Duterte's response to the pastoral letter was adamant.
"You Catholics, if you believe in your priests and bishops, you stay with them," the president said Sunday. "If you want to go to heaven, then go to them. Now, if you want to end drugs ... I will go to hell, come join me."
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella, a former pastor of an evangelical Protestant church, said that the bishops' conference appears "out of touch with the sentiments of the faithful who overwhelmingly support the changes in the Philippines," Fox News reports.
For their part, the bishops stressed the importance of presuming an accused person is innocent. They said legal processes must be followed and society has processes to apprehend, convict and punish those who are guilty of crimes.
According to the bishops, there are several root causes of drug problems and criminality: poverty, family breakdown, and corruption. They said people should address these problems through anti-poverty efforts to provide employment and living wages; family strengthening efforts; and reform in the country's police forces, judicial systems and politics.
Every person has the chance to change because of God's mercy, the bishops said. The Catholic Church's recently concluded Year of Mercy deepened awareness that Jesus Christ "offered his own life for sinners, to redeem them and give them a new future."
"To destroy one's own life and the life of another, is a grave sin and does evil to society. The use of drugs is a sign that a person no longer values his own life, and endangers the lives of others. We must all work together to solve the drug problem and work for the rehabilitation of drug addicts," the bishops said.
"We in the Church will continue to speak against evil even as we acknowledge and repent of our own shortcomings. We will do this even if it will bring persecution upon us because we are all brothers and sisters responsible for each other. We will help drug addicts so that they may be healed and start a new life."
The bishops said they will stand with the families of those who have been killed.