Julie McCarthy

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte harbors a no-holds-barred hostility toward the Catholic Church and he's been hurling barbs at it as he stumps for candidates in the upcoming midterm election.

"Almost 90 percent of the priests are homosexual," he has declared. He also insinuated that others have secret relationships with women.

He cast bishops as "greedy" and urged people to "rob" and even murder them.

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Sleigh bells, snowy skies and a glowing fire evoke an idyllic Christmas. But the tropics can be just as festive as any wintry holiday this time of year.

The Philippines boasts the longest yuletide season in the world. September inaugurates the start of what is known as the "Ber" months (September, October, November and December) when parades, parties and concerts crowd the calendar of a season that is as visually resplendent as it is long.

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I don't know about you. I hit a point just a few days ago when I felt like, OK, I'm ready to hear the holiday music in taxis, coffee shops, on the radio, television - just bring it. Early December, Thanksgiving - to me, that is just too early.

The Philippines and the United States have reached a rare meeting of the minds: Both are enthralled that church bells seized by the U.S. have been returned to the Philippines after 117 years.

Updated at 9:29 p.m. ET.

After a 117-year hiatus, the iconic church bells of a central Philippines town will ring in the country once again, ending one of the most contentious quarrels between the United States and the Philippines.

U.S. soldiers carted three of the Balangiga town's church bells off as war trophies during the 1899-1902 Philippine-American War. The Philippines has argued for decades that it was a historical wrong that need righting.

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This week, the United States and the Philippines end a 117-year-old feud over church bells. American soldiers seized the bells during the U.S.-Philippines War. And now those bells will be formally returned at a Manila air base.

The optics were first-rate: Chinese President Xi Jinping welcomed into the Gate of Manila's Malacañang Palace by hundreds of cheering Filipino school children, uniforms neatly pressed and shouting "ni hao," Mandarin for hello.

The two-day state visit to the Philippines, which wrapped up on Wednesday, was the first such meeting for a Chinese head of state in 13 years.

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It's not every day you see freed prisoners walk back into the arms of their jailers. But about 80 inmates from Indonesia's Donggala District Prison are doing just that.

They assembled this past week on the patchy grass of the prison grounds and counted off for prison head Safiuddin.

The diminutive warden's powers of persuasion worked for this group, but not for all of the 360 prisoners who had been serving time in the old jailhouse when an earthquake and tsunami hit Indonesia on Sept. 28.

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For thousands of Indonesians traumatized by the earthquake and tsunami that struck the Sulawesi island city of Palu, there are signs of recovery. International aid has begun arriving, power has been restored, and banks are re-opening. Long lines at gas stations have thinned.

But more than a week after the Sept. 28 dual disasters, the death toll continues to steadily rise. Indonesia's disaster management officials put the number of dead at 1,763, and their excavation has been slow, especially in areas where the quake buried whole blocks of houses.

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We're following another powerful storm, this one on the other side of the globe. Super Typhoon Mangkhut slammed into the Philippines' northeastern coast earlier today. NPR's Julie McCarthy is in Manila, and she's on the line now. Hey there, Julie. Can you hear me?

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The road through central Bhutan rises through frost-dusted evergreens reaching a pass where travelers pause to take in the Himalayas majestically stretching across the north. Steep forests descend into valleys coursing with crystalline rivers and pine-scented air. The wind howls down the canyons furiously flapping prayer flags, and setting temple chimes to sing.

Shades of Shangri-La?

Perhaps, but don't tell the Bhutanese that.

The host of the Winter Olympics, South Korea, excels in the summer game of archery. They grabbed gold medals in all four categories in Rio.

But the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan may be less than awed. Bhutan claims archery for its national sport, and archers pay no heed to the plunging temperatures of winter when they compete propelling arrows across a field.

And if you think of archery as a decorous game, think again.

As you clutch a cuppa for a bit of winter warmth, spare a moment to consider the elaborate process that goes into producing that seemingly simple sip of tea.

In the biggest tea-growing region in India, the hazards alone range from red spider mites to herds of wild elephants.

Grower Tenzing Bodosa, a native of Assam, fights the former and unusually invites the latter.

From the large Bodo tribe and widely known by his first name, Tenzing stands beside the vermilion flames of a brick oven that provides the heat for a drying contraption erected in his backyard.

On a journey to the little known Northeast region of India, you may encounter a dizzying array of traditional tribes, rugged beauty and wildlife, including the rare white rhinos. It's here we discover perhaps an even rarer creature: the "Forest Man of India." A humble farmer from a marginalized tribal community, Jadav Payeng has single-handedly changed the landscape in his state of Assam.

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