The President, the Catholic Church, and words that kill

Published March 15, 2019, 12:59 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



Atty. Mel Sta. Maria
Atty. Mel Sta. Maria

In January, 2017, President Duterte said: “I challenge the Catholic Church. You are full of shit. You all smell bad, corruption and all.”

During the PDP-Laban proclamation rally in February, 2019, President Duterte said: “Holdupin ninyo ‘yung obispo ninyo, maraming pera ‘yan. Pagka lumaban, patayin mo. Maglibing tayo ng obispo. Maniwala ka diyan mga ‘yan. Puro may asawa,”

On December 5, 2018, in an awarding ceremonies of child-friendly municipalities and cities, President Duterte declared: “Pero itong mga obispo ninyo, patayin ninyo, walang silbi ‘yang mga gagong ‘yan. All they do is criticize.”

And just last February, 2019, speaking at the First National Assembly of the Liga ng mga Barangay sa Pilipinas, he condescendingly predicted: “itong Katoliko na ito will disappear. In almost 25 years, wala na yan.”

For sure, despite these Duterte tirades, many Catholics will still go to their churches, receive the sacrament of reconciliation, attend Mass, and listen to homilies (whether boring or exciting). And notwithstanding President Duterte’s once irreverently mocking the most Holy Eucharist as the “Body of Christ sa inyongigit” (in your shit/feces/poop), still many Catholics will receive the Host, believing in Jesus Christ, their God, transubstantiated. And surely Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, archbishop of Manila, continues praying for him.

The Catholic Church is more than a religion to millions of Filipinos. It is a way of life. The fiestas we celebrate, the Christmas season we anticipate, the noche buena and the caroling we prepare, the remembrance of our dead every first of November, all these and more are rooted in the faith despised by President Duterte. Even most of our surnames, though decreed by our former colonizers, reflect the religion — De Jesus, Cruz, Santos, De Los Angeles, Sta. Ana, San Jose, San Pedro, Calbario, and many more.

Parents will still enroll their children in Catholic universities such as the University of Santo Tomas, Xavier University, St. Scholastica’s College, St. Paul’s College, St. Theresa’s College, Aquinas School, Don Bosco, Lourdes School, De La Salle University, Ateneo, and many more.

Millions will still remain or try to be as good a Catholic as they possibly can. A number of insider-misfits in the church hierarchy will not destroy the faith. The Church has survived upheavals and turmoils for the last 3,000 years.

Be that as it may, the killing of priests and bishops or the threat to kill them is a serious concern. Bishop Pablo David and three priests, namely, Fr. Robert Reyes, Fr. Albert Alejo, and Fr. Flavie Villanueva, publicly revealed receiving death threats from unidentified sources. There is no reason not to be believe them, especially considering that, previously, three priests were already killed, one of them while celebrating Mass. Also a bomb detonated in Sulu near the St. Carmel Church, killing at least 20 innocent people. Fr. Robert Reyes poignantly said: “The deadly words of Duterte are like a dagger pointed at us.”

Probably sensing the distaste of many people against his animadversions and its negative effect on the electorate, President Duterte said in another PDP-Laban gathering in Davao City: “Do not do it. Do not try to do it. A religious has nothing to do with the vagaries of life. Lay off. Stop threatening them or ako ang makalaban ninyo.”

The belated warning may be a realization on President Duterte’s part — though hubris will not make him admit it — that, though not maliciously intended, his pugnacious words and threatening declarations against bishops and priests may have been pandering to the basest evil instincts of Duterte fanatics, inspiring the commission of murder against members of the clergy, enthused by the misguided belief that they are doing a great favor to the country’s most powerful man whom they adore. This is a deadly situation that certainly President Duterte does not desire.

But effective leadership requires speaking and acting responsibly. Outbursts and statements by the President — even by way of a jest or simply to emphasize a point — to rob and/or kill bishops and priests immediately convey a command or mindset discordant with the rule of law. That must not be the way it should be.

Public officials must set the example, in words and deeds, that civility and decency must rule in every aspect of governance, beginning with the man at the helm — the President — and starting with his words — words that hopefully will not lead others to kill.