Duterte’s controversial remarks angers religious groups

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. (AP)
Updated 26 June 2018
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Duterte’s controversial remarks angers religious groups

  • Duterte’s statements are very much consistent with the deceitfulness, heartlessness and ruthlessness of his policies,” the senator added. “It should be clear now to everyone that Duterte is one evil man
  • Duterte’s decision came after calls for talks from church groups, including the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC)

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has agreed to dialogue to ease tensions with religious groups, including the Catholic Church, after he made a controversial remark about God in a televised speech, said his spokesman Harry Roque.
A committee comprising Roque, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ernesto Abella and Council for Philippine Affairs Secretary-General Pastor Saycon Jr. will oversee the conduct of the dialogue.
Duterte’s decision came after calls for talks from church groups, including the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC), said Roque.
The PCEC — the largest network of denominations, churches, mission groups and para-church organizations in the country — on Monday said it was “immensely offended” by Duterte’s remarks that God and the Bible’s teachings about creation are “stupid.”
The PCEC said it was “completely inappropriate” for Duterte “to derisively curse at the God of the Christian faith, who is deeply worshipped not only by a majority of Filipinos but also by a vast number of people from all over the world.”
The PCEC urged Duterte to refrain from insulting Christianity, hold dialogue with “leaders of different Christian traditions, and build better understanding with a segment of our society whose primary concern is the spiritual and moral uprightness of our nation.”
Socrates Villegas, archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan, urged his followers to “love him (Duterte) nevertheless but stay in the truth of our faith. Be firm in faith.”
Duterte “must have received so much rejection and hurt in the past that he blurts out so much hatred and angst now,” said Villegas, former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.
“Had he been loved much, he would be giving so much of that love too. He could be a victim of his scarred past and his wounded background,” Villegas added.
“We pray for his healing and for God’s forgiveness of him, but we must rebuke his errors about our Christian faith.”
Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon was quoted as saying: “Duterte’s tirade against God and the Bible reveals again that he is a psychological freak, a psychopath, an abnormal mind who should have not been elected as president of our civilized and Christian nation.”
He urged Filipinos to pray for an end to Duterte’s “blasphemous utterances and dictatorial tendencies.”
Fr. Eliseo Mercado of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate told Arab News that Duterte is “mentally and physically sick,” and “ignorant about theology. It’s not his competence, so he shouldn’t engage in that kind of narrative.”
Lawmakers also blasted the president. “It is the height of arrogance and power not only to disrespect and spit on an individual’s faith, but also to act as though he is a god,” said Sen. Antonio Trillaes IV.
Duterte’s statements are “very much consistent with the deceitfulness, heartlessness and ruthlessness of his policies,” the senator added. “It should be clear now to everyone that Duterte is one evil man.”
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said he had sided with the president many times, even when he had doubts, but “between him and my God, to whom I pray every single day and with whom I’ve found solace and comfort in all my difficult times, I don’t even have to think of my choice. May my God forgive him and make him atone for all his sins.”
Sen. Joel Villanueva said: “We pray for the president’s enlightenment. We should condemn bigotry and respect all faith and religion.”


Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

Updated 22 July 2019
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Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

COLOS, Portugal: More than 1,000 firefighters battled a major wildfire Monday amid scorching temperatures in Portugal, where forest blazes wreak destruction every summer.
About 90% of the fire area in the Castelo Branco district, 200 kilometers (about 125 miles) northeast of the capital Lisbon, was brought under control during cooler overnight temperatures, according to local Civil Protection Agency commander Pedro Nunes.
But authorities said they expected heat in and winds to increase again in the afternoon, so all firefighting assets remained in place. Forests in the region are tinder-dry after weeks with little rain.
The Portuguese Civil Protection Agency said 321 vehicles and eight water-dumping aircraft were deployed to tackle the blaze, which has raced through thick woodlands.
Nunes told reporters that the fire, in its third day, has injured 32 people, one seriously.
Police said they were investigating what caused the fire amid suspicions it may have been started deliberately.
Temperatures were forecast to reach almost 40 C (104 F) Monday — prolonging a spell of blistering weather that is due to hit northern Europe late this week.
Recent weeks have also seen major wildfires in Spain, Greece and Germany. European Union authorities have warned that wildfires are “a growing menace” across the continent.
In May, forest fires also plagued Mexico and Russia.
Huge wildfires have long been a summer fixture in Portugal.
Residents of villages and hamlets in central Portugal have grown accustomed to the summer blazes, which destroy fruit trees, olive trees and crops in the fields.
In the hamlet of Colos, 50-year-old beekeeper Antonio Pires said he had lost half of his beehives in the current wildfire. Pires sells to mainly Portuguese and German clients, but also to Brazil and China.
“(I lost) 100 out of 230 (hives), so almost half,” Pires said. “A lot of damage.”
The country’s deadliest fire season came in 2017, when at least 106 people were killed.
The average annual area charred by wildfires in Portugal between 2010 and 2016 was just over 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres). That was more than in Spain, France, Italy or Greece — countries which are significantly bigger than Portugal.
Almost 11,500 firefighters are on standby this year, most of them volunteers. Volunteers are not uncommon in fire brigades in Europe, especially in Germany where more than 90% are volunteers.
Experts and authorities have identified several factors that make Portugal so particularly vulnerable to forest blazes. Addressing some of them is a long-term challenge.
The population of the Portuguese countryside has thinned as people have moved to cities in search of a better life. That means woodland has become neglected, especially as many of those left behind are elderly, and the forest debris is fuel for wildfires.
Large areas of central and northern Portugal are covered in dense, unbroken stretches of forest on hilly terrain. A lot of forest is pine and eucalyptus trees, both of which burn fiercely.
Environmentalists have urged the government to limit the area of eucalyptus, which burns like a torch. But it is a very valuable crop for Portugal’s important paper pulp industry, which last year posted sales worth 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion). The government says it is introducing restrictions gradually.
Experts say Portugal needs to develop a diversified patchwork of different tree species, some of them more fire-resistant and offering damper, shaded.
Climate change has become another challenge, bringing hotter, drier and longer summers. The peak fire season used to run from July 1 to Sept. 30. Now, it starts in June and ends in October.
After the 2017 deaths, the government introduced a raft of measures. They included using goats and bulldozers to clear woodland 10 meters (33 feet) either side of country roads. Property owners also have to clear a 50-meter (164-feet) radius around an isolated house, and 100 meters (328 feet) around a hamlet.
Emergency shelters and evacuation routes have been established at villages and hamlets. Their church bells aim to toll when a wildfire is approaching.
With 98% of blazes caused by human hand, either by accident or on purpose, officials have also been teaching people how to safely burn stubble and forest waste. Police, army and forest service patrols are also increased during the summer.