Rodrigo Duterte to visit Vatican, apologise to Pope

Philippine government workers clearing campaign posters in Manila after Monday's general election. Davao's long-time mayor Rodrigo Duterte won a convincing victory to become the next president of the Philippines, and will take office at the end of ne
Philippine government workers clearing campaign posters in Manila after Monday's general election. Davao's long-time mayor Rodrigo Duterte won a convincing victory to become the next president of the Philippines, and will take office at the end of next month.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Philippine president-elect to ask forgiveness for insulting pontiff while on the campaign trail

MANILA • Philippine president-elect Rodrigo Duterte is planning to visit the Vatican to make a personal apology to Pope Francis for insulting him during the campaign, the politician's spokesman said yesterday.

"The mayor repeatedly said he wants to visit the Vatican, win or lose, not only to pay homage to the Pope but he really needs to explain to the Pope and ask for forgiveness," Mr Peter Lavina told reporters in the southern city of Davao.

Mr Duterte, 71, the long-time mayor of Davao, surged to a convincing election win on Monday following an incendiary campaign in which he gleefully used foul language to disrespect authority figures.

In a rambling speech to announce his presidential run, Mr Duterte lashed out at Pope Francis for causing traffic jams in Manila when he visited last year.

"It took us five hours to get from the hotel to the airport. I asked who was coming. They said it was the Pope. I wanted to call him: 'Pope, son of a whore, go home. Don't visit any more'," said Mr Duterte.

Church leaders in the staunchly Catholic country condemned Mr Duterte's comments but, like many other controversial remarks, they had little impact on his popularity.

Mr Duterte's other campaign firebombs included a remark that he wanted to rape a "beautiful" Australian missionary who was sexually assaulted and murdered in a 1989 prison riot in Davao. And he used the phrase "son of a whore" to describe many opponents and critics, including President Benigno Aquino.

Mr Duterte had already apologised to the Pope in a letter and received a response from the Vatican offering "the assurance of prayers", his aides said on the campaign trail.

The president-elect, who was raised as a Catholic, had publicly said Pope Francis was the victim of a "stray bullet" resulting from his gutter language and frustration with government incompetence.

Mr Lavina said no schedule had yet been set for the Vatican trip, although it was a top priority.

The spokesman has said repeatedly in recent days that Mr Duterte plans to adopt a more moderate and presidential tone when he takes office at the end of next month, and that his gutter language and insults were part of a performance to attract voters' attention.

"You have to understand the Philippine style of elections. The context is most of our politicians need to communicate to our audience, so many of our politicians sing and dance," Mr Lavina said.

"Some make jokes, some make funny faces. Some dress outrageously. So it is all in this context that all these jokes, bantering, happen during the campaign. We don't expect the same attitude of our officials thereafter."

Mr Duterte indicated earlier this week that things would change once he was in office.

"I'll behave if I become president," he said on Monday as the votes were being counted.

AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2016, with the headline 'Duterte to visit Vatican, apologise to Pope'. Print Edition | Subscribe