Last week’s post focused on the politics and the Eucharist in the United States while briefly comparing the situation in the United States to Nigeria. Today’s post focuses on the Philippines.
With about 80 percent of the population as Catholics, the Philippines is the country with the largest number of Catholics in Asia and the third largest in the world. Hence, although there is officially no state religion today, the Catholic Church remains a very influential institution in the country.
In 1986, the “EDSA People Power Revolution” ended the 20-year reign of the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos and restored the Philipines to democracy. Ferdinand fled into exile to the US where he died in 1989. The Catholic Church was instrumental in this revolution through the then Archbishop of Cebu and President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Cardinal Ricardo Vidal, and the then Archbishop of Manila, the nation’s capital, Cardinal Jaime Sin, who led religious groups in this civil resistance that forced the dictator out. The radio station of the Archdiocese of Manila, Radio Veritas, helped mobilise people into action.
Cardinal Sin was also instrumental in the 2001 revolution that replaced President Joseph Estrada with Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. After Cardinal Sin’s death, it was reported that during the 2001 revolution, the Holy See directed the Cardinal and all the clergy to adopt a non-partisan stand. It was reported that the Cardinal threatened to resign as the Archbishop of Manila. A top Philippine member of the curia helped to end the standoff as the Holy See refused to insist on his earlier demand. However, none of this information has been officially confirmed by the Holy See or the Archdiocese of Manila.
Since 2001, the Church in the Philippines remained non-partisan until the 2022 presidential election between Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (the son of the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos) and the former Vice President, Maria Leonor Robredo. With the unpleasant antecedent of the dictatorship of his father Ferdinand, Bongbong adopted a campaign strategy of distorting history to erase, or at least whitewash the evils of his father’s regime.
In their 25 February 2022 pastoral letter, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) wrote:
“In this letter, we favor none but the truth. We wish to warn you of the radical distortions in the history of Martial Law and the EDSA People Power Revolution.
In 1986, some of us were already members of the CBCP. We issued a “Post-Election Statement,” dated February 13, 1986, regarding the systematic disenfranchisement of voters, widespread and massive vote-buying, deliberate tampering of election returns, intimidation, harassment, terrorism and murder. In the same Statement we said: “a government that assumes or retains power through fraudulent means has no moral basis.” Thus, we asked you to see, to judge and to act, clearly not with violence, but through peaceful means. And that was what happened.
The people – the NAMFREL, the Comelec computer Technicians, the Poll Officials – registrars, teachers, government workers, millions of ordinary voters together with priests and religious men and women, Radio Veritas and press people acted peacefully. They were not able to take the blatant deception and cheating. They, including Officials in the Batasan, the military, Comelec Officials, followed their conscience. And the events led to EDSA. (cf. CBCP Post-Election Statement, 1986)
We did not invent the historic event that happened in EDSA; it was a fruit of love of neighbor and faith. With you, we were simply part of it. You and the world witnessed the peaceful revolution, which was rightly called “People Power.” The peaceful revolution was not an invention of one person, one party, or one color. It was a triumph of the entire Filipino People.
We are alarmed by this distortion of the truth of history and the attempt to delete or destroy our collective memory through the seeding of lies and false narratives. This is dangerous, for it poisons our collective consciousness and destroys the moral foundations of our institutions.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, let us stand up for truth. Remember: goodness without truth is pretense. Service without truth is manipulation. There can be no justice without truth. Even charity, without truth, is only sentimentalism. An election or any process that is not based on truth is but a deception and cannot be trusted.
While the official statement of the bishop’s conference focused on promoting the truth, the Church largely broke from its political neutrality. Apart from subtle campaigns against Bongbong by the clergy and religious, the Catholic laity promised to deliver the “Catholic vote” since about 80 percent of the Filipino population are Catholics. On 4 May 2022, the “Clergy for Moral Choice”, a group composed of over 1000 clergy including bishops, priests, and deacons held a press conference where they declared support for Maria Lobredo’s presidential campaign.
Irrespective of all these, Bongbong Marcos won the May 9 elections with 58.7 percent of the votes to Maria Robredo’s 27.94 percent. Other candidates shared the remaining votes. The Catholic Church lost embarrassingly because Maria won in only 18 of the 86 dioceses in the country.
We continue next week.