Pope Francis meets with President B. S. Aquino 3rd in Malacanang today on the first working day of his state and apostolic visit to the Philippines. What will they talk about? No one has an inside track.
The “talking points” have not been leaked, and everyone is trying to speculate. I will not add to it, but I do have a short wish list.
As everyone knows, the Pope is here to express his solidarity with the poor and the victims of recent great calamities. I wish that, in addition to the topic of mercy and compassion, which is the theme of his visit, he would share with his host, and with all of us Filipinos, some basic thoughts about truth and justice. These are well treated in the Gospel and in the Social Teachings of the Church, but it would be good for our beloved President and for the nation at large to have a short refresher course from the Pope.
I also wish that amid the increasing cases of schizophrenia and people living “double lives” around the world, he would share some thoughts about what the saints call “unity of life” on the part of the individual, the family and the state. The two issues are inter-related.
Why truth and justice?
Because these are the foundations of mercy and compassion. Without truth, and without justice, we cannot have either mercy or compassion.
The latter perfects the former and vice versa. The typhoon victims of Tacloban and everywhere else deserve mercy and compassion because they have suffered, but above all because they are all children of the same God; they deserve to live in peace, solidarity and freedom from ignorance, want, inequality and injustice. That is the first truth.
The second truth is that the Philippines is a predominantly Christian nation. In justice, it should be treated as such, and not as a pagan or Godless state, by the political authorities. The right of the people to believe in God, and to practice their faith, which subsumes their right to live their individual and family lives according to the laws of God, is sacred and inviolate. It does not need the consent, permission or supervision of the state. And yet this cardinal principle has been wantonly violated.
The Injustice of RH Law
Through the highly unjust and oppressive Reproductive Health Law, which mocks not only the moral law but also the letter and spirit of the Constitution, not only has this principle been thrown out the window, but some of our moral and spiritual leaders seemed inclined to allow the laity to be bound by it. A word or two from the Holy Father, similar to Pope Benedict XVI’s 2008 message to the UN General Assembly, that one does not have to offend God in order to practice democracy, would probably suffice.
Millions of Filipino deprived of their faith
In their search for a decent means of livelihood for themselves and their families, over 10 million Filipinos, mostly Catholic, have found employment in various countries abroad, which allows them to remit a total of $26 billion every year (and counting) to the Philippine treasury. They have had to pay a high price for this in terms of their long separation from their respective families. But even more painful than this, if they are working in a country like Saudi Arabia, is their having been deprived of their right to practice their faith.
This has created the worst type of poverty–the deprivation of the individual’s fundamental human right to know his Creator and to maintain a vibrant and meaningful relationship with Him. It is hoped that the Pope would remind our beloved President that he has a serious duty to look after the spiritual lives of his people, especially those who have been commoditized in the name of the economy, by making adequate representations with their host countries to allow them to freely practice their faith.
Why unity of life?
Precisely because neither the individual nor the family nor the state can live schizophrenic and double lives. If we are a truly Christian and democratic nation, we must have Christian and democratic aspirations and values. We cannot profess to be something, and by our actions show ourselves to be the opposite of what we profess to be.
This is what is meant by “unity of life.”
A lesson from Cardinal Sin
The late Jaime Cardinal Sin used to regale his friends with a story about a pious woman who ran a small store and managed to routinely cheat her customers, without any sense of wrongdoing. In the evening, after the store had served its last customer, she would ask her household staff to help her cook the books on the day’s sales, add water to every bottle of vinegar to be sold in the morning, rig the weighing scale, and take away a kilo or so from every 50-kilo sack of rice to be sold at its original weight. She would ask them to finish quickly so they could all say their evening prayers together before supper and bedtime.
The cardinal used this story to show how some people casually mixed their religion with their crimes. They tended to separate their religious belief from their religious practice; they professed belief in God, but their conduct showed the exact opposite of that belief.
This lack of “unity of life” was not confined to pious petty merchants alone; it was more common among public officials, including communities under the sway of certain types of politicians.
A personal witness
I grew up in an island-province where almost everyone, including the most unsavory politicians, regularly went to church for Mass. But on election day the politicians bought the people’s votes, and the voters sold their votes. And nobody seemed to think something was wrong with it.
When as a young Cabinet member I ran for the Batasan in 1978, I thought I could change all that. Some people came to me asking for money in exchange for their votes; I said I had no money to buy votes, and that even if I had, I would never buy votes. And they should never sell their votes. That year I topped the Bicol regional elections without buying a single vote. And I won two relatively honest senatorial elections after that, on a shoestring budget, while some candidates lost after spending hundreds of millions of pesos.
For as long as I was in office, I thought I had succeeded in ending the buying and selling of votes in my province. But in the first election after I was termed out of the Senate, I saw the practice return with a vengeance. At a solemn High Mass at the cathedral in the capital on the eve of the election, the overflow crowd listened in rapt attention as the priest, in his homily, admonished the congregation not to sell their votes. That would be selling their souls to Satan, he said. At the end of the Mass, the long line at communion followed the priest to the sacristy to ask him, why, in heaven’s name, did he decide to get involved in his parishioners’ way of handling politics.
In the last two elections, the buying and selling of votes took place openly near the voting centers; in some barangays the people put up signs saying, “no money, no votes.” There was no indication that the people saw this as a punishable crime, or as a sin against God, and no attempt on the part of the authorities to stop it. Neither were there strong moral condemnations of it from the “free press” or the pulpits.
Moral as defined by PCOS
At the national level, the buying and selling of votes was wholesale, without the involvement of individual voters anymore, but largely between the corrupt politicians and the criminal syndicate in control of the automated voting process through the precinct count optical scan machines or PCOS. This is where we are today.
Our national moral situation seems now to be defined by the PCOS. We have a large Catholic population—the third largest in the world–that is looking forward to celebrating 500 years of Christianity in just six years, and is sending out missionaries everywhere to reevangelize and rechristianize the world. This should occupy part of the conversation between the Pope and the President.
But despite the preponderant Catholic majority, and our role in reevangelizing the world, we have not learned to conduct a truly clean and honest national election that would reflect our authentic Christian and democratic values. We appear to be totally powerless before the pagan gods of the ungodly PCOS. This may not necessarily be something for the Pope. But perhaps he could hint at it, if ever so gently, and even as an aside or a parting shot, before he says thank you, pray for me, and goodbye to the President.