CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 10 November 2018

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Bishops and senate gagged

MANILA (SE): In a lengthy response to the socio-political landscape of The Philippines released on November 22, the bishops of the country admit that they have been gagged by the very people of the Church that they are there to guide and lead.

On November 16, a member of the senate, Risa Hontiveros, found herself gagged on the floor of the chamber when she attempted to read from a newspaper article written by Sunday Examiner columnist, Father Shay Cullen.

The president of the bishops’ conference, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, laments, “In these troubled times, we do not know how to speak. We dare not speak, lest we be shamed, chastised, ridiculed.”

It is almost six months since he challenged the then-president-elect, Rodrigo Duterte, to name names and show a few cards in his accusations against the bishops.

The archbishop’s challenge brought an abrupt, “Shut up!” from the gun-toting former mayor of Davao City.

A former senator from Mindanao, Aquilino Pimentel, commented that the worry of the matter is that the archbishop seems to have done just that.

Although Archbishop Villegas has since spoken bravely, his brother bishops have mostly remained tight lipped, offering only tentative and indirect comments on the president’s all-out assault on the poor and murderous campaign in the guise of fighting drugs.

Even the document released on November 22 only refers to the mass murders that have put a blight on the whole country as unpleasant incidents in the recent past.

The archbishop has on several occasions admitted that to speak is to invite a murderous vilification on social media leaving him feeling like a lone voice crying out in the wilderness.

He leads a Church gagged by its own members and Hontiveros found herself standing in the chamber gagged by a member of the same body she was elected to in order to guide and protect the welfare of the nation.

The senator was stopped mid-sentence as she was reading an article from the Manila Times on the plight of children held in detention centres in The Philippines written by Father Cullen.

An enraged Richard Gordon nearly exploded when he heard the name Father Cullen, with whom he has crossed swords on many occasions as mayor of Olongapo.

“I don’t normally intervene when someone is questioning here, but I will, because we’ve all had enough of this man who pretends to be a priest, but in reality is a Judas Iscariot. I am taken aback. If you’re gonna use him, I don’t think we should have to listen to this,” an enraged Gordon ranted.

The Advocate reported on November 28 that Gordon’s threat to filibuster if Hontiveros persisted is an example of using privilege to deprive a fellow senator of her constitutional right to freedom of speech. The paper called it censorship.

Father Cullen was a persistent critic of Gordon when his family dynasty ruled Olongapo. He fought for the rights of the children that were regular victims of the death squads and sex bar owners that he accused Gordon of protecting.

Gordon at one stage tried to have Father Cullen deported and the children’s refuge that he runs closed down.

The Advocate commented that Father Cullen is a well-known and respected human rights campaigner, who has received numerous awards, both in The Philippines and internationally.

He has been three times nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Father Cullen himself said that Gordon had diminished the senate and become the cause of the people’s loss of faith in the institutions of governance in the country.

The effective silencing of the bishops and the senator reflect the lack of belief that people have in institutions in society.

It has left Hontiveros gasping, the bishops lamely tip-toeing around the ruthless president and both institutions with little to say and few to listen.

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