MALACAÑANG welcomed Thursday the willingness of the Catholic Church to join forces with the government, despite its strong opposition to the war on illegal drugs waged by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said Palace acknowledges the latest pronouncement of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) head and Lingayen Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas that the Church is “not against the President” but is against the policies that are not beneficial to the country.

“The statement of Archbishop Socrates Villegas, CBCP President, that Catholic bishops are open to exploring avenues of collaboration with the Duterte administration is a welcome change,” Abella said in a statement.

“It is a good reminder that power struggles between church and state belong to a dim dark past, and in a world that has evolved by leaps and bounds, it is imperative that all work together to put food on every table, no matter what beliefs one holds in private,” he added.

Duterte has repeatedly launched expletive-laced tirades against the Church, which has been vocal in its disapproval on his anti-narcotics war and plans to revive the capital punishment in the country.

Villegas revealed in a television interview late Tuesday that Catholic bishops had conducted an initial dialogue with some Cabinet officials in March.

He said they had agreed to “tone down” rhetoric against each other and explore possibilities for collaboration to uplift the poor and develop Mindanao.

Abella said the government is looking forward to working with the Church in improving the lives of the Filipino people.

Abella also expressed hope that the Church would support the government in helping treat drug dependents who have surrendered to the government.

While the Church opposed Duterte’s war on illegal drugs, it has helped the drug traffickers who want change by offering rehabilitation programs to them.

“While the bishops are ‘100 percent against the proliferation of drugs and support 100 percent the campaign against drugs,’ they emphasized rehabilitation which is part of the second phase of our anti-illegal drug campaign,” Abella said.

“We thus look forward to their help in treating drug dependents and restoring their mental, spiritual, and psycho-emotional health,” he added. (SunStar Philippines)