Let’s get our perspectives straight, as we strive to assess in the aftermath of the unforgettable papal visit given us what it is that we can truly harvest, and what it is that we still have to sow.
Both Pope Francis and President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd are heads of state in their own right, the one, as Supreme pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, and head of the Holy See, is head of the Vatican City state; and the other as president of the Republic of the Philippines.
Each has his own domain and his own constituency—with Francis representing 1.2 billion Catholics around the world, and Aquino representing over 100 million Filipinos (of whom about 80-85 million are Catholics).
Filipino Catholics, including yours truly, belong simultaneously to both these constituencies. We are part of the Pope’s constituency and ecclesiastical jurisdiction because we are members of the Roman Catholic Church. And we belong to President Aquino’s jurisdiction because we are citizens of the Republic of the Philippines.
In his pastoral visit to our country, when his Holiness spoke, he spoke for the Church and all the faithful. And what he did during his visit was in representation of the Church and all the faithful.
Similarly, when President Aquino spoke, he spoke for our Republic and all the people of the Philippines. And what he did during the visit of his Holiness was in representation of our republic and all our people.
Between the Philippines and the Holy See, there are over four hundred years of working and living together. That shared history reaches across the division of domains and bids us to celebrate together worthy achievements and endeavors for all mankind.
That experience in sharing is not only in the past; it is also in the future. There is a common vision at the heart of this relationship.
Is Aquino a foxhole Catholic?
In the context of a state visit, words spoken and exchanged have weight and are laden with meaning. They are more than the ephemera that comes out of our mouth every day.
The consternation and dismay that has followed President Aquino’s speech at the Palace welcome and courtesy call of Pope Francis arise because they breached the formalities and courtesies of an otherwise routine occasion. He sought to convey a personal angst that strayed well beyond his role as our representative and messenger.
He was disrespectful when he should have been gracious towards a guest of the nation. He was arrogant where he should have been humble and solicitous towards a visiting dignitary. He was too full of himself when he should have been self-effacing. He spoke lengthily where he should have been brief.
We do not know whether Aquino is a serious Catholic or he is what is known as a “foxhole Catholic,” a creature who comes out of his foxhole to profess the faith when it is personally advantageous to do so, and retreats to his hole when there are no spoils to take away and it is inconvenient to be bound by the faith.
It may be that at the palace reception Aquino was trying in his usually awkward way to secede from the Church and its teachings, and to proclaim to all that he has exchanged his faith for his ego.
From his remarks it is plain that he becomes an ardent Catholic only when the Church and its leaders serve him and his family. When this service is absent he withdraws to his foxhole.
Aquino’s speech contained only a shallow understanding of the Church in the Philippines, and a jangle of complaints against local church leaders for perceived slights and unfilled expectations, and he all but demanded that his Holiness rein them in so he can have an easier time.
This stance was chilling to behold because it did not square with our people’s eagerness and joy in welcoming and embracing the Holy Father. It is athwart with our protocols and traditions in receiving guests of the nation. Instead of representing us at our best, he showed us at our worst. It was unFilipino.
This dismaying breach became embarrassing as the visit unfolded because the Holy Father was unsparing in sharing himself with our people – with our families, our youth, our leaders, our pastors, even our disabled, and he roused from our people an overflowing of affection that surprised many of us. His words, spoken from the heart, were uplifting and inspirational.
Pope Francis was everything that we hoped the supreme Pontiff would be, and more.
In stark and sad contrast, there was our President — whining like a child, invincible in his ignorance, wrapped up in himself, unloved by the very people he was supposed to represent.
What happened during the papal visit was a vivid contrast of two leaders. Pope Francis lifted us up to the possibilities of our lives and our nation by speaking to us as grownup persons. President Aquino let us down, by showing up before his Holiness at his worst. And his worst, given his lack of a real education, breeding and professional training, is very bad indeed.
Aquino should get over himself
We should be thankful that the Pope’s schedule did not provide an opportunity for Aquino to speak again, because he absolutely does not know what to say on stately occasions or to such a leader like Pope Francis.
He does not know of the critical role that speechmaking plays in a serious presidency, that words are the coin of leadership. Because he imagines himself a great writer and communicator, he boasts about writing his speeches himself and makes a show of discarding prepared remarks. When his exertions fall flat, he looks around vainly for someone to blame— this is one failing he cannot lay on poor President Arroyo. This cannot be fixed by a commissioned Pulse Asia and SWS survey
From his manner and the glint in his eye, it is plain that Aquino believes himself to be a great leader like those superlative eminences from North Korea. He probably thinks that since he was briefly educated in a Jesuit school, he is equal in learning as the Holy Father, who is a member of the Society of Jesus.
In the best and most successful sports teams like the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, coaches have a rule for new recruits and upstarts with large egos. They tell them at the start: “Get over yourself.” If they can’t, they are waived from the team.
Our problem as a nation today is that an incompetent upstart with a huge ego is the captain of our team. We cannot perform at our best with Aquino leading the charge.
My colleague Kit Tatad and certain bishops of the Church may be right. It’s time to waive BS Aquino from Team Philippines. Let him depart from his foxhole and find his own level and flock.
Maybe he can start his own born-again congregation. Butch Abad will be his acolyte. This way there will be room for their swarms of relatives.