The Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country, with about 90% of the population identifying as Catholic.
But this did not prevent President Rodrigo Duterte from repeatedly aiming at the Catholic Church. On Wednesday, local newspapers quoted Duterte – known for his incendiary remarks – saying, "These bishops you guys have, kill them, they're useless fools, all they do is criticize."
The Catholic Church has emerged as a vocal critic of Duterte's drug war, which has caused thousands of deaths since 2016. And in the last year, three Catholic priests were killed in the Philippines.
Duterte previously used a rough term to describe Pope Francis, and angered Catholics in the Philippines this summer, when he called God "stupid" in a television address. He also rejected the concept of "original sin", saying, "What kind of religion is it? I can not accept it."
At the beginning of this year, after a Catholic priest was killed, Catholic leaders in the Philippines issued a statement urging Duterte "to stop the verbal persecution of the Catholic Church because such attacks can spiritually encourage further crimes against priests ".
On Thursday, his office apologized for his comments on the killing of bishops as "hyperbole".
"We should get used to this president, he makes some statements for dramatic effect," said presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo to reporters, according to the Philippine news site Rappler. "The president, just like any other human being, is upset when the good things he does for this country are not even appreciated by people who should support him, like the church."
But many see the president's comments as if they regularly crossed the line from jokey to offensive. In August, he said that "as long as there are many beautiful women there will be more cases of rape".
This week, Duterte also raised eyebrows when he said he smoked marijuana to stay awake during a recent regional summit due to a grueling schedule. This prompted calls from a figure of opposition that the president should be subjected to drug tests. Duterte later said he was only joking about his drug use – a sensitive issue in a country where so many were killed in Duterte's drug war.
"Obviously it was a joke, but nobody can stop me from doing just my style," Duterte said later. "Sometimes you say I'm a misogynist when I'm joking, but that's my style, it's too late to change."
"If I want to joke, I'll be joking, and if you believe me, then you're crazy," he said.
How the Philippines learned from the disaster
The Filipino president says that as long as the women are beautiful, there will be cases of rape
He was the enemy of Filipino President Duterte, and his fellow judges had fired