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We welcome the coming dialogue

PRESIDENT Duterte has formed a committee to hold a dialogue with Catholic and other religious leaders of the country, in the wake of his recent speech before newly elected barangay chairmen in Mindanao. It was in one of those speeches that he spoke out on his own religious beliefs which, he said, differ from what established religion teaches.

He particularly spoke of the Biblical story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, as narrated in the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament. He said he could not understand why, after creating perfection in Eden, God would destroy it all by introducing temptation in the form of a snake offering a forbidden apple that destroyed their innocence, as they now knew the difference between good and evil.

His remarks have created such a firestorm of critical remarks from church and other leaders who are not used to hearing a president call God “stupid.” Lingayen Archbishop Socrates Villegas, former president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), asked the people of his diocese to pray for the President and ask God for his forgiveness. National Director Noel Pantoja of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC) also deplored the cursing as he called on every Filipino to respect others’ faith and convictions.

CBCP President Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles welcomed the coming dialogue. “This is a most welcome development. To dialogue, to listen to one another is always good,” he said.

It is indeed good that the President has called for a dialogue with religious leaders of the country and formed a committee for the purpose led by presidential spokesman Harry Roque, Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr., Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ernesto Abella, and EDSA People Power Commission member Pastor Saycon.

The Biblical story of Creation is bound to come up in their discussion, how Adam and Eve lost their innocence because they were tempted by the Devil in the form of a snake. The presidential committee and the religious leaders might venture into speculating what kind of world we would have today if Adam and Eve had remained innocent in their nakedness, like the other creatures in the jungle, if they had not been given, through the apple, the gift of human discernment and choice between good and evil.

But the coming dialogue will be most fruitful if they will discuss ways to lessen the rift between government and the Church. The most recent of these rifts has been the move to deport Australian missionary nun Sister Patricia Fox who has been serving in the Philippines for 27 years now.

Are there projects and programs where church and government can work together – perhaps in the great task of rehabilitating the thousands of Filipinos who have fallen victim to the drug menace? Or in the old problem of poverty among so many people in the country?

“I am doing it deliberately,” the President said in one of his speeches before newly elected barangay leaders. “You know why? Because this country is in the doldrums. I am shaking the tree to see that they are alive!”

The widespread reactions to the President’s words on the Biblical story of the Creation has certainly showed that the people are alive. The coming dialogue should give rise to greater understanding and – more important – to cooperative action that will help people with specific aid and service programs.

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