Jeepney drivers march to the state university grounds in Manila on July 27 ahead of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s State of the Nation Address. (Photo: Ted Aljibe/AFP)
On July 27, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte delivered his fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA) amid civil society’s resistance to the controversial Anti-Terror Bill; the closure of the country’s largest television network, ABS-CBN; the arrest and detention of Maria Ressa; and the government’s poor response to the coronavirus pandemic that has been exacerbated by human rights violations.
As a prophetic response, the Catholic Church resonated its voice in the capital city of Manila and across the archipelago. The acting head of the Archdiocese of Manila, Bishop Broderick Pabillo, who is infected by the coronavirus, and Bishop Socrates Villegas, both known to be strong critics of the administration, meaningfully played music of resistance at a Sunday Mass on the eve of the SONA.
Shown as a music video, the song, with lyrics in Filipino, is thus translated:
Oh, my nation, when will you rise up?
A lot of blood has been spilled for you
Oh, my nation, time is running out
Rise up, rise up, Oh rise up, nation.
On the day of the SONA, Bishop Pabillo delivered a strong homily in an online Mass for Peace and Justice delivered at Quiapo Church: “Is the Church playing politics if it calls for justice and genuine peace? Is the Church playing politics when she speaks about the wrongs and failures that the people experience? But we have already accepted that we will be questioned. Jesus himself was accused of a political crime of setting another kingdom … Jesus himself foretold to us: ‘They will expel you from the synagogues; in fact, the hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he is offering worship to God. They will do this because they have not known either the Father or me.’” (Jn. 16:2-3)
I find it disheartening that knowing that Covid-19 is the major problem that confronts the country, President Duterte did not focus on concrete plans with clear direction in responding to a pandemic that is severely victimizing the Filipino people. Official figures from the Covid-19 Worldometer speak of 93,354 infections and 2,023 deaths as of today. Instead, the president repeatedly lambasted his political opponents and boasted about his feats in the war on drugs, the return of the death penalty by lethal injection, his “build, build, build program,” his “plant, plant, plant program,” among other things.
Uncalled for, he said that if the audience did not understand what he was reading, he, too, did not understand what he was saying.
“I sat through the entire drama. Duterte was having a hard time reading his speech correctly, clear proof that as president he did not even care to read through or rehearse … At one point, he even ad libbed: ‘Do you understand what I’m saying? Ako din di ko maintindihan (I myself don’t understand),’” Father Emmanuel Alparce, a diocesan priest of 21 years, wrote in a text message expressing his disappointment. “It was the worst SONA ever.”
In an official statement, the Missionary Sisters of St. Benedict summed up the last four years of the Duterte administration, to wit:
“Four years of extrajudicial killings, four years of war waged on poor people.
“Four years of silencing the voices of dissent.
“Four years of suppressing and controlling media.
“Four years of causing mourning of deaths in the streets, in the countryside, mourning of the death of justice in the Senate and Congress, in the courts of law.
“Four years of casting the dice with foreign powers and compromising the country’s sovereignty claims.
“Four years of kowtowing to China even at the expense of economic and political offenses to our own citizens.
“Four years of corruption, militarization, patronage politics, abuse of power and tyrannical rule.
“Four years of pushing the people into the periphery of despair and fear.
“INABILITY TO EFFECTIVELY FACE THE PANDEMIC …”
Reminiscent of the role of progressive church people during the 1986 EDSA revolution that triggered the collapse of the Marcos dictatorship, church people were visibly present in the mammoth rally held at the University of the Philippines. Side by side with young people were priests and brothers in their cassocks and nuns in their habits during the mass action estimated to have been participated in by 8,000 people, who wore masks and observed social distancing.
The demonstration was a promising sign of unity among various opposition groups with the accompaniment of the Church.
In his homily in the Mass for Peace and Justice, Bishop Pabillo spoke about the four social virtues of love, truth, justice and peace. He stressed they were related and said that loving our neighbors entails loving our country. “Because of truth, we are seeing rottenness and exploitation. Hence, we are calling for justice that will bring genuine peace. Love, truth, justice, peace. Let us pray for these to be attained in our country.”
Witnessing amid repression and resistance is a moral imperative for the Catholic Church to remain relevant to the signs of the times.
"Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel." (Synod of Bishops, 1971)
Mary Aileen D. Bacalso is the president of the International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearances. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.