Luis Cardinal Tagle and several priests and nuns of the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines are at war with President Rodrigo Duterte. The reason given by the clergy is its supposed perception that Duterte is out to become a dictator.
That is its official line but the real reason for the hostility is more personal and self-serving.
The Catholic clergy in the country enjoyed a great deal of power and influence under the administrations of mother and son presidents, Corazon Cojuangco Aquino and Benigno Aquino III.
Mrs. Aquino considered herself indebted to Manila’s archbishop, Jaime Cardinal Sin. Sin instigated the “people power” revolt on EDSA in February 1986 which supported the military rebellion that compelled President Ferdinand Marcos to relinquish power to avoid needless bloodshed. As a consequence, Mrs. Aquino often consulted Sin and his priests and nuns for guidance, even in matters that were secular rather than religious.
Sin himself became a frequent presence at Malacañang and no appointment to a public office of considerable consequence was possible without his endorsement.
Members of the clergy were appointed to quiet but powerful positions. A nun was made a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission that drafted the sloppy 1987 Constitution in force today. One priest got a seat in the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board. He has the final say on whether a sex scene in a film was obscene or not.
Undoubtedly, the constitutionally mandated separation of Church and State was non-existent under Mrs. Aquino.
The clergy lost much of its power and influence in government when Mrs. Aquino left office in 1992, but it never got over its desire for its lost privileges. Despite its tax-exempt status allowed by the Constitution and the constitutionally mandated separation of Church and State notwithstanding, many priests and nuns still meddled in the affairs of the government.
Church propaganda disseminated during Masses through so-called “pastoral letters” undermined state projects the Church did not like. Catholic faithful who criticized Church meddling in government affairs were branded as “false Catholics” or “heretics,” in the same way the Old Spanish Inquisition terrorized the Catholic world in centuries past.
There was even a so-called “running priest” named Robert Reyes who supposedly ran publicized marathons to protest certain state policies.
After decades of being marginalized in the halls of power, the Church saw a chance to regain even part of its power and influence in Aquino III. He was, after all, his mother’s son, and ought to be just as religious as his mother was — well, almost.
The Liberal Party (LP) also saw a political opportunity in Aquino III. This party enjoyed basking in the names of ex-President Diosdado Macapagal and the late Ninoy Aquino. Famous names they were, but opportunistic politicians nonetheless.
Macagapal rigged the 1971 Constitutional Convention and connived with the Marcos martial law administration in exchange for a seat in the later aborted interim National Assembly. Ninoy began his political career in Tarlac as a local official elected under the Nacionalista Party. Because of Ninoy’s opposition, Marcos was unable to recover Sabah from Malaysia when the latter was still too weak to resist the might of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
For mutual gain, the LP and the clergy joined forces to help Aquino III win the presidency in 2010. Under the dispensation of Aquino III, the LP dominated the political scene, with the clergy enjoying a lifeline to the LP.The Church did not have the same say in the government as it did under Mrs. Aquino, but Aquino III shook in fear each time the Church protested a government measure. By golly, the Reproduction Health Law almost never got enacted under Aquino III due mainly to the stiff opposition from the clergy.
Hard times fell anew on the Church when President Duterte assumed office. This is a President who calls a spade a spade, and true to form, he called the clergy a meddling, troublesome lot composed of hypocrites, most of whom sired children in violation of their supposed vow of chastity.
Duterte has also called the clergy worshipers of an idiotic god of earthly power and wealth, instead of the one, true God he prays to. The priests quickly twisted the President’s not so easy to fathom statement and declared to the anti-Duterte media that the President called God an idiot.
All the foregoing explains why the Catholic clergy has launched an all-out war against President Duterte. That war was manifested in many recent newsworthy incidents.
Cardinal Tagle, who longs to become Pope someday, publicly urged law enforcers not to “play God,” suggesting in the process that the Duterte government has no regard for human life.
There is Sister Patricia Fox, the meddlesome, opinionated Australian missionary nun who was ordered deported by the Bureau of Immigration for her involvement in political activities in the Philippines. Fox is an open supporter of ousted de facto Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, a known enemy of President Duterte. Despite Fox’s insistence that she is not involved in Philippine politics, there is a photograph published by the news media showing Sereno cuddling up to a visibly pleased Sister Fox.
Another example concerns Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, the haughty ex-mutineer who is holed up in the Senate to avoid getting arrested after his amnesty, given to him earlier by then President Aquino III, was considered void by President Duterte. Trillanes is another known enemy of the President.
Despite their claim to being apolitical, priests and nuns rushed to the Senate last week to console Trillanes. They called him a hero and hurled critical remarks at Duterte.
Three priests said Mass in Trillanes’ office with no less than the “running priest” present to publicly heap praises upon Trillanes. A certain Father Manuel Gatchalian even prayed for ill health to befall on Duterte. Ang kapal mo, Father!
It clearly appears that clergymen the likes of Padre Damaso, the licentious, villainous priest in Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere, are alive and kicking in Philippine society today.