DONE mocking his opponents in the presidential race, The Digong is now using almost every forum to vent his ire on the Church. He has accused the Church of basically two things, hypocrisy and irrelevance, and, the Church, shocked by the audacity of The Digong, has come out with nothing but guarded, timid responses. Never in the history of the Church, dating back to the early years of the Spanish reign, has the institution found itself bombarded and helpless.
The minor reason is this. For the first time in the country’s modern history, the elected President is not someone the Church and its hierarchy knows. The populist choice in 1998 was Erap Estrada. But despite Erap’s acting background and tough guy image, he was trained by the Jesuits, and the men he named to the Cabinet and important government posts were insiders webbed to the centers of political and economic power. And webbed to the power centers of the Church.
The Digong is a real tough guy whose rise to power was based on narratives he was unapologetic about—killing criminals, the summary execution of drug dealers and his zero tolerance (whatever means of containing them was OK) toward people involved in the business of crime. All Old Testament narratives of rage, death and fury. His favorite verb is “ kill.” His favorite expression is “galit ako.” The men he named to important posts, who will soon assume frontline and Cabinet-rank positions, have very tangential if not zero links to the Church.
His campaign manager and longtime aide was a former priest-turned-rebel, who, disgusted by the irrelevance of the official Church in addressing the plight of those identified in The Sermon on the Mount, dropped his homilies, went underground and carried a gun.
There is nothing, virtually nothing, in the institutional memory of The Digong in which he collaborated with the official Church to tame the excesses of Davao City and govern it according to his dictum. His colorful personal life and his openness with his many affairs were, in a sense, an open challenge on the basic teachings of the Church.
But, as I said, that is just the minor reason. There is a bigger one.
The Church and its intellectuals and theoreticians cannot counter the message of The Digong. Which is to basically serve the constituencies specified in The Sermon on the Mount: the weak, the humble, the afraid and the persecuted, though through methods decried in the Ten Commandments. The people (like my neighbors and I) who have nowhere to go and turn to during times of trouble, persecution and scarcity. The Church cannot even invoke that there is another way forward, a Christian way, a civil one and a Godly one. Because there is none.
When, really, was the last time the Church stood for the downtrodden?
Reviewing the Church’s high-profile involvement in the public affairs, the most prominent image that comes to mind is this—Cardinal Tagle tearing up after reading the sordid affairs of the Napoles scam. The accompanying article said that Cardinal Tagle was shocked to see a scandal of that magnitude, at least P10 billion in a SARO-for-cash exchange.
The pork scam was pure and unalloyed evil. It was also unprecedented in the history of a historically compromised Congress. From the part of the cardinal, condemning the pork scam was a moral imperative. After that, many hoped that Cardinal Tagle would use his great and awesome moral authority to indict and condemn the greatest evil of our time—the control of 40 or so families of the nation’s wealth and our vastly unequal society.
Even Pope Francis has said that inequality “is the defining issue of our time.” In the Philippine context, it skews everything to favor the economic elite. It sucks up GDP gains to further fatten the already immense wealth of these 40 or so families. It is at the root of all things that cripple the mobility of the sectors below.
By refusing to take on the greatest evil of our time, Cardinal Tagle just collaborated with the efforts of the Aquino administration to paint “corruption” as the only and true evil, the root of the national malaise. With the Church and the so-called “civil society” behind Mr. Aquino, his administration used “corruption” as a wag-the-dog narrative to divert national attention from what Mr. Aquino was really doing—serving the top 1 percent and leaving the 99 percent to fend for themselves.
Mr. Aquino raised GDP growth, got credit upgrades and created a class of dollar billionaires that are now classified as “those-who-can-buy-a-small-country-rich.” The understated poverty level of 20-plus percent never moved. In some dying areas of Mindanao, the poverty level was 84 percent, and the ARMM had worse literacy and poverty rates than Idi Amin-wrecked Uganda.
Through all these and the unapologetic service of Mr. Aquino to his true masters—the top 1 percent—the Church was a mute spectator, and, in a sense, an abettor.
So now, as The Digong mocks and taunts the Church for its hypocrisy and irrelevance, he finds no public rebuke and sanction. The Church failed to follow a timeless Church dictum—you reap what you sow—and its failings are now haunting the institution.