MANILA, Philippines (ViaNews) – By now, no one seems surprised that Philippine president Rodrigo Roa Duterte, known for his allegedly notorious and misogynistic remarks, would be involved in yet another controversial scandal.

This time, he is under fire when he said that God is stupid – a taboo in a nation long considered as the only Christian-dominated country in this part of the world.

“Who is this stupid God?” President Duterte asked when he questioned the Bible’s story on creation, adding that, “You created something perfect and then you think of an event that would tempt and destroy the quality of your work.”

The Philippine blogosphere broke with criticisms and demands for a public apology, which President Duterte refuses to do until now. Despite the backlash, he continued to defend his earlier stance and even called the 12 apostles as “idiots” who were venerated as saints simply because they were among those painted in the famous “Last Supper.”

These rather preposterous statements have left many Filipinos both in disbelief and in rage.

Via News TV

The president’s daughter has already defended his father’s statement, saying that it must be shrugged off since President Duterte is neither a priest or a pastor. But the bitter truth is this: whatever that comes out of the president’s mouth is a policy.

The killing of clergy members

This is not the first time President Duterte had attacked the Church.

For one, back in January 2017, President Duterte said the Roman Catholic Church is “full of shit,” as the religious institution allegedly “smell(s) bad, corruption and all.” He also chided some of its bishops who reportedly received an expensive SUV during the time of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

“Shouldn’t you be ashamed of yourselves? That’s so expensive and so many people have nothing to eat,” he said.

President Duterte also claimed that he was sexually assaulted by a priest when he was still young.

But the words did not always remain as mere words. So far, under President Duterte, four clergy members have been killed.

On December 3, 2017, Pastor Lablito Quiñonez of the Guardians of the Truth Church Mission International, Inc. was killed in Mindoro, a province south of Manila, by assailants believed to be members of state security forces who accused him of being a member of the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

Philippine authorities have also yet to shed light on the killing of two members of the Roman Catholic clergy – Fr. Marcelito Paez and Fr. Mark Ventura who were killed on December 5, 2017, and April 29, 2018, respectively. Both priests are known for their advocacies for the environment and human rights.

The most recent killing was Fr. Richmond Nilo, who was shot dead shortly before he held mass on June 10, 2018.

“Even as authorities have yet to determine the motive behind this brutal killing, it is clear that the culture of impunity that this present administration is perpetuating will hardly bring us closer to justice,” said Fr. Jonash Joyohoy, executive director of the Ramento Project for Rights Defenders (RPRD) of the Protestant church Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI).

Threats, harassment, trumped-up charges

Meanwhile, two IFI priests have reportedly been receiving death threats. Both are being subjected to harassment over their alleged involvement on various campaigns being launched by people’s organizations, particularly the peasants in their respective parishes.

IFI priest Fr. Arvin Mangrubang has been subjected to intense surveillance by state security forces nearly the entire month of June. He has also received intelligence report that his name is included in the infamous military hitlist, the Order of Battle.

Fr. Mangrubang was also subjected to threats and harassment last year. On December 16, 2017, a day after an environmental activist was illegally arrested in Ilocos Norte, he received a text message that read, “You are next.”

Then, on June 24, 2018, another IFI priest Fr. Randy Manicap Sr. received two text messages that read, “You are next!” and “You will die and suffer the same fate as your idol, Alberto Ramento.”

Ramento was an IFI bishop who was killed back in 2006 at the height of his support to the struggling farm workers of Hacienda Luisita, one of the biggest and longest-running land dispute in the country.

IFI Bishop Carlos Morales, on the other hand, was released upon posting bail, nearly a year since he was illegally arrested, along with NDFP peace consultant Rommel Salinas, his driver and his wife.

Foreign missionary workers, too, are under attack

On April 16, 2018, a 71-year-old Australian missionary, who has been in the Philippines nearly three decades, was arrested by elements of the Bureau of Immigration over her alleged involvement in partisan political activities.

Read: Why is the Philippine government hell-bent to kick out an Aussie nun?

Two days after her arrest, no less than President Duterte said he personally ordered for the arrest of Sr. Patricia Anne Fox, saying that she must be deported due to her “disorderly conduct” and even described the nun as “foul-mouthed.”

Sr. Pat, as she is known in the ecumenical community, has long insisted that her immersion with the poor – particularly the poor peasants and urban poor communities facing threats of demolition – is a part of her missionary work.

She is still battling against her deportation case.

Meanwhile, the Council and the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church have launched a worldwide campaign for the release of their missionary Tawanda Chandiwana who has been incarcerated for over six weeks now.

Two other missionary workers Adam Shaw and Miracle Osman, too, are experiencing difficulties in securing documents that would allow them to leave the Philippines.

The United Methodist Global Ministries said they were sent to the Philippines to “serve for 20 months in works of justice and mercy through participation in such ministries as peacebuilding, creation care, English teaching, human rights advocacy, and social work.”

In fact, they added, Filipino young adults, too, are part of this program and are serving in Japan, South Africa, Ireland, Barbados, and Uruguay.

“We vigorously protest this treatment of our mission personnel, placed and supervised in collaboration with The United Methodist Church in the Philippines,” said Thomas Kemper, general secretary (chief executive) of United Methodist Global Ministries.

Threats continue

In the midst of the growing clamor for justice to be served for the slain priests, President Duterte threatened the Church anew, saying that, “The problem with these fools is they think they are all saints, but the government, military, police are all demons.”

He also threatened to release the names of Roman Catholic priests who have illicit affairs with women.

Just recently, Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said church leaders do not accept the president as “that’s why it’s not impossible that some of them may join with the CPP-NPA to oust President Duterte.”

The revolutionary groups, the CPP and the NPA have been waging a civil war in the Philippines for the past 50 years. Both are respondents to the terrorist proscription case, which was filed by ranking state prosecutor last year.

Read: What You Need to Know About the Philippines’ Infamous ‘Terror List’

Such virtual red-tagging could further put the clergy and church workers in danger, and possibly make them targets of a military operation.

In the aftermath of the “Who is this stupid God” remark, government officials have sought an audience with religious leaders. No less than President Duterte is reportedly set to meet the head of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, which is the highest governing body of the Roman Catholic here in the Philippines.

In light of President Duterte’s looming authoritarian rule, the role of the religious sector in the Philippines is truly a force to be reckoned with, especially since they played a critical role in the ousting of former strongman Ferdinand Marcos.