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Duterte's controversial remarks angers religious groups.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. (AP) MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has agreed to dialogue to ease tensions with religious groups, including the Catholic Church, after he made a controversial remark about God in a televised speech, said his spokesman Harry Roque.

A committee comprising Roque, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ernesto Abella and Council for Philippine Affairs Secretary-General Pastor Saycon Jr. will oversee the conduct of the dialogue.

Duterte's decision came after calls for talks from church groups, including the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC), said Roque.

The PCEC -- the largest network of denominations, churches, mission groups and para-church organizations in the country -- on Monday said it was "immensely offended" by Duterte's remarks that God and the Bible's teachings about creation are "stupid."

The PCEC said it was "completely inappropriate" for Duterte "to derisively curse at the God of the Christian faith, who is deeply worshipped not only by a majority of Filipinos but also by a vast number of people from all over the world."

The PCEC urged Duterte to refrain from insulting Christianity, hold dialogue with "leaders of different Christian traditions, and build better understanding with a segment of our society whose primary concern is the spiritual and moral uprightness of our nation."

Socrates Villegas, archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan, urged his followers to "love him (Duterte) nevertheless but stay in the truth of our faith. Be firm in faith."

Duterte "must have received so much rejection and hurt in the past that he blurts out so much hatred and angst now," said Villegas, former president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines.

"Had he been loved much, he would be giving so much of that love too. He could be a victim of his scarred past and his wounded background," Villegas added.

"We pray for his healing and for God's forgiveness of him, but we must rebuke his errors about our Christian faith."

Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon was quoted as saying: "Duterte's tirade against God and the Bible reveals again that he is a psychological freak, a psychopath, an abnormal mind who should have not been elected as president of our civilized and Christian nation."

He urged Filipinos to pray for an end to Duterte's "blasphemous utterances and dictatorial tendencies."

Fr. Eliseo Mercado of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate told Arab News that Duterte is "mentally and physically sick," and "ignorant about theology. It's not his competence, so he shouldn't engage in that kind of narrative."

Lawmakers also blasted the president. "It is the height of arrogance and power not only to disrespect and spit on an individual's faith, but also to act as though he is a god," said Sen. Antonio Trillaes IV.

Duterte's statements are "very much consistent with the deceitfulness, heartlessness and ruthlessness of his policies," the senator added. "It should be clear now to everyone that Duterte is one evil man."

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said he had sided with the president many times, even when he had doubts, but "between him and my God, to whom I pray every single day and with whom I've found solace and comfort in all my difficult times, I don't even have to think of my choice. May my God forgive him and make him atone for all his sins."

Sen. Joel Villanueva said: "We pray for the president's enlightenment. We should condemn bigotry and respect all faith and religion."

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Publication:Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:Jun 26, 2018
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