Duterte vs. God

Relatives of people killed during the anti-drug operation participate in a Catholic-led  protest in Manila on November 5, 2017.
(NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Relatives of people killed during the anti-drug operation participate in a Catholic-led protest in Manila on November 5, 2017. (NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images)

MANILA, Philippines — Outspoken and profane rhetoric is a hallmark of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte: The man, after all, told then-U.S. President Barack Obama to “go to hell,” joked about rape, and counts “son of a whore” among his favorite epithets.

But when he called God “stupid” and a “son of a bitch” in a speech last month, that was a step too far for many in the devout Catholic country. “Who is this stupid God?” Duterte said, criticizing God for the concept of original sin. “This son of a bitch is then really stupid.”

Duterte’s indelicate foray into theology would have been controversial in many countries, but it was venturing into a minefield in the Philippines, where the Roman Catholic Church continues to have a strong, though waning, influence in politics and daily life. Duterte’s long-standing ire for the church is well documented, but this isn’t just about a personal animus: It’s a struggle over the church’s long involvement in Philippine politics.

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