CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 24 June 2017

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Defending self not the country

MANILA (SE): The bishops of The Philippines regret that there seems to be a language gap between them and their shoot-from-the-hip president, Rodrigo Duterte, as they say they both aspire to achieving the same benefits for the country, but cannot seem to agree on anything.

There certainly is a language gap, as the president of the bishops’ conference, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, admitted some months ago.

As he pointed out, the bishops speak in archaic tongue, using stilted, technical language that few comprehend, while Duterte has the language flow of gutter children fighting that is readily understood and often enjoyed by all and sundry.

A former seminarian, Anthony James Perez, believes that while the president is seen as a master communicator, not least because of a directness and raw honesty that seems to channel the common man, the Church, despite having one of the most outspoken presidents of a bishops’ conference for many years, still needs to fill out a gnawing public relations problem.

But that is not the only gap. It is questionable whether the bishops really want what Duterte wants for the nation. While both agree that a crime free land, with law and order reigning is desirable, the radical difference in the way in which they want to get there leaves a huge cultural gap in the types of societies the two want to forge.

But Perez is of two minds. He says that to take Duterte’s reaction to the bishops’ statements as a criterion, you would have to call the relationship chilly, or even downright antagonistic, and that would be a radical understatement.

“President Duterte is just… he’s the voice of the common people who are longing for justice, for security. And the Church is not against that, but the Church is just reminding the people that the way towards prosperity and justice is through recognising the sacredness of life first and foremost,” the former seminarian told CBCP News.

Nevertheless, the two are really friends, admitting that they both need each other. For the bishops, he is the only president that they have and, for Duterte they are the only bishops he’s got, so both have to be lived with.

Duterte readily spits foul venom at the bishops and the Church, but a study of his attacks reveals that he only swears at his friends, or those who really do hold deep care and concern for the nation.

Before those who seek to take advantage of The Philippines he is like a cowering child, grovelling for some little concession that he can carry home as a trophy.

He was a tame pussy cat in China, begging small favours over access to Philippine waters around the Benham Rise and talking up the billions of dollars promised in investment upon his return, but a look at the way in which Chinese investment is pumping money out of Sri Lanka gives more reason for panic rather than just alarm (Sunday Examiner, April 9).

To his enquiry about the purpose of China’s presence on what is claimed as The Philippines’ own in the South China Sea, he received a vague reply, in essence a fob off.

But it is not criticism of The Philippines that causes the president, who blushes a bit too readily, to explode, but specifically criticism of his own administration, prompting critics to say that his bottom line is to protect his power base and not the country.

But while there is an animosity between Duterte and the bishops, there is also a respect and, if the president’s blood-spilling campaign has done no more than shaken the Church out of its inertia on drugs in a manner that the most vocal campaigners from within its ranks have persistently failed to do, not all is lost yet.

The daily push and shove between the Church and the government is played out in the broadsheets and on television, as well as on social media, but the big issues of contention have been the wholesale murdering of the poor, the death penalty, lowering of the age of criminal liability to nine-years-old and, most basically, the dignity of the human person.

Those even suspected of being involved in the drug industry are branded non-human, even lower than an animal.

But the Church would maintain that guilt of any crime does not strip a person of their humanity, let alone a mere suspicion in the deranged mind of some petty official.

“They couldn’t agree on what policy directions to take in addressing some of the most critical problems besetting our country. It is further aggravated by the president’s personal attacks against the Church’s hierarchy,” Father Jerome Secillano, from the bishops’ Committee on Public Affairs, observes.

“The animosity is actually borne out of misguided impressions that have not been properly discussed and corrected,” he believes.

He added that he thinks that the Church is being hit below the belt, as it is being accused of meddling in government affairs.
But in saner societies, no one seriously believes that a Church issuing critical statements of government policy is overstepping the boundaries of religious freedom, any more than is the government in giving a bit of free advice to the Church.

In all events, Father Secillano believes that while the critics of the Church are noisy, they are actually not so numerous, and since Duterte only attacks those who care about the same things he does, there is more drama than substance in the saliva he spits.

After all, the Church is committing the cardinal sin of questioning his power base and, in his deranged mind, a critical friend seems to be more dangerous than a sworn enemy.

 

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