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Tagle, Suganob, Galoy and Fox

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Three Sundays ago, the media bureau of the Roman Catholic Church announced that the nation is on the brink of a “crisis in truth” because of the proliferation of fake news, and partisan politics. To mark the grim occasion, church bells in Manila tolled in the afternoon. The next day, the visible leader of the Church, Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, was all over the news.
Opposition to fake news is, of course, the norm, because the news should always be accurate and reliable. The news media, in turn, are expected to be disseminators of the truth.
Partisan politics, on the other hand, can be good or bad for the country, depending on how this peculiar badge of democracy is practiced by the nation’s leaders. The term “partisan politics” necessarily concerns political parties which, under ideal circumstances, are supposed to champion particular causes identified with the party itself.
Unfortunately, that is not so in the Philippines. Other than the usual public assertions of nationalism, liberty and democracy for the people, there are no real political party ideals to speak of in this country. To suit their own private interests, politicians shift party allegiances almost as often as they change their underwear. Indeed, partisan politics has been detrimental to Filipino interests.
As expected, nobody opposed the motherhood statements espoused by Church leaders. Those statements also brought a great deal of publicity for Church leaders like Cardinal Tagle.
No doubt, the proliferation of fake news must be condemned, and that the people should campaign against this baneful phenomenon brought about largely through the extensive but irresponsible use of social media. For the Church, however, to renounce fake news as if the clergy had not been involved in the phenomenon in the recent past, is something that must be scrutinized. After all, one who pontificates from the pulpit must come clean.
Back in 2010, famous Manila tourist guide Carlos Celdran went inside the Manila Cathedral during a meeting of some priests, and displayed a sign that read “Damaso.” The sign was an obvious reference to the villainous and hated friar in Noli Me Tangere, the novel written by national hero Jose Rizal. It was Celdran’s way of criticizing the endless meddling by the Church in the political affairs of the State.
Church officials in Manila quickly filed a criminal case against Celdran. By the end of 2015, Celdran, who was already convicted by the trial court, lost in his appeal in the Court of Appeals.
The Celdran case threatened to become an embarrassment for Church officials a week before Pope Francis visited Manila in January 2016. That’s because the prosecution of Celdran did not sit well with the teachings of the Church, particularly the need to be forgiving towards others.
As a remedial measure, Cardinal Tagle appeared on television to announce that the Church had already forgiven Celdran, but the “People of the Philippines” went on to pursue the criminal case against the outspoken tourist guide.
Every freshman law student knows that Tagle’s explanation was hogwash because criminal cases cannot prosper without the active participation of the private complainant, which is this case is the Church.
It looks like Tagle was among the first public figures in the country to peddle fake news. That’s quite ironic because more than two years later, Tagle is now denouncing fake news.
Then there is Father Teresito Suganob, the Catholic priest of Marawi City captured in May 2017 by Islamic State militants in what later became the infamous siege of Marawi City. After Suganob escaped from his captors in September 2017, he enjoyed the extensive publicity he got from the news media.
Soon after his release, there was an account in the news media that Suganob reportedly converted to Islam during his captivity. When the Church was pressed for answers, Church officials simply dismissed the report, without Suganob actually explaining if the report is true or otherwise. Church officials emphasized that Suganob said mass a few days after his escape. One ranking Church official argued that even if Suganob did convert to Islam, his conversion is void because he would have done so under duress since he was a hostage.
What the Church conveniently avoided discussing is that priests are not supposed to renounce their faith even during the most trying of times. It will be recalled that during the Roman empire, the early martyrs of the Church chose to be thrown to the lions rather than renounce their faith.
Did Suganob convert or not? The insistence of Church officials that this is a minor incident also smacks of fake news.
Last March, Father Jose Galoy, the parish priest in the rich enclave of Forbes Park in Makati, found himself in the news. His plan to increase fees for weddings, which included an annual accreditation fee of P50,000 for each supplier, and annual fees of as much as P30,000 for florists, musicians and photographers, was opposed by many. Overwhelmed by the intense opposition to his controversial revenue plan, Galoy gave the news media the lame excuse that the plan was just “a work in progress” meant to “preserve the solemnity of the sacrament of marriage.”
How thousands of pesos can actually preserve the solemnity of a sacrament, Galoy did not bother to explain. At the end of the day, his lame excuse was, to all intents and purposes, fake news.
Finally, there is the strange case of Sister Patricia Fox, the elderly Australian nun who faces deportation for her involvement in politics in the country. Under Philippine law, aliens are not allowed to engage in political activities during their stay here.
One issue raised by the State against Fox is her visible involvement in a rally demanding the release of political prisoners in the Philippines. It was argued that since Fox was issued a missionary visa, she ought to confine herself to missionary activities like converting non-Catholics to the Catholic faith. Since Fox’ involvement with political prisoners hardly qualifies as a missionary’s activity, then Fox violated the terms and conditions of her missionary visa. She abused the hospitality of the host state, and she must, therefore, leave the country.
Fox’ supporters among the left-wing organizations in the Philippines and in the local religious sector claim that Fox was merely expressing her views as a nun seeking freedom for political prisoners. Big deal! How can Fox deny engaging in a political activity when she is rallying for political prisoners? That justification is another instance of fake news.
The right of a citizen to criticize the government emanates from his status as a taxpayer who finances the operations of the State. Since the Church enjoys tax exempt status in the Philippines, it should refrain from unduly criticizing the government.
By insisting on heckling the government despite its zero contribution to the national coffers, the Church basks in the idea of enjoying the best of everything. Being so, Church leaders are no different from the politicians they purportedly despise for their partisan politics.

About the Columnist
Victor C. Avecilla has been a lawyer for the past three decades, and a columnist for the past four years. He specializes in Constitutional Law and the law governing the mass media. His other fields of interest are in national and international politics, art, language, and history. Avecilla obtained his undergraduate and graduate degrees in Mass Communication, and his degree in Law, from the University of the Philippines.

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