Bishop warns vs propaganda in Duterte admin's talks with churches

MANILA, Philippines – Legazpi Bishop Joel Baylon warned that the proposed dialogue between the government and various churches will merely be "propaganda" if President Rodrigo Duterte does not stop the killings and other abuses in the Philippines. 

In a pastoral letter read in the Diocese of Legazpi on Sunday, July 8, Baylon and the priests of his diocese said they "welcome the offer of dialogue between government and various churches, as long as the gesture is sincere."

"It will be fruitful if it leads to President Duterte pursuing a categorical commitment to stop the killings and disinformation, and to respect human rights and democratic institutions. Otherwise it will be just another tool for propaganda," Baylon and his priests said.

Duterte is expected to meet with Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), on Monday, July 9. This is after the CBCP holds its twice-a-year plenary assembly over the weekend.

Duterte earlier formed a 3-person committee to dialogue with the Catholic Church and other religious groups after the President fueled public outrage by calling God stupid

In their pastoral letter, Baylon and the priests of Legazpi said Duterte "crossed the line by disrespecting religious freedom and attacking church leaders." If Duterte still considers himself Catholic, they said, then "he committed blasphemy."

"President Duterte threatens and shames the Catholic Church so its leaders would stop opposing the justification of killings and proliferation of fake news, so they would choose silence and submission over proclaiming the Gospel of mercy and truth," said the Legazpi clergymen.

The men of the cloth admitted in their letter that the Catholic Church "is not without sin and is ever in need of reforms." Still, they said the Catholic Church needs to preach the Gospel. 

"Therefore, despite threats of attacks, we continue to do so, fully aware that the Gospel liberates both audience and preacher," said Baylon and his diocese's priests said. – with reports from Rhaydz B. Barcia/