Fr. Labiao: “I’m a priest but let us understand Duterte first before negative comments

MANILA — Catholic priests have encouraged people who have “negative opinions” about President Rodrigo Duterte to “understand first before making comments”.

Rev. Fr. Antonio E. Labiao of the Diocese of Novaliches, who has been involved in the anti-drugs campaign even before Duterte assumed office, said the public must not confuse his words with his intentions.

“You have to understand the person, [and] where he comes from before you make a comment,” Labiao said in a summit on the anti-drugs campaign in Davao City on Monday.

Before he was ordained, Labiao studied at the St. Francis Xavier College Seminary in Davao City, the same time when Duterte was still city mayor.

“I knew of him for a very long time and I have to say that it is a different way when Cebuanos communicate,” he said.

Although they encounter several critics for standing behind the President, the priest said it is their mission to help in the rehabilitation program with or without the government support.

“Our involvement in the rehabilitation program is our call, our mission. We have a mission to do. It is important that we continue because the lives of the people — the citizen, parishioners are at stake,” he added.

Rev. Fr. Roberto dela Cruz, priest-in-charge of the Sanlakbay Program, also expressed support to Labiao’s statement.

“The biggest temptation to work with drug addicts is to lose our focus. Regardless of what others would say, ang daming taong kailangan naming tulungan at kailangan ng tulong namin (we still need to help a lot of people, and these people need our help),” he said.

Sanlakbay is a community-based rehabilitation program for drug dependents.

As a response to the increasing number of drug surrenderers, the Diocese of Manila, headed by Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, launched the Sanlakbay program in October 2016 that aims to rehabilitate drug dependents and help them lead sustainable lives after the program.

Pope Francis, in his visit to the Philippines in 2017, has given his blessing to the Archdiocese of Manila’s parish-based rehabilitation program for drug surrenderers.

“[Pope Francis’] eyes twinkled and he said, ‘That’s the way to go. This is the path to take. Continue that,’” Tagle said, quoting the Pope whom he met during a recent visit to Rome.

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