MANILA, Philippines – Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo took a shot at defending President Rodrigo Duterte for his calling God "stupid" in a recent speech.
In a chance interview with reporters on Monday, June 25, Panelo insisted that Duterte's actions show he is a very spiritual person and thus Catholics should not vilify him for his "opinion" about their religion.
"The President has many times offered and put his life in danger to free persons in danger like those hostages. 'Yun ang pinakamataas na demonstration ng spirituality (That is the highest demonstration of spirituality)," said Panelo.
He then said that this particular action of the President's is a far higher demonstration of spirituality than going to Mass everyday but not living out basic principles of the Catholic faith.
"Hindi 'yung magsisimba araw-araw, like when you pray everyday 'Our Father,' and yet hindi naman natin ginagawa because in 'Our Father' sinasabi na 'Forgive your enemies, those who trespass against us,' pero we don't do that.... Ang gusto niya 'pag nagdadasal ka, taimtim sa puso at ginagawa mo," said Panelo.
(Not going to Mass everyday, like when you pray "Our Father" everyday and yet you don't do it, because it says "Forgive your enemies, those who trespass against us," but we don't do that.... He wants that if you pray, it is with a full heart and you really do it.)
He also denied that Duterte ever described God as stupid even if the official transcript shows otherwise, and Panelo himself read out the transcript.
"I don't think he called God stupid. I saw the transcript, it says, 'Who is this stupid God?' He was actually questoning this theory of creation as narrated by the writers of the Bible," Panelo said.
The President's legal counsel insisted that the remark was merely an "opinion" and not an "insult."
"I don't think that is an insult. He is expressing an opinion. Ang problema, hindi naman siya nang-iinsulto. Kumbaga, parang siyang academician eh (The problem is, he is not insulting. He is like an academician). He is questioning a particular theory, whether this is logical or not," said Panelo.
Like Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, Panelo said Duterte has the right to speak his mind about any religion. Filipinos outraged over the remark should not "deprive" the President of that right, he said.
"You mean to tell me other religions, other leaders can criticize other religions and yet you will deprive this president? Hindi naman siguro tama 'yan (That doesn't seem right)," said Panelo.
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at email@example.com.