‘Stop the killings, start the healing’
It’s a refrain raised constantly by avid supporters of the Duterte administration whenever the Catholic Church so much as hints at criticism of the government’s war on drugs: But what have you done to help? Where is the Church’s hand in the fight against this scourge of society?
Eleanor Dionisio, associate director of the John J. Carroll Institute on Church and Social Issues, wrote in a commentary in this paper last week that Church initiatives have in fact sprung up in the wake of the bloody purge of drug suspects and the wave of killings everywhere.
“Parishes in the diocese of Novaliches, the diocese of Caloocan, and the archdiocese of Manila are providing assistance, through counseling and material support, to bereaved families, drug users, and drug users’ families. The diocese of Cubao has scholarships for orphans of the antidrug killings and is starting a drug rehabilitation program in November.”
But more than these grassroots interventions, the Church appears to be rediscovering its moral voice, as it has steadily stepped up its calls for the government to do more to stop the killings.
That voice had been muted for quite some time, rendered wary and defensive in the wake of the worldwide sex abuse scandal that has tarnished the Church’s stature and authority, and, nearer to home, by some bishops’ injudicious closeness to and support of patent corruption in past administrations, including that of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
Under President Benigno Aquino III, the Church won no extra points with its doctrinaire, demonizing approach to the issue of reproductive health, a subject that a solid majority of Filipinos, despite their Catholic upbringing, have come to support, as attested to by numerous surveys.
In the age of no-holds-barred social media, meanwhile, President Duterte has proven to be a different kind of issue for the Church, a leader with no compunction at publicly assailing bishops, revealing the abuse he allegedly suffered at the hands of a priest in childhood, in order to deny the institution any sort of moral standing over him.
And it appeared to work for a while; the President’s overwhelming popularity at the beginning of his term also saw to that. The Church seemed tentative, fearful, unable to find the kind of towering voice its late charismatic leader, Jaime Cardinal Sin, had wielded against the excesses of Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law regime.
That may be changing. The Church appears to have bestirred itself and is back on the streets, protesting the unabated killings while calling for the country to “start healing.”
On Sunday, thousands of Filipinos joined Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas and other Church leaders in a Mass at Edsa Shrine, followed by a march to the People Power Monument, to ask that the government “stop the violence and uphold the law.”
The public gathering was on top of a 40-day period of remembrance, marked by nightly prayers and the tolling of bells, that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines called for the thousands of Filipinos killed so far in the antidrug campaign, and also those affected by the war in Marawi City.
There were no political speeches at the Edsa gathering, despite the presence of such lightning-rod figures as Sen. Antonio Trillanes and other prominent government personalities.
In his homily, Villegas trained his gaze not so much on the Duterte administration as on the people’s troubling response to the culture of violence and impunity under its watch: “If we do not stop the killings, there will be a punishment for a nation that kills its own people.”
The archbishop may well have been speaking, too, of his Church. But like the rest of the country, it has realized, to its horror, the consequences of that apathy and acquiescence. The voice it has rediscovered will, hopefully, only grow louder.
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