YESTERDAY, the United States, the United Nations, and the European Union were at the receiving end of President Rodrigo Duterte’s caustic tongue. Today, it is the Catholic Church, its bishops and priests. I suggest that the Catholic laity, who constitute the vast majority of the Church’s faithful, not just the clergy and the religious, respond.
For one brief stunning moment, DU30 appeared to have regained his political bearings. Through the good offices of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who visited Davao City recently, he reportedly agreed to stop attacking the US, in exchange for President Donald Trump’s promise not to criticize his extra-judicial drug killings.
After calling Barack Obama a “son of a whore” and threatening to separate economically and militarily from the US and align himself with China and Russia “against the world,” this was, to many Filipinos and foreigners alike, a welcome turnaround.
But with the US being added to China, Russia and Japan on DU30’s list of “friends,” he seemed to have no one left to kick around. Wouldn’t that make life a bore?
The new whipping boys
This was where the Church and its bishops and priests came in. They became the new whipping boys. They have been there before, but day after this column reported DU30’s alleged modus vivendi with Trump, he went back to his verbal frenzy against Catholic bishops and priests who have criticized the drug killings.
While the presidential adviser on the peace process Jesus Dureza presented DU30’s letter to Pope Francis at the Vatican, belatedly thanking him for his 2015 apostolic visit, (for which DU30 had cursed the Pope for causing so much traffic), the foul-mouthed thug went back to his signature presidential discourse—this time against the local clerics rather than against the US or the Pope.
He accused them of hypocrisy, homosexuality, corruption, child abuse, and challenged the Church to a “showdown.” These were all argumentum ad hominem intended to humiliate and shame the clerics using general accusations, without any names, without any particulars.
In a fitting response, Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa, a former military vicar and one of the moral leaders of the National Transformation Council, said, “The Church with all its imperfections and weaknesses will continue to teach the Gospel of Life. Churchmen are not perfect. Nevertheless, they are supposed to proclaim what is right and proper even if they themselves fall short of what they teach. The fault of some should not be blamed on all.”
DU30 doesn’t get it
What DU30 seems to hold is that unless you are absolutely lily white, you have no business citing the law or moral principles for the benefit of others. This means that since he has publicly admitted his own failings, he has no business accusing anybody else of any imperfection. However, he makes himself an exception to his own rules. But if DU30 claims familiarity with members of the clergy who have fallen from grace, it could be because they share many things in common. They may, in fact, belong to the same political circle.
One could begin with former priest Leoncio Evasco Jr., the Cabinet Secretary and leader of DU30’s communist coalition partners—next to DU30, the most powerful man in government. He has since tried to organize the married priests in the country, many of whom had also joined the NPA, into some kind of religious society, apparently with the intention of making DU30 the equivalent of INC’s Ka Felix Manalo or the Anglican Church’s Henry VIII.
Archbishop Emeritus Oscar V. Cruz of Lingayen-Dagupan, a former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, reminded DU30 that so many who had tried to bring down the Church “are now buried underground, while the Church still stands. So go ahead, and the Church will bury you,” he said. Stalin was famously heard to ask, “How many divisions does the Pope have?” It turned out it’s not a matter of military divisions or weapons of mass destruction.
Even the devil knows
The devil himself knows, so does presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella, who is a Protestant pastor. Thus, apparently worried about the implications of DU30’s brash challenge, Abella called for a dialogue between DU30 and the bishops. But he was inept enough to say he wanted to “encourage the bishops” to have a dialogue with DU30, instead of asking DU30 to dialog with them and telling them DU30 would like to dialog.
The bishops will not ask for a meeting and give DU30 an excuse to humiliate them by turning it down. But these are men of prayer, and they will never turn down a request from Malacañang for such a meeting. They would like to talk to the President about some basic truths about Church and State, morality and law which seem alien to the President.
For starters, they would very much like to tell DU30 that they, too, would like to rid the country of illegal drugs, but that slaughtering the most wretched human beings like animals, as a recent pictorial-report in The New York Times put it, is a crime that cries to the Heavens for justice, if not vengeance.
The silence is over
The issue has never been whether or not they are for DU30. Many, if not most of them, are. It is simply whether or not they approve of the killings. Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop and CBCP President Socrates Villegas, Archbishop Cruz, Bishop Broderick Pabillo, Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato, Bishop Joel Baylon of Legazpi, joined by the clergy and lay leaders of his diocese, Redemptorist Father Amado Picardal, the Association of Major Religious Superiors of Women, Ateneo University President Jose Ramon Villarin, De La Salle University President Brother Jose Mari Jimenez–these are but some of those who have spoken out. The silence is over. Even Archbishop-Cardinal Luis Antonio “Chito” Tagle of Manila has finally spoken out.
