Why The Pope Declaring The Death Penalty Is Unacceptable Has A Lot To Do With The Philippines, And Why Americans Should Care

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte


The President Of The Philippines Is Not Just Attacking The Pope Now, But Religion Itself. Could That Finally Augur His Downfall In The 3rd Biggest And One Of The Most Devout Catholic Countries In The World? Maybe Not.


Just a day after Pope Francis declared the death penalty is unacceptable in all cases, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced he’s renewing a push for passage of the death penalty. Does it surprise you that the Philippines doesn’t already have the death penalty? It surprised us. That might be because Duterte has something else instead: extra-judicial hit squads that go around and execute thousands of suspected drug dealers and users, without any due process.

So in other words, if you’re a murderer now in the Philippines, you can’t be executed unless it also involves drugs and a hit squad guns you down before you get to trial.

Trump loves what’s going on there, but laments the U.S. may not be quite ready for it yet. That hasn’t stopped him from praising Duterte’s toughness, suggesting drug dealers in the U.S. be dealt with without trial, and be subject to the death penalty. (Of course, Trump also pardoned a convicted drug dealer because Kim Kardashian asked him to–just the sort of person he says he wants to execute under “normal” circumstances.)

Does it surprise you that the President of one of the most uniformly Catholic and most devout populations in the world would go after the Pope and the church from day one in office? Perhaps this isn’t quite as surprising, since a lot of Duterte’s success hinges on being seen as pushing back against powerful (and corrupt) organizations.

But Duterte is now taking it one step further: attacking not only the Catholic church, but also God. While he’s been at war with the Pope and the Catholic church for a while, only recently has he been trying to tear down religion, in a country where 90% of the population is Catholic. Referring, for instance, to a “stupid God” in recalling the story of Adam and Eve and the concept of original sin.

While that’s generated howls from academics and people in circles already opposed to the authoritarian President, there’s little evidence yet that it’s significantly eroded his base support, especially in rural areas, even though people in those areas tend to be the most devout. How is that possible? Partly because people in those places may be willing to cut Duterte a little slack based on a story he tells about being abused by a Catholic priest when he was a boy. More likely it’s because they are willing to look past behavior they find offensive when Duterte continually reminds them how forcefully he’s protecting them against their biggest fears: drug gangs and Islamic terrorists.

Now, even Trump isn’t bold or reckless enough to turn his back on Evangelicals and vice-versa, even though they well know he is not a godly man. But some of his tactics are very similar: fomenting fear over drug gangs and Islamic terrorists, especially in rural communities where people also tend to be religious fundamentalists. So while the edges of Duterte’s support might be starting to fray, should he emerge from this offensive, it may reinforce the idea for Trump that he can get away with almost anything without losing the support of his base.

Meanwhile, former world boxing champ turned Philippine Senator Manny Pacquiao is taking a different tack. He says no matter what the Pope says, the death penalty is definitely part of the Bible, so it’s no problem.


President Trump meets with Pope Francis at the Vatican a year ago May.