Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is seen with the military in Carmen, Philippines, June 6. Duterte imposed martial law to combat gunmen claiming to have links with the Islamic State. CNS photo/Handout via EPA

Duterte and Church set for showdown, Filipino journalist warns

  • December 28, 2017
An award-winning Philippines journalist fears his country’s Catholic Church is on a collision course with iron-fisted President Rodrigo Duterte.

“The president, who does not tolerate criticism, is fighting back,” said Manuel Mogato.

The veteran reporter for Reuters, who has faced threats and harassment for his coverage of Duterte’s regime, was in Toronto Dec. 5 to accept the 2017 Marshall McLuhan Fellowship Award. He was recognized for investigative reporting in a multimedia series titled “Duterte’s War.

In the past year, Mogato said the Church has become even more vocal in condemning extra-judicial killings during a war on drugs that has claimed thousands of lives within the first year of Duterte’s presidency.

The Catholic Conference of Philippine Bishops and its former president, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, have made several appeals to Duterte to stop the killings.

In September, church bells around the country rang every day for 40 days in protest of the methods Duterte has employed in his war on drugs. In response, Mogato said Duterte has initiated a smear campaign.

“He’s been waving a book called Altar of Secrets about the corruption, the sexual predation of priests in the Philippines... He’s been waving this to his followers saying, ‘Why is the Church is attacking me when the priests are also evil?’”

Manny Mogato filipino journalist duterte

Filipino journalist Manuel Mogato accepted the 2017 Marshall McLuhan Fellowship Award in Toronto Dec. 5, 2017 for his multimedia series, "Duterte's War".

(Photo by Jean Ko Din)

Last January, Duterte caught global attention when he accused the Catholic Church of being “full of s…..” His supporters followed up by turning to social media to bombard priests and the Church with slanderous attacks.

Mogato also experienced cyber attacks after he and colleague Karen Lerma published an article in October that reported Duterte’s controversial comments likening himself to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

The journalists were accused of deliberately writing inaccurate articles, called enemies of democracy and faced calls for prosecution under “the full force of the law.”

Mogato’s Facebook account was hacked Dec. 8. His cover photo was changed into a graphic that read “Duterte is my president” and his profile photo featured the logo of a popular pro-Duterte blog.

Mogato seems unfazed by the harassment.

“This profession is based on truth-telling so we only report stories based on facts,” said Mogato. “We are not reporting gossip, so that’s the difference from the people in social media who are spreading false information. The journalists are trained to verify and to find out and to be accurate.”

Mogato’s experience covering politics in the Philippines goes back three decades, to the Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship in the 1980s. He says the Church has played an important role in the country’s political affairs.

When the Philippines conference of bishops takes a stand on a particular issue, the bishops have the power to influence legislation and public opinion, he said.

“I think the Church still has considerable clout considering that it has blocked legislation before — on abortion, on same-sex marriage,” he told The Catholic Register. “(The Church) is always a threat to Duterte because of its moral influence.”

With about 81 per cent of the 103 million Filipino people identifying as Roman Catholic, the Church is one of the country’s strongest institutions, he said.

“In the past, politicians go to the Church for endorsement in every election,” said Mogato.

Recently, the Philippines was shocked by the murder of retired Catholic priest Fr. Marcelito (Tito) Paez. The well-known human rights activist was killed by unknown gunmen Dec. 4.

“His sympathies were with the poor and the people who were suspected communist rebels,” said Mogato. “Up to now, we don’t know what happened to him but the leftist lawmakers are blaming the government.”

The McLuhan Fellowship is a joint program between the University of Toronto and the Canadian embassy in the Philippines recognizing people with “outstanding qualities in the field of investigative journalism.”

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.