For them, even if President Trump and all of DU30’s most powerful foreign friends choose to ignore the killings, these must stop. In fact, Trump’s own pick for permanent representative to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, has been quoted as saying she would not be prevented from protesting the killings. The most barbaric offense to morality and reason is not that the detained mayor of Albuera, Leyte was shot inside the subprovincial jail in Baybay, Leyte at four o’clock in the morning by a raiding party from Tacloban City which was allegedly trying to serve a search warrant, and that the President declared none of those who had committed the murder would go to jail for what the National Bureau of Investigation had declared a “rubout.”
Neither is it that policemen kidnapped a Korean businessman, took him to the central Philippine National Police headquarters at Camp Crame, where they killed and cremated him, and flushed his remains down the sewer, and that PNP Chief Bato de la Rosa said he was melting in shame but remained standing shameless, instead of resigning and packing up or being sacked by an angry President. For the first time, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said something right when he said De la Rosa should resign. Bato said he would resign if the President asked him. But at this writing DU30 has done nothing.
But even without these horrifying circumstances, the killing of 6,200 or so nameless individuals, without due process, without compunction, without remorse, without adequate documentation for the public, is a clear descent into savagery and barbarism. The police claim that the greater bulk of the killings has been the work of “vigilantes.” If so, why has not a single one of them been arrested or killed while resisting arrest? Is the word “vigilantes” merely a convenient cover for rogue policemen or perhaps NPA sparrow units, which have been allowed to participate in the killings?
Even if dogs, not humans, are being killed
If 6,200 dogs had been brutally slaughtered and dumped in an open mass grave or dumping ground, would it not have caused a savage howl from animal lovers? Why have we not heard a similar cry from humans protesting the slaughter of their fellow humans? Where has our common “humanity” gone? In one recent birthday celebration, I walked into a group of DU30 fanatics who seemed to be in such ecstatic joy over his foul language, his unpolished manners, and his killings that one of them said, he should be made President for Life. Not even Solicitor General Jose Calida, who seems too determined to find some ways by means of which DU30 could proclaim martial law outside the “constitutional box,” may have thought of anything like that.
The status of the human person, not just of drug suspects, especially if he is a Christian, is what the bishops should take up with DU30, if a dialogue occurs. It is what they should raise in the public square, even if—or especially if—no such dialogue occurs. This is not a matter for the bishops alone, though. It is a matter for the whole Church. The bishops, led by the Bishop of Rome (the Pope), are the successors to the Apostles, and their mission is to teach, to sanctify and to govern the faithful, as Christus Dominus, the Second Vatican Council decree on the pastoral office on bishops, makes clear. But they are not the entire Church.
Headed by Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, consubstantial with the Father, the Church is made up of the clergy, the religious and the laity. The laity constitute the overwhelming majority of the faithful, but each of them shares in the prophetic, priestly and kingly gifts of the clergy. The faithful on earth constitute the Church militant, the faithful in purgatory constitute the Church suffering, and the faithful in Heaven constitute the Church triumphant. The laity cannot be less militant than the bishops and clergy in defending the worth of every human life.
The laity must step forward
Where faith and reason are trivialized, human life and human dignity brutalized, and fundamental principles of law and justice idiotized, the laity cannot wait for their bishops and priests to lead the fight. They must fight. They should be the Church’s most militant. The killings must stop, and the attempt to replace belief in God and all things related to God with submission to the devil as the lord of life and the universe must stop. DU30’s death agenda, which includes the restoration of the death sentence to be administered by a corrupt justice system, and the imposition of birth control measures that violate the right of married couples to live their own conjugal lives without state intervention, must also be abandoned now.
Faced with a cruel and demented power that recognizes no limits of what it can do in the pursuit of its own ends, we need more than raw courage to face up to the challenge. The strongest faith is needed. This is what the emerging dictatorship would like to destroy. In early Christianity, it took the faith of martyrs to rise above the persecution of tyrants. In our time, in non-Christian societies, it has taken the faith of some brave women to torch and immolate themselves in the public square in order to rouse the people from their drugged sleep.
We need something like this. We already have two canonized Filipino saints, St. Lorenzo Ruiz and St. Pedro Calungsod. Both are laymen and martyrs. We need more laymen and laywomen to recognize that our fight against the government’s death agenda is a fight of Christians who never lost the distinction between right and wrong, nor the will to resist a regime that wants to control our private lives, and usurp the Church’s exclusive domain.