A GENTLE reader texted me in the dawn hours last Friday to inform me that Rigoberto Tiglao, who conducts a usually acerbic column opposite mine on the front page of this paper, had called me “Duterte’s Torquemada” for writing critically of the latest rant from President Rodrigo Duterte, whom a Cebuano medical doctor has called “this godless man from Davao.” As it turned out, we weren’t on the same page, after all.

I have been called names before, although not by a fellow columnist since I wrote my first column 52 years ago, and this was far from the worst. But the reader thought it was not only a slur, but rather a much darker omen of “things to come.” He thought the source of the slur was not just a muckraker in search of a controversy, but a state apparatchik who likes to finger certain individuals for political demolition

Given the killing of priests in broad daylight, and the “creeping Chinese invasion” which recently I have been writing about, the texter feared some forces might be setting me up for something sinister. So, he thought I should get a heads-up on what might be “forthcoming.”

I thanked my texter for his paranoia, but told him that although Tiglao may be a former communist and any number of things, I didn’t think he was capable of arranging physical harm against me just because I could not worship the same pagan god he worships on his altar. Still, I was not pleased to hear the news, because it meant I would have to read Tiglao’s column in order to respond, and write his name in full in my response. That, to me, was cruel and unusual punishment.

Reading Tiglao
Trying to read Tiglao has always been a pain. Reading Rachel Reyes, Maribel Ongpin, Marlen Ronquillo and Yen Makabenta, whenever he decides to be relevant, is always far more pleasurable. In the particular column, Tiglao completely misreads and misreports what I have written. He makes it appear that I was recommending DU30’s excommunication and exorcism, even though I was merely reporting that some people had told me they would like to see him excommunicated and exorcised, in the face of his “stupid God” rant.

In my column, (“Will excommunication and exorcism help?”, The Manila Times, June 27, 2018), I gave a backgrounder on what excommunication is, and listed some notable Filipinos who had been excommunicated. Tiglao found it “kilometric” and said, “nobody cares about it.” But I gave no opinion as to whether or not DU30 should be excommunicated. I merely said one could either be excommunicated by a Superior or a judge, ferendae sententiae, or automatically excommunicate oneself, latae sententiae, without the intervention of a Superior or a judge, upon commission of the punishable offense.

On the issue of exorcism, I could not support or oppose the idea because, as I said, it was far beyond my competence, even though I had read some of the books of Fr. Jocis Syquia, the chief exorcist of the Archdiocese of Manila. I suggested that the appropriate ecclesiastical authorities study the matter in depth and act on it accordingly. This did not prevent Tiglao from saying I was the one proposing it.

Rules of engagement
Later in the day, another reader texted me from Bicolandia to ask whether or not there were any rules of engagement among opinion writers who did not share the same position on the issues. Were they expected to behave like civilized human beings? Or were they expected to savage one another on the same paper or across newspapers, just because they did not agree on a particular issue?

I had no time to text back, so I’ll have to answer that now through this column.

There are no written rules on this question, and the management of The Manila Times has not found it necessary to tell its columnists not to engage in name-calling just because they have run out of reason and solid arguments to express their views.

This was not an omission on the part of the Times management, simply a tacit recognition of the fact that no one gets to write an opinion column for a major newspaper unless he or she has attained a certain degree of intellectual maturity to be able to handle differences of opinion with others without running berserk or climbing walls. This rule did not have to be written, given the big body of tradition behind it.

When I was a young reporter, no newspaper would dare correct another newspaper’s erroneous news story by mentioning the erring newspaper by name. And no opinion writer would ever name-call a colleague from another paper, much less from the same paper, just because they had disagreeing views on a particular issue. I started writing columns when I was 27, weeks after I was hired as a diplomatic reporter by the Manila Daily Bulletin, but this is the first time I have encountered anything like this.

Friendly exchange
During Cory Aquino’s presidency, I wrote a column for the Philippine Daily Globe edited by Yen Makabenta. One day the staff was told the paper had acquired a new publisher in the person of Teddy Boy Locsin, our current Permanent Representative to the United Nations, who was then part of the Cory Cabinet. I found that mind-boggling, and expressed my bewilderment in my column. Teddy Boy and I ended up debating in our columns, but we managed to be friends and enjoy each other’s company before or after writing our columns. We debated the issues, no personalities, no animus, no name-calling.

