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EDITORIAL: 500 years of Padre Damaso



Today is Rizal Day 2020.

The 124th anniversary of the martyrdom of our national hero, Doctor Jose Rizal, is just 76 days away from 16 March 2021, the quincentennial of the start of Spanish colonial authority in the Philippines.

That date also marks the 500th anniversary of when the Roman Catholic faith was imposed on everyone in the archipelago.

The ensuing union of Church and State in the years after 16 March 1521 brought forth the slavery and abuse of the Filipinos under the ruthless Spanish administrators and the salacious, overbearing Spanish friars for the next 367 years.

Is there a reason to celebrate the quincentennial?

The Catholic Church in the Philippines believes that there is.

In fact, the Church is getting ready to mark the occasion with masses all over the country. Had it not been for the COVID-19 pandemic, there would have been more pompous activities in store for all.

As expected, the Church will do its best to inculcate in the faithful their good fortune to be Christians in what was supposed to be the heathen Far East.

Of course, there will be no mention of the fact that the establishment of the Catholic Church in the Philippines brought with it the dissolute Spanish friars who, despite their being clergymen, behaved like they were not God’s representatives on Earth.

That dark chapter of Philippine history is something the likes of the intolerant Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle and his gang of modern-day Padre Damasos prefer to sweep under the rug.

If the clergy were to have their way, all literature about top Church personalities will be confined to the amiable Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis, Mother Teresa, and the likes of John Baptiste de la Salle, Ignatius de Loyola, and John Bosco, admittedly, some of the virtuous among them.

There will be no mention of the power-hungry French Cardinal Richelieu, or of the weakling Pope Celestine V immortalized in Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, or of the World War II vintage Pius XII who was known as Hitler’s Pope, or of Jaime Cardinal Sin, the bully who held enormous sway in Malacañang when Corazon Aquino was president.

Sweep away, Padre Damaso, but you cannot hide the historical fact that the friars of yesteryears abused their power and influence in the colonial government, amassed plenty of land and wealth, paid no taxes, maltreated the Filipinos, violated the women, and cussed indiscriminately, all the while pretending to be pious individuals.

The friars in the Philippines today may be Filipinos, and may not be of the same evil stock of their predecessors, but they have no intention of giving up whatever power and influence they enjoy in a predominantly Roman Catholic country like ours.

Contemporary cardinals, bishops, monsignors, and priests in the Philippines still expect to be treated like royalty wherever they may be stationed. The ones higher in the rank ride aboard expensive vehicles, hire bodyguards, and expect substantial donations or charge large fees for religious services rendered.

One of the reasons why the Church enjoys tax-exempt status is the separation of Church and State mandated by the Constitution, which means clergymen should not meddle in politics.

Despite that constitutional mandate, the Catholic clergy in the Philippines insists on meddling in politics, as seen in priests campaigning for partisan political candidates; talking against the non-renewal of the legislative franchise of the ABS-CBN broadcast network; calling for the censorship of television advertisements, not to their liking; and even praying that ill-health befall upon President Rodrigo Roa Duterte.

There are also news reports about the involvement of clergymen in child abuse crimes.

Our real good fortune is that Rizal was provident enough to expose in his novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo the abuses of the Spanish friars, personified by the wicked Padre Damaso, during their heyday in the Philippine Islands. Because of Rizal’s foresight, today’s clergy cannot sweep under the rug that dark chapter in our nation’s history.

Rizal’s exposé on the friars was relevant in his times and remains relevant today. Thank goodness for Rizal.

Let this commentary be our tribute to Rizal this year on the occasion of his martyrdom, and on the virtual eve of the quincentennial of Christianity in the Philippines.