MANY devout, practicing Catholics are disturbed over President-elect Rodrigo Duterte.
They wonder how they should respond to his admitted sexual behavior, his reported vigilantism and death-penalty advocacy, and his tough-talk against the bishops.
How should Catholic Filipinos—85 percent of the nation, based on baptisms—deal with the country’s leader in the coming six years?
Well, for starters, Christian doctrine dictates that legitimate, lawful authority should be respected and followed, as long as it decrees and acts for the common good and in accordance with the law, including the law of God.
So when President Duterte institutes a curfew for minors and a midnight liquor ban, Catholics should comply. That policy would be lawful and probably helpful in curbing crime, drugs, and even the lack of family time together.
On the other hand, if any official issues unlawful orders, such as the killing of criminals without due process, then Catholics are duty-bound to object and refuse to follow.
Otherwise, we transgress the Fifth Commandment, the laws against murder, and Section 1 of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution: “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.”
The arbiters of right and wrong
Who decides if orders and actions by the government violate the law and morality?
For the laws of the land, the Judiciary has the final say. For impeachable officials like the President, Congress can determine violations that warrant removal from office and eventual prosecution in court.
As for morality, Catholics should refer to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and seek counsel from its authorities, especially the bishops. We may disagree with their judgment, but we are duty-bound to follow them. That’s our religion.
Could the courts, Congress, and the Church make mistakes in adjudicating presidential actions and decrees?
Of course. They are all imperfect human institutions, subject to errors in judgment, wrong information, political pressures, ulterior motives, and plain human folly.
There are innocent poor people convicted, and guilty rich ones exonerated. Congress impeached the late Chief Justice Renato Corona amid billions of pesos in pork barrel releases, but allowed a patent violation of the Constitution: President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s Disbursement Acceleration Program usurping the legislature’s power of the purse.
As for the Catholic Church, it has at times condemned thinkers like Galileo and visionaries like St. Joan of Arc, only to rescind its judgment decades or centuries later.
And in matters of faith, the Vatican has sometimes been late in acknowledging events that have stirred countless believers, like the 1948 apparition of Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace, in Lipa, whose affirmation by two Lipa prelates was voided by Rome last week.
Let’s hold our tongue
Where does that leave the faithful seeking moral guidance on the words and actions of soon-to-be President Duterte?
Last week he said he would moderate his strong language upon taking office at noon on June 30. That may mean an end to cuss words and disrespectful statements about the Holy Father, the United Nations, certain personages, media, and other objects of presidential anger.
Even if the four-letter words continue, we just have to tell children that such language isn’t Christian. As Jesus said, “If you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.”
So let’s hold our tongue even if the President may not hold his.
On sexual morals there should be little confusion for the faithful in the face of Duterte’s declared willingness for sex outside marriage. Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself forbids not just adultery, but lewd thoughts: “I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
So no wolf-whistling at women, or men, for that matter, whatever the President may do. Ditto all manner of sex outside marriage between man and woman. Last time we checked, that’s the commandment of the Church.
When is it right to kill?
What about killing criminals, including drug traffickers?
We’re not talking about shootouts with armed hoods, where self-defense and lawful authority can justify deadly force. Nor the death penalty, which should be discussed in an article on its own, and which Church doctrine does not totally rule out.
Rather, the concern is over an anti-crime policy which encourages and even rewards police in eliminating lawless elements. Or worse: the deployment of vigilante groups targeting criminals.
This kind of killing seems easy to rule out, since it may lead to the death of suspects before their guilt is established. Indeed, many fear people would be liquidated on claims that they resisted arrest, with guns and narcotics planted to affirm the pretext.
Christian morality puts paramount value on life, and always stresses the imperative to safeguard it as far as possible, without endangering other lives. That means exhausting all means before resorting to deadly force.
That said, in our nation where the criminal justice system, from police to prosecution and prison, is so ineffective in fighting crime, one can see why many see the need for simply wiping out known and incorrigible criminal personalities.
In this utter failure of the justice system, with jailed drug lords even living in luxury and running their syndicates from the National Bilibid Prison, it is tempting to conclude that killing them would be the lesser evil than letting them flourish.
It’s a tough call. The Church cannot but counsel against killing except in very clear situations of self-defense. But what about society’s defense in the face of lawless groups which have gamed the law and even the jails in their favor?
Two things are clear: the criminal justice system must be drastically overhauled and dramatically improved, so that due process would in fact deter and stop most crimes. Until then, many believers, especially those in law enforcement, shall grapple with the immensely difficult choice between following the Fifth Commandment and breaking it to stop those who make their living destroying people’s lives.