This was what was lacking in Tiglao’s unprovoked attack on my June 27 column. It lacked rudimentary courtesy and professionalism. First of all, in my column I was trying to say something to the President on a very grave matter. Tiglao was not part of that conversation. As a journo, he was free to weigh in, and pass judgment on what I was saying. But he had no right to say I wanted DU30 excommunicated and exorcised, just because I said some people had told me they wanted to see him excommunicated and exorcised.

He had no right to call me DU30’s Torquemada, without explaining to his readers who Torquemada is (presumably most of them didn’t know), and without explaining to me how I had become like him. For all this, he owes me, the reading public and DU30 himself an apology and should apologize instantly, instead of uploadng looney posts on Facebook trying to caricature me as the one who needs excommunication and exorcism.

His master says he will not apologize in a million years for calling God stupid. Tiglao can do better than that by setting an example for him and his government. After all, he once served as GMA’s ambassador to Greece, where at least he learned to drink red wine, if nothing else.

Who is Torquemada?
Who is Torquemada? Wikipedia says Tomas de Torquemada, born in Castille on October 14, 1420, and died in Avila on September 1, 1498, was a Dominican friar who became the first Grand Inquisitor in Spain’s late 15th century movement to homogenize religious practices with those of the Catholic Church.

How did a columnist who merely invokes the Constitution to remind the President of his duty not to try to impose his anti-Catholic views on any Filipino citizen qualify for that distinction? Not even if I happened to be the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who was several times more severe than the last Panzer Cardinal who occupied the position, would I have the ghost of a chance of looking remotely like the Grand Inquisitor.

Throughout this controversy, I have never suggested that DU30 conform his religious belief to any Catholic teaching. True, I have prayed and continue to pray that he be converted and reconciled with his Creator and his fellow men. But for the sole purpose of resolving the current uproar arising from his rant against God, I merely would like him to realize that as president, he has no business telling any citizen what to believe and what not to believe as a matter of faith. This is not part of his constitutional mandate. It is a serious constitutional offense which has provoked Filipinos of all confessions, and the correct response is not, “I will never apologize in the (sic) million years…”

DU30 and Rizal?
Tiglao has warned DU30 critics that they run the risk of raising DU30 to Rizal’s pedestal, since “both [of them]lambasted the Catholic Church in the Philippines and its dogmas.” This is plumb nonsense, and I just cannot imagine anyone of room-temperature IQ putting his name to anything like it. In his writings, Rizal exposed the friars’ errors and abuses not only against the “Indios” but also against the Church itself; it is therefore in excess of fantasy to portray his agonized search for God and meaning as a lambasting of “the Catholic Church and its dogmas.”

That Rizal as a Freemason had held anti-Catholic ideas is not open to debate, but that he retracted such ideas is now “an unadorned historical fact.” At no point in Rizal’s life though did he ever occupy a position of political power which he used to try and dictate what the Church or the faithful should believe or not believe. In contrast, this is what DU30 has done.

His rant against God, the Bible and the Church comes from a man who has lawlessly arrogated upon himself all the known powers of the state, and now tries to use those powers to redefine not only the Constitution and the rule of law, but even society’s basic good manners and man’s relationship with God.

It is completely looney to suggest, as Tiglao has suggested, that by badmouthing God and refusing to apologize for it, even after all the religions have thundered against it, DU30 would be joining Rizal as a hero of the great Malay race.

What will work
In my misread and misreported column I asked, “Will excommunication and exorcism help”? After only a few days, more and more people, notably religious leaders, professionals and entrepreneurs, now seem to believe these may be the only two things that could help. To them, DU30 is far gone, his plunge to the depth is irreversible, and his fall can no longer be stayed, unless he makes peace with God and the people he has tried to terrorize and deceive.

[email protected]    /  BY FRANCISCO TATAD ON

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