Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte taunted Catholic priests and bishops, asking them to shed their hypocrisy and try crystal meth to fully understand the gravity of the drug problem in the country.

The firebrand leader's latest statement came the day pope blessed the country and Duterte.

"The church really don't understand. They know [the drug problem], they know that it is worst, and yet, they said that extrajudical killing is not good. So other priests should use shabu [slang for crystal meth in Philippines] so they would understand. I recommend one or two of the bishops take it also," the president said, according to the Sun Star Manila newspaper.

In an earlier letter, Duterte had hailed the religious leader, expressing his "highest esteem and respect" for Pope Francis and thanked him for visiting the Philippines. Duterte said in his personal letter: "Our countrymen remember Your Holiness' apostolic visit in 2015 with deep appreciation, knowing that it was made with the most sincere regard for the welfare of the Church's flock."

The letter was released by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) on Wednesday (18 January).

Duterte also wrote: "The Philippines values its special relations with the Holy See and regards with gratitude Your Holiness' gracious stewardship of the Catholic Church."

In January 2015, Duterte had reportedly used an expletive towards the pontiff when the visit to the Philippines caused a huge traffic jam. But, the Filipino president later clarified and apologised, saying he was frustrated about the traffic mismanagement and not with the Pope.

Since Duterte becoming president of the Philippines, a country where nearly 80% of the population are Catholics, more than 6,000 people have been killed on the ongoing war against drugs. The church has been critical of Duterte's methods.

Rodrigo Duterte
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has made violent opposition to drugs users and drug dealers a cornerstone of his policies Getty