With Pope’s ear, Philippines president rebukes clergy over hair joke

MANILA - Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Friday lashed out against vocal clergy in the mostly Catholic country who have spoken out against everything from a controversial contraceptive law to his hair, or lack of it.

While acknowledging the Church's role in helping to topple dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, Aquino said bishops and priests had stepped over the line when it came modern politics. And for joking about his looks.

"Some members of the clergy now seem to think that the way to be true to the faith means finding something to criticise, even to the extent that one prelate admonished me to do something about my hair, as if it were a mortal sin," Aquino said in a speech at event marking Pope Francis's arrival in Manila.

The Pope arrived the Philippines on Thursday for a five-day visit, the second and last leg of his week-long Asian tour.

In 2012, Bishop Ramon Argulles mocked the president for being bald, saying he should wear a wig.

Later that year, church officials said they were saddened by the government's decision to introduce a family planning law - allowing public health centres to hand out contraceptives, such as condoms and pills, and teach sex education in schools.

In a country where more than 80 per cent of the 100 million population is Roman Catholic, the Church had opposed the law, effectively blocking its passage for 13 years, for fear it would lead to a spike in abortions. The Philippines has one of the highest birth rates in Asia.

Aquino's criticism of the clergy in front of the Pope was condemned by some Filiponos as being insensitive. "Aquino just couldn't rise above his own concerns and pettiness," Renato Reyes, a street activist, said. "He made the Pope visit an occasion to air his gripes versus Church leaders and critics."