Amid the country’s current political turmoil fueled by the doubtful legitimacy of President Gloria Arroyo to be the country’s chief of staff, her husband’s involvement in a kick-back scandal, accusations of kidnapping and political killings and the endless ping pong of scandals from the opposition and back, the Filipino people composed mainly of Roman Catholics have turned to the church for guidance and clarity. The church on the other hand has allowed the institution to be used by politicians in their unending quest for power, hurling public accusations and judgment to people who are yet to see trial. They even go as far as telling churchgoers whom to pray for. “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone” the bible says. Clearly, the church has neglected to read this passage.
Despite the age old concept of separation between the church and the state, the Filipino Catholic Church over the last few years has marched the streets and announced their indignation and malcontent over national issues just like any other Juan dela Cruz. Who could easily forget the dramatic images of nuns giving flowers and rosaries to armed men with high powered rifles during the historic Edsa Revolution of 1986… of priests and clergy standing arm in arm with the masa blocking government tanks in what was termed as “the revolution that surprised the world.” 20 years of repressed fear and anger over widespread cheating, thievery and political killings were unleashed and taken to the streets of Edsa where three days of prayerful protests finally resulted in the departure of a dictator. That was also the day that Filipinos recognized the Catholic Church as a pillar of influence… one with enough power to draw the masses and overthrow a government.
Over two decades after the Edsa Revolution, the monumental role of the church in the country’s political arena has not only become obvious, it has become a staple for any honcho who wants to hold a public office. Endorsements were sought as well as approval for laws passed. If the church airs a gripe about something, you are sure to see a politician having a press conference addressing that matter right away and standing behind the church picket line, after all, you wouldn’t want to be enemies with the institution that calls forth the divine power – a power beyond any government – the power of the collective faith. And so it has become the most abused political move of the era - calling forth a mass action in the form of… well… a mass. A religious gathering disguised to support rebel soldiers or the opposition’s call for the current administration to step down. It is a tiring ritual - a shameless manipulation of the people’s faith.
But here lies a bright promise for us, on March 14, 2008, a pastoral statement was issued by Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales and 15 other bishops under the ecclesiastical province of Manila condemning both the corrupt and the whistle-blowers who were part of corruption themselves. It is a refreshing, non-partisan take on the country’s political status, putting the blame not only to those who are in power, but all those who want to be in power. For the first time in a while, a church leader stood up and refused to be used by politicians… sending a message to activist priests all over the country that lasting reforms and value formation should be held in parishes, homes and schools, not on the streets.