(Published on Page A11 of the August 24, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer)
I MAY NOT appear to be really religious, but I grew up close to the Catholic Church, its people, structures and basic teachings.
My mother served the Church for many years until she perished in a sea accident 11 years ago. Even after Mama’s death, catechists in our town still see me as the only son of their beloved Sister Evelyn, who used to happily visit even remote island villages to teach catechism. Until now, Nanay Diding, my dear grandmother, is always a welcome visitor at our parish office not only because she regularly offers Masses but also because she is Sister Evelyn’s mother.
Priests and nuns were — and still are — among our family friends. A former bishop of the Diocese of Marinduque used to visit our humble house. Tatay Andoy, my late grandfather who had the picture of the great Pope John Paul II on display on his altar, had a distant cousin who became our parish priest. And when I was a young boy, dear Sister Paula of the Missionary Catechists of Saint Therese gave me a second-hand stuffed toy that I cherished so much.
The compound that houses the church and two convents in our parish, as well as the little grotto nearby, was my playground. I attended countless Masses, seminars, Christmas parties and other gatherings held in those buildings.
Knowing that I was a “komiks” [comic book] addict, Mama gave me an illustrated Bible and copies of Gospel Komiks. Books on the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church occupy an important space in my little bookshelf.
When I was a teenager, I helped organize the praying of the rosary daily in our barangay chapel. After the rosary, other leaders and I would answer questions from the group. I even participated in the 1995 World Youth Day in Manila. (I tried to join again last year, but the German Embassy refused to give me a visa.)
Such familiarity with the Catholic Church and the activities of my mother and her colleagues in the religious sector helped shape not just my personal values but also my perspective on social issues. I have seen the Church practice what it preaches: Love your neighbor. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Give shelter to the homeless.
Our parish has distributed relief goods to typhoon victims. It has helped build houses for indigents. The Church that I know indeed exercises a preferential option for the poor.
I didn’t need to wait for my science teachers in school to stress how important it is to preserve our natural resources for future generations. The Catholic Church that I know showed it to me early in my life when Mama, Monsignor Rollie, Sister Aida and other advocates worked hard to pressure Marcopper Mining Corp. to stop dumping mining wastes in our sea. They taught me that it is right to fight corporate interests that offer economic rewards in the present but leave nothing for the young.
I didn’t need to learn in “Sibika at Kultura” [Civics and Culture] the need to protect the sacredness of the people’s vote and how vital it is to a democracy. The Church that I know already made me understand this idea when Mama and her fellow catechists signed up as Namfrel election watchdog volunteers. Although some people accused Jaime Cardinal Sin of violating the principle of separation of Church and State, it wasn’t difficult for me to understand why he called on the faithful to go to the Edsa highway during the two people power revolts.
Even when I was already a journalism student at the University of the Philippines (UP), the Catholic Church that I know didn’t fail me. Father Robert was on our side in our struggle against the government’s attempt to commercialize UP education. When we asserted our national sovereignty by marching against the Visiting Forces Agreement, we had the support of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
When corruption appeared to run out of control during the Estrada administration, the bishops supported Cardinal Sin’s call for the President to step down. So when Joseph Estrada’s friends in the Senate tried to hide the truth from the people, it felt great marching to Edsa, Ayala Avenue and Mendiola Street alongside activist nuns, priests and seminarians.
In the various sociopolitical issues facing the nation, the Catholic Church in the Philippines took the position I knew it should embrace. Thus, I was surprised when, amid charges of electoral fraud in the “Hello, Garci” controversy, the CBCP refused to call for Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s resignation last year. And even if it also told her not to simply dismiss such a call, I was bothered. That stance just didn’t seem to be consistent with the previous positions taken by the Church that I know, the Church that always upheld what was true and just.
In 1985, after years of “critical collaboration” with the Ferdinand Marcos regime, Filipino bishops declared that “we must begin to disengage ourselves from whatever ties have developed in our history that link us to power structures — political, economic, social — that are oppressive of our people.”
Later that year, Pope John Paul II told the bishops from the Visayas and Mindanao: “Precisely because you are close to the daily life of the members of your local Churches, to their sufferings and aspirations, you have been concerned to offer guidance and leadership to your people in their search for a more dignified human condition and for greater participation in the important choices which affect the life of the nation. The whole Church is grateful to you for the example of compassion and solidarity with those in need which you have given and for your encouraging participation in the development and progress of your people.”
In these times when their flock needs guidance and leadership, it is sad that the CBCP has decided to play it safe. Despite the soundness of its pronouncement on Charter change and extrajudicial killings, the bishops’ latest statement rejecting the impeachment process without actually proposing an alternative process for searching for the truth is disturbing.
I try to justify it as a boycott of a process that proved to be flawed and which is easily subject to the manipulation of the administration, as seen in last year’s impeachment attempt. The Church is simply refusing to give its blessings to a moro-moro directed by Ms Arroyo, with her House allies as main actors.
But for more than half of our people who want her out, it could also be read as a sign of hopelessness and resignation. It echoes the cynicism that now permeates the middle-class psyche: “Eh sino’ng ipapalit?” [“But who would she be replaced with?”]
I don’t want to believe that the leaders of the Catholic Church I grew up with — the Church that teaches faith, hope and love — have abandoned the hope that we can have a better nation and lost faith in the possibility of reform based on justice.