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The Filipino shepherd has spoken but will the sheep listen

Manila's archbishop, a clergyman who doesn’t engage in politics, has broken his silence on the martial law era
Manila Archbishop Cardinal Jose Fuerte Advincula waves before his installation ceremony in Manila on June 24, 2021

Manila Archbishop Cardinal Jose Fuerte Advincula waves before his installation ceremony in Manila on June 24, 2021. (Photo: AFP)

Published: September 23, 2022 05:34 AM GMT

Filipino Catholic bishops led by the Archbishop of Manila have urged churchgoers not to forget the atrocities during the martial law era. But will the people heed their advice?

The Catholic Church’s hierarchy had gone silent after the presidential election results in May. 

It was perhaps a painful realization for them that very few Catholics listened to their call to support opposition candidate and former Vice President Leonor Robredo.

The Catholic Church had not involved itself in national politics since the Church-supported 1986 People Power Revolution, which removed dictator Ferdinand Marcos from power.

During the presidential election, clergymen wore pink masks and shirts — the color adopted by Robredo supporters. Pastoral letters were issued against martial law and election frontrunner Ferdinand Marcos Jr's purported effort to revise Philippine history. 

Despite accusations of electioneering by conservatives, priests formed associations to support Robredo.

The Canon law’s provision for the Church’s nonpartisanship was stretched to the limit. But still, Robredo lost.

Marcos, Jr. won by an overwhelming majority with 31 million votes.

What happened to the Catholic conscience?

Do Catholics in the Philippines still listen to their bishops and priests? Or have they pushed them aside while they themselves decide on matters that directly affect the nation?

On the 50th anniversary of martial law, the Catholic prelates spoke.

Perceived to be a clergyman who doesn’t engage in politics, Archbishop Cardinal Jose Fuerte Advincula broke his silence on martial law.

Now the stance of the Archbishop of Manila is clear. His statement should silence any critics. He’s not an archbishop sitting in an ivory tower while looking at his flock in the old walled city of Intramuros in the capital.

Cardinal Advincula is still a pastor who does not want to erase the atrocities of martial law from Philippine history, and I suppose, from the history of the Catholic Church in the Philippines.

After all, one of his predecessors was a "People Power" icon, who did not mince words in calling out the former dictator to step down from office.

Cardinal Jaime Sin is and will always be remembered as someone who stood up for democracy and fought tyranny.

But now, Philippine society is confused. What is there to remember, to begin with?

Remembering is the foundation of every critical discourse. One cannot talk about something if he does not remember what happened in the past.

Sadly, Filipinos find it very hard — intentionally or unintentionally — to remember martial law. We are a people having short-term amnesia!

We have confused facts with fiction, exchanged data with fake news, and treated social media as the ultimate source of what shapes our national consciousness.

No wonder the trolls and spreaders of fake news flocked to social media to attack dissenters and truth tellers.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa, even after she had brought honor to the country by winning the prestigious prize, said she was hunted down by trolls.

“When the world’s largest distributor of news prioritizes the spread of lies laced with anger and hate and spreads it faster and further than facts, journalism becomes activism,” Ressa said after winning the prize.

Philippine bishops are like Ressa who has been fighting for facts, so that people may remember martial law. But their battle cries have fallen on deaf ears.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines issued a pastoral letter on the anniversary of the People Power Revolution urging Catholics to fight historical revisionism.

Millions of Catholics were led to believe by Marcos Jr’s supporters that the martial law years were the golden era in Philippine history.

The prelates were appalled by the blatant and subtle distortion, manipulation, cover-up, repression and abuse of the truth like historical revisionism.

“Historical revisionism — the distortion of history or its denial; the proliferation of fake news and false stories; disinformation — the seeding of false information and narratives in order to influence the opinion of the people, to hide the truth, to malign and blackmail people. There are troll farms which sow the virus of lies,” the prelates said in their letter.

How did it come to this? Does the voice of the Catholic Church still matter to the people? Catholic prelates might have asked themselves the same questions.

Marcos, Jr. claimed in his recent speech at the United Nations in New York, that there are more than 110 million Filipino people. The country is composed of 89 percent Catholics, and yet the Church’s influence seems to be on the decline.

“Who cares about what the bishops have said? They don’t put food on my table,” a Marcos supporter, who wished to remain anonymous, told me.

Yet the bishops have once again spoken.

The Manila archbishop, though some may find his statement soft, has acknowledged the country has learned lessons from martial law.

Reading between the lines, he is saying that the martial law years were no golden era of the Philippines' history.

The nation learned the value of human life and respect for human rights because people had been extra-judicially killed and their rights were blatantly violated during the Marcos regime.

The cardinal said that “we have learned to fight for the truth” because there was a manipulation of truth, and that the people should value democracy and the power of the people because democracy was threatened and the citizenry was undermined.

Cardinal Advincula said that Filipinos had “seen the light” but is it true that we have decided not to go back to the dark?

Only history will tell. Perhaps, we have been too Christian and forgiving. Or perhaps we’ve been suffering the effects of malnutrition and poverty — seeking immediate relief like selling our votes during elections, for tomorrow will take care of itself.

But at least, at the very least, we have clergymen who still act as shepherds and serve as our voice and our conscience, though plagued by money, goons, and gold.

When the shepherd speaks, the sheep listen. May our good shepherds never get tired of speaking for God and for the country.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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