AS previously announced, President Rodrigo Duterte met in Malacañang with Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, on Monday afternoon in an attempt to end DU30’s unprovoked attacks on God and the Catholic Church, which counts on at least 85 percent of all Filipinos. Having been advertised as a “one-on-one” meeting between DU30 and Valles, the Archbishop came alone, but it turned out to be a “two-and-a half” encounter with DU30’s ubiquitous special assistant Christoper “Bong” Go, acting as the white elephant in the middle.
A new one-on-one
It should have been so easy to take an official photograph of DU30 and Valles meeting just by themselves without the factotum. But somehow the Office of the President, with its multi-billion-peso budget, could not manage to take any picture of Valles with DU30 alone. The frontpage photo in The Manila Times Tuesday issue showed Bong Go seated directly across Valles while DU30 sat in the middle. The Philippine Star photo, which occupied half of the upper fold of the front page, showed the same Bong Go standing in the background as DU30 takes Valles’ hand and puts it to his forehead.
It is a caricature of an old Filipino custom where the young show their respect by kissing the hand of the elderly; the only thing amiss here is that DU30 is 73, while Valles turned 67 only yesterday. DU30 therefore, not Valles, is the older person who should be extending his hand to the younger person, if the custom were to be followed. Assuming DU30 has remained Catholic, which is highly unlikely, the custom for Catholics is to kiss a priest’s hand or a bishop’s ring as a sign of respect; but a Catholic head of state meeting with an ecclesiastic is supposed to shake the latter’s hand only, even if he happens to be the Pope himself.
Those who are familiar with DU30’s cheap antics are likely to interpret this gesture as a mock expression of respect. Plain showbiz. Meant solely for the cameras. To play to the gallery, for the benefit of the ignorant and credulous masses.
There is no record of what was said during the 30-minute “dialogue.” Neither side revealed anything afterward. A short statement issued by presidential spokesman Harry Roque simply said: “President Rodrigo Roa Duterte agreed to a ‘moratorium’ on statements about the Church after the meeting.” It also said the CBCP head had agreed to a “policy of critical collaboration” with the DU30 government.
This was far below the minimum expectations of the Filipino public.
Catholics and non-Catholics alike had expected DU30 to apologize for his offensive and unprovoked rant against God and the Church, for the rash of unsolved priest killings, and for his defamation of the clergy and the Church through a libelous book which DU30 had been distributing with particular relish to various parties. If he was not prepared to admit his blasphemy against God and his defamation of the clergy and the Church, he was expected, at the very least, to apologize for causing so much “misunderstanding” and “confusion” with his provocative statements.
People also expected him to say something about the drug killings, which according to PNP sources have now reached 27,000. Many Church and human rights workers would like to see DU30 promise an end to the killings and to the killers. The Palace communique gave no hint of any of this. It merely gave the impression that Valles and DU30 agreed that the latter would not blaspheme again — for an undetermined period. This is what the word “moratorium” meant.
According to the Meriam-Webster and Oxford dictionaries, “moratorium” means a legally authorized period of delay in the performance of a legal obligation or the payment of a debt; a legal authorization to debtors to postpone payment; the temporary suspension of a law to allow a legal challenge to be carried out; the temporary prohibition of an activity. Without any censure or apology for his blasphemous attack on God and his slander against the clergy and the Church, DU30 would have reason to believe that he has done nothing wrong, and that the “moratorium” would simply oblige him to “temporarily suspend” doing something right.
But what would prevent him from resuming his blasphemy anytime he finds himself unable to control his foul mouth? Nothing in the statement guarantees it. It is not the first time DU30 has promised to stop verbally abusing the clergy and the Catholic Church for his own perverse amusement. Nor probably the last. On June 28, he promised to shut up completely on the subject, but nothing prevented him from resuming his outrage later, just because he needed to make some headlines but had nothing worthwhile to talk about.
