IT’S a box-office hit formula: getting superheroes to fight: Batman vs Superman, in April, then the battle between opposing Avengers led by Iron Man and Captain America.
For the nation’s sake, let’s hope the current potboiler pitting President-elect Rodrigo Duterte against the Catholic Church doesn’t go further than this month. Otherwise, it would be bad for the country, the Church, the Chief Executive, and crime busting.
Why is that? Let’s start with the fight against criminality. Lawlessness got Duterte elected, as the only presidentiable declaring war on crime; the others trotted out the old campaign formula of more jobs and public services.
As the Philippine Statistics Authority reports in its annual Philippines In Figures compilation (discounting dubious data for 2011 – 12), crimes tripled from 324,082 in 2010 to more than a million a year since 2013. Those 3 million crimes in the past three years terrorized at least 6 million victims and 30 million of their close family and friends.
Add the millions of families with drug addicts, the millions of commuters and travelers incensed over the Metro Rail Transit and “tanim-bala” airport scams, and the tens of millions watching lawlessness on TV every night. Now you know why Duterte got 16.6 million votes.
The war on crime needs the Church
But he can’t deliver on his winning pledge to eradicate crime and corruption if the Catholic Church ever lost its moral authority over the great majority of Filipinos.
Imagine if most of the 85 million baptized Catholics in the country water down the religion’s key tenets, and pick and choose which of the Ten Commandments to follow.
Indeed, millions already discard the Sixth and Ninth Commandments, while countless others break the Fifth and the Seventh. (If people don’t know that the first two prohibit illicit sex, while the latter ban killing and stealing, that only underscores the problem.)
What if Duterte actually succeeds in convincing tens of millions of Filipino Catholics that they don’t have to listen to bishops and priests because of abuses and hypocrisy by some clerics? Would that lead to more or fewer people killing, stealing, and deviating from traditional family values?
Would eroding Catholicism’s influence increase or decrease lawlessness, sleaze, drug addiction, violence, family breakups, juvenile delinquency, and all the other social ills Duterte rails against? Or does religiosity advance lawful, virtuous living?
And which would help win the battle against lawlessness—quarreling with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, or persuading the CBCP to issue pastoral letters and institute sermons, prayers, and parish programs enjoining tens of millions of believers across the archipelago to abide by the law, support law enforcement, eschew corruption, and strengthen family values as a bulwark against delinquency and drugs?
Think about it, Mr. Mayor President.
Filipinos trust Church more than State
Besides crime and graft prevention, Duterte would do well to woo Church support for his overall reform and governance agenda, from nighttime curfews to federalism. After all, Filipinos trust the Church more than the government.
The 2015 Philippine Trust Index <http://immersivemedia.ph/eon/report2015/2015%20PTI%20Executive%20Summary.pdf> survey reported that nearly three-quarters of Filipinos (73 percent) trust the Catholic Church, followed by the academe (51 percent), and media (32 percent).
And the government? Despite the Aquino administration’s relatively high trust ratings in Pulse Asia polls, the government is trusted by just 12 percent or about one in eight Filipinos, according to PTI. The Office of the President rates 15 percent; Supreme Court, 17 percent; House of Representatives, 12 percent; and the Senate, 10 percent.
Among informed Filipinos, trust in the State nearly halves to 7 percent, while Church trust remains a hefty 68 percent (see PTI graphic).
So it might be a good idea for Duterte to cultivate Church support for his initiatives, many of which are controversial and likely to be widely debated rather than swallowed hook, line and sinker.
Take charter change. In 2014, six out of 10 voting-age Filipinos opposed amending the Constitution, as polled by Pulse Asia. Maybe that score was skewed by President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s remarks then about lifting term limits for him to run for re-election. Still, it would help to have support from the most trusted institution for cha-cha to win wide public approval.
Especially since Duterte himself did not get the nod of 62 percent of voters, most of whom may listen more to the bishops than government leaders.
The Church needs ‘The Punisher’
What about the Church? Does it need “The Punisher,” as Duterte has been called by those likening him to the comic-book vigilante?
You bet. The crime data amply demonstrates that tens of thousands of Filipinos need more than just Church exhortations to live by God’s law, assuming the lawless even listen to them.
Crimes against persons tripled between 2010 and 2014 to 258,444 incidents. Rape more than doubled to 10,294, while physical injury increased nearly 2.5 times to 232,685 cases. Nearly 10,000 murders were committed, up more than a thousand.
Jueteng also surged after Aquino removed the Philippine National Police from the supervision of then-Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo, who stopped illegal numbers game in Naga City. Narcotics and guns have also flooded into the country due to the tripling of smuggling since 2009 to $26.6 billion in 2014.
Add to Church concerns the sleaze explosion under Aquino, who trebled pork barrel and never punished close associates (KKK by their Filipino initials) involved in anomalies.
Plainly, lawbreakers clearly need not just the Word of God, but also the fear of the Lord to stop their life- and family-destroying scourges like crime, drugs, gambling and graft; or at least a dread of The Punisher.
Of course, the bishops will keep railing against wanton killings and rights violations, and Duterte should appreciate that churchly help in keeping law enforcers operating within the law.
So, Your Excellencies, stop fighting each other and turn your combined clout against the real enemy: the crooks destroying the Philippines.