avid supporters, his behavior is perfectly alright. But others worry when our President seems to make a fool of himself, just like when he supposedly delivers a solemn message, only to contradict it after a while. It won’t be surprising if some would now tend to think that everything he says as President, no matter how serious he appears to be, are just jokes and, ultimately, worthless.