Davao’s Archbishop Emeritus to Duterte: “Listen”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/ 08 October) – “Listen.”

Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla of the Archdiocese of Davao has only one message for President Rodrigo Duterte on his first 100 days in office: “Listen.”

“Listen. Listen. Listen. I will tell him, ‘Digong, ang Ginoo naghatag kanatog duha ka dalunggan, usa ra baba (Digong, God gave us two ears and only one mouth). Which means that we have to listen twice as much as we speak,” Capalla told MindaNews in his retirement house here.

“But It’s the reverse eh. That’s why we are in trouble,” Capalla said of Duterte’s expletive-laden and “I will kill you” pronouncements.

Davao's Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capella has one message for President Rodrigo Duterte on his first 100 days in office: "listen." MindaNews photo by Carolyn O. Arguillas
Davao’s Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla has one message for President Rodrigo Duterte on his first 100 days in office: “listen.” MindaNews photo by Carolyn O. Arguillas

“The ears are important. But we should listen not only with the two ears but with the third ear or the heart. Mao na akong message sa iya pero (That is my message to him but) will he accept that? Will he listen to that?”

“Listening is very, very important. Even in a dialogue,” the Archbishop said. H recalled former President Joseph Estrada’s counsel: “few words, few mistakes; no word, no mistake.”

“I am worried about him as a friend,” Capalla, who is turning 82 in November, said of the 71-year old Duterte. “I think he has a problem and we need to help him. He is in the course of self-destruction, without even knowing that he is ruining himself. I don’t know that he knows that but because he is already there, we need to help him. How? That’s a big question.”

“If he can only listen… listen to other people,” and not talk too much, earn friends instead of enemies, Duterte can become the “greatest President of the Philippines,” he said.

Capalla said his sentiment is shared by other friends of Duterte. Access to Duterte has become limited since he won the Presidency.

The Archbishop had hoped he could talk with Duterte on September 19 at the Bishops-Ulama Conference general assembly. The President had confirmed attendance but didn’t make it to the meeting at the Mergrande Ocean Resort.

Capalla acknowledges that Duterte “really loves the people,” especially the poor people. He said the people he is helping “are also suffering but they don’t mind. What they want is listen to them because they can help. Sayang imong gibuhat na di nato malahutay” (It would be a pity if what you’re doing can’t be sustained).


Capalla was Auxiliary Bishop of Davao from 1975 to 1977, returned to the city as Bishop co-adjutor from 1994 to 1996 and Archbishop from 1996 until his retirement in 2012. Duterte was mayor for 22 years — from 1988 to 1998, 2001 to 2010 and 2013 to 2016.

Capalla said Duterte’s mother, Soledad, visited him a day after his installation as Archbishop to tell him, “Monsignor, can I ask a favor? Can you help my son become a religious leader?”

He said if he gets to see Duterte he would mention his mother and “I would say to him that what you are doing now, your mother may not like it. I’ll say also that this is not the Digong I knew.”

He said the Duterte he knew “was a very, very humble respectful person .. I know he would really respect his mother and respect the church pero karon what he says about the church, (it’s) as if he does not know what the church is all about.”

Duterte completed his first 100 days in office with “very good” public approval, according to the Social Weather Stations survey in late September but continues to be hounded by criticisms on human rights violations, particularly summary killings by the Davao Death Squad and their copycats while he was mayor, and now that he is President.

Duterte has repeatedly said he became the “whipping boy” of human rights groups and the Commission on Human Rights, particularly referring to Senator Leila de Lima who conducted a probe on the spate of summary killings here in 2009.

But eight years earlier, on November 21, 2001, Capalla issued a Pastoral Letter titled “Thou Shall Not Kill” where he called on Dabawenyos and all peace-loving residents of the city “to assist the City government and its law enforcement agencies to undertake a humane and civil campaign against criminals and lawless elements in society. “

Capalla said it is “erroneous and wrong for any government to have recourse to the principle of self-defense when it inflicts capital punishment on prisoners. Or, when it seems to tolerate criminal groups like the Davao Death Squad to kill. It is an admission of failure in the fulfillment of its obligation to prevent crime and its recurrence.”

“Crimes like individual murder and drug pushing, though a social sin and problem, are not direct assaults on society. It therefore cannot claim to use capital punishment, much less salvaging by death squads as a form of society’s self-defense. The so-called death squads are violating both civil and moral laws and therefore are criminals themselves. We call on our government and its law enforcement agencies to stop them from making Davao City a ‘wild, wild, West’ where the only law is the law of the gun,” Capalla wrote in 2001.

In 2005, streamers proclaiming “Thou shall not kill; Respect life” were displayed prominently on the facade or fences of all Catholic churches here, in protest of the spate of summary executions in the city.

“No to murderous abortion, No to summary execution, No to drugs, No to bombings, No to corruption,” the rest of the message of the streamer of the Archdiocese of Davao, reads.

The names of 383 victims of summary execution from 1998, including 61 killed in January and February 2005 were also posted outside the cathedral by the Coalition Against Summary Execution (CASE).

In 2009, Capalla issued an Oratio Imperata (obligatory prayer) titled “Prayer for Healing of our people” which parishioners in the city were mandated to recite on bended knees after the Holy Communion, “personally and as a community” for one year starting Ash Wednesday, February 25, in view of the unabated series of summary killings” here.

The CHR probe on extra-legal killings chaired by de Lima came a month later, on March 30, 31 and April 1.

On March 30, 2009, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines Davao City chapter submitted to the CHR its documentation of 890 cases of alleged summary killings from 1998 to March 27, 2009.

As mayor, Duterte had repeatedly said there were no state-sponsored killings in his city. He has also repeatedly said he accepts full responsibility for the failure of the police to solve the killings.

The police also repeatedly complained they cannot file cases because witnesses do not come out in the open.

The CHR completed its investigation but no charges were filed against Duterte.

Capalla expressed concern that the experience of the city in relation to summary killings as a result of Duterte’s fight against illegal drugs and criminality has become a template at the national level.

“Davao appears to be a microcosm of the whole country in that area of growing spiral violence and people are not – parang it’s part of the way of life. It should not be.”

He said the Davao template “has become a national reality and you have to be concerned about (that),” adding the good things that Duterte has done in this first 100 days in office “cannot surpass the intensity of evil or intensity of violence that has been started by his administration.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

Q and A with Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla