Palace: Duterte forms team to hold dialogue with Church, religious groups

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Spokesperson Harry Roque says President Rodrigo Duterte's tirades are just his response to the Church criticizing him.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 26) — President Rodrigo Duterte will engage in talks with the Catholic church and other religious groups over their recent spat in various issues, Malacañang said Tuesday.

"Minabuti ng presidente, sige buksan ang dayologo, dahil iisang lipunan ang pinaglilingkuran ng gobyerno at simbahan," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque told a news conference in Davao.

[Translation: The President thought to open the dialogue because there is only one society served by both the government and the church.]

Roque said he, along with with Pastor Boy Saycon and Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ernesto Abella were appointed to form part of the team.

Saycon was tasked to inform the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) of this development. Roque said he has coordinated with Saycon on the holding of the dialogue that may also be opened to other religious denominations.

The CBCP is currently headed by Archbishop Romulo Valles who is from Davao. President Duterte and Valles are known to be good friends.

Valles told the church-run Radyo Veritas on Tuesday that a dialogue is always good.

"That is most welcome development. To dialogue is to listen to one another. It is always good," he said.

Valles, however, did not categorically say CBCP will join the dialogue if invited.

Duterte's relationship with the Church was further strained following his scathing remarks against God on Friday, which drew flak from church leaders, citizens, and from some lawmakers. On Monday, Duterte reiterated the statements — saying that others' God is "stupid" and that his has "a lot of common sense."

Roque said Duterte's tirades were only in response to the Catholic church criticizing him and his controversial drug war.

"Ngayon pong sumasagot, intindihin po ng ating mga taong-simbahan, it's a two-way street," he said.

[Translation: Now that he's answering, I hope our Church fellows understand it's a two-way street.]

He added Duterte did not violate the separation of church and state with his remarks.

"Wala pong violation diyan dahil gaya nang sinabi ko kanina, dalawang aspeto po 'yang [There's no violation because I have mentioned, there are two aspects] freedom of religion: freedom to believe, which is absolute, and the anti-establishment clause which is a commitment that the government will never endorse a particular faith," he explained.