No need to read Aquinas
Last week, he said he would resign immediately if anyone could prove that the “God of Christians,” (as apparently distinguished from his own god, which may be no other than himself), exists. It was a blasphemous defiance of the Lord’s command that one should not take God’s name in vain. In his famous Quinque Viae (“Five Ways”), St. Thomas Aquinas, the 13th century Catholic philosopher and theologian, in his celebrated book Summa Theologica, has long proved the existence of God beyond the cavil of any non-believer or apostate. Many people, without having heard of St. Thomas, affirm God’s existence simply through their own existence. They know they owe their lives to a Creator, and not even DU30 created himself.
Thus, it may be good to reformulate DU30’s statement as follows: If he cannot disprove God’s existence, he should immediately resign, not just from the presidency but also from his earthly existence. But for DU30 this is all trash talk. He is singly obsessed with power, and has no wish of giving it up for any reason whatsoever, not even after the expiration of his elected term, if he can help it. In his latest statement, he calls upon the illegally appointed 22-member constitutional committee, which has no legitimate authority whatsoever to propose any amendment to the Constitution, to cut short his elected term, which ends on June 30, 2022.
Hypocrisy and deception
This is pure hypocrisy and deception. I maintain in all sincerity that this concom has no legitimate legal existence and no legal authority whatsoever to recommend any constitutional amendment; but even if it had such legal existence and authority to recommend amendments to the Constitution, DU30 does not need it to propose ending his term before its expiration period. He is free to resign now, and many people would offer masses of thanksgiving if he did now.
For DU30, the nation’s Catholic Christians are the easiest people to bully and play around with. They are taught to “turn the other cheek,” and despots who have not read Bishop Robert Barron’s explanation of the real meaning of this phrase (Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith) quickly conclude they are easily abused and exploited. Barron explains that within the prevailing culture at the time when one turned the other cheek, it was to challenge one’s assailant to hit him with the back of his hand, which he never used unless he was dealing with a slave. Thus, when a Christian turned the other cheek, it was to demand that the assailant stop his ignoble attack, unless he was willing to sink lower than his victim in dignity and status.
Some Catholics would like DU30 to try to do to the Muslims and the Iglesia ni Cristo what he has done and is doing to the Catholics. That would be his real test of courage. He has decided to be extremely docile to them, who have all but ignored his drug killings and his foul mouth. He has even been reported to seek INC Executive Minister Ka Eduardo Manalo’s help in putting together ideas about his own “Iglesia ni Duterte” (INDUT). But no Catholic individual or group has ever threatened him with anything, not even civil disobedience or a nationwide protest.
Defining critical collaboration
Despite the high respect the clergy, religious and laity may have for Valles and the CBCP, I am afraid they will want to see some concrete signs of contrition, penance and reparation — a show of good faith — from DU30 before they agree to a posture of “critical collaboration” with his government.
To begin with, how will this phrase be defined and who will finally define it?
If drug suspects, political officials, priests and other citizens continue to be killed without due process and without adequate official efforts to punish the culprits, what kind of “critical collaboration” is the Church expected to provide?
If DU30 pushes his proposed coalition government with the communists, even while purportedly repudiating efforts to hold peace talks with the CPP-NPA-NDF, what kind of “critical collaboration” will DU30 expect from the Church and Catholics?
If the perceived sellout of Philippine maritime territory in the Spratlys to China continues, and Chinese nationals continue to flood the country in the tens of thousands under the pretext of implementing Chinese-funded infrastructure projects, what kind of “critical collaboration” is the Church expected to provide?
If DU30 disregards every relevant provision of the Constitution in order to balkanize the country and impose a de facto revolutionary government or a bogus federal government, and whatever else he may want, what kind of “critical collaboration” is the Church expected to provide?
In the name of “critical collaboration,” is the Church, as the guardian of faith and morality, and the last refuge of the silenced, the oppressed and the excluded, expected to say and do nothing in the face of a homegrown despot making every move to take absolute control of the Republic?