Archbishop Villegas: Stand up vs 'reign of murder, vulgarity'

MANILA, Philippines – Archbishop Socrates Villegas urged his flock to stand up against the "reign of murder and vulgarity" in the Philippines, as he denounced social ills "slowly eating up our national soul" for the past two years.

Villegas, archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan, made this call in a message to his own archdiocese for the feast of Mary Help of Christians on Thursday, May 24. 

"Hindi ba sobra na? Hindi pa ba tayo maninindigan? Kung hindi ngayon, kailan pa?" Villegas said. (Isn't it too much? Will we not stand up yet? If not now, when?)

The archbishop pointed out: "Years from now, this chapter in our history as a people will be called the Reign of Murder and Vulgarity. Sobra na!" (It's too much!)

He cited, for example, "the poor Filipinos killed by still unknown assassins for the past two years." He also mentioned how government agents "have been incredibly yet systematically unable to trace the killers" and to "bring the wheels of justice to roll."

He added: "The vulgarity in language used to shock us years ago. It feels like we were more decent and respectful, polite and courteous many years ago; but it has been only two years since this downslide to vulgarity started rapidly."

The past two years have seen not only profanity-laced speeches by President Rodrigo Duterte, but the killing of around 20,000 people, according to human rights advocates, as the chief executive wages a bloody anti-drug campaign.  

Villegas is one of the most vocal critics of killings and profanity under Duterte's watch. He is a former president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, who, after his second and final term, was replaced by Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles.

He is also a protégé of the late Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin, who helped mount the 1986 People Power Revolution that toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos. 

'Defend the values of Christianity'

The occasion for which Villegas devoted this statement – the feast of Mary Help of Christians – is a message in itself.

Mary Help of Christians is an ancient title of the Virgin Mary. The title was introduced after Christians miraculously won against the Turks in 1571 in the Battle of Lepanto.

Since then, the devotion to Mary Help of Christians has been invoked especially in times of Christian persecution. 

In his statement, Villegas denounced murder and vulgarity as "anti-Christian forces around us shaking our Catholic values."

"Murder is offered as a solution to our problems and vulgarity is glorified as a way of life. There is hostility towards decency," Villegas said.

"It would be naïve to hope things will improve without us lifting a finger. Please pray and from prayer let us act together to defend the values of Christianity. Vulgarity and murder are anti-Christian," he added. 

Villegas also criticized gossiping about the dead – at a time when Duterte justifies the killing of Cagayan priest Father Mark Ventura by saying he engaged in illicit affairs. (READ: Fr Mark Ventura's bishop hits 'unfounded rumors' on his murder)

Villegas said: "Now, vulgarity has taken another twist—to mock the memory of the murdered; to calumniate a faithful departed who cannot defend himself; to gossip about the dead; to add inconsiderate sorrow to the grief of those they have left behind. Is murder to be excused due to the unproven immorality of the killed? Tama na! (Enough!)"

Read Villegas' full message below:

Today is the feast of Mary Help of Christians. Mary the Helper is as old as the title Mary the Mother. This devotion was the armament of the popes in the past against the attacks of kings and emperors on the Church. The devotion to Mary Help of Christians has been the recourse of the Church from centuries ago to resist anti-Christian forces.   

Let us gaze at the Virgin Mary and let us look at our country.

There are many things happening to our country that are repulsive and revolting.

Fake news abound, lies are peddled, and truth is bargained for the right price. The smoke of graft and corruption keeps going with no one to snuff out the fire from where the smoke comes. Politicians are abundant while statesmen have gone scarce. Constitutional rights are violated and legal processes are ignored.

But among all the social ills that are slowly eating up our national soul, the murders and the vulgarity are incredibly and sadly on top of the list. Years from now, this chapter in our history as a people will be called the Reign of Murder and Vulgarity. Sobra na!

The poor Filipinos killed by still unknown assassins for the past two years are enough to fill up the Narciso Ramos Athletic Field in Lingayen. Most of them are adults, many are youth, a few are children but all of them have a common adjective to describe them – defenseless and silