Duterte Declares January National Bible Month After Church Leaders Condemned His 'Very Barbaric' Plan to Restore Death Penalty

Supporters reach out to shake hands with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte during the death anniversary celebration of Filipino national hero Dr. Jose Rizal in Manila, Philippines on Dec. 30, 2016.Reuters

Although he has lambasted leaders of the Catholic Church as "hypocrites," Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has made it clear that he recognises the powerful influence Christianity has had on his country.

On Monday, he issued a proclamation declaring January of every year as "National Bible Month" in recognition of the "religious nature of the Filipino people and the elevating influence of religion in human society," the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported.

The proclamation also set every last week of January as National Bible Week.

In signing the order, Duterte said the Philippine Constitution mandates the national government to promote the ethical and spiritual values of the citizens and to help improve their morality.

"(I)t is fitting and proper for the molding of the spiritual, moral and social fiber of our citizenry, that national attention be focused on the importance of reading and studying the Bible," read a portion of the proclamation.

Duterte acknowledged that history has seen the "profound impact" of the Bible—the basis of all Christian religions worldwide—on the "life of nations and how it has moved and inspired many people, including statesmen and social reformers to work for the betterment of their fellow human beings even at great cost to themselves."

Last year, boxing icon and Philippine Senator Manny Pacquiao introduced a measure making the last day of January the Day of the Bible

Duterte issued the proclamation a month after he drew the ire of Catholic leaders in his country when he announced his plan to restore the death penalty and execute "five or six" criminals each day, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported.

Catholic leaders promptly condemned his plan as "very barbaric."

Duterte has made reviving the death penalty his top legislative priority as part of his administration's brutal war on drugs that has killed at least 5,300 people, according to AFP.

"There was death penalty before but nothing happened. Return that to me and I would do it every day: five or six [criminals]. That's for real," he said last month.

An official at the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines said the Church "totally opposed" Duterte's plan, adding that "the Philippines will be viewed as very barbaric" if the plan is carried out.

"It's going to make the Philippines the capital of death penalty in the world," said the official.

A vote on the proposed law is due at the House of Representatives this month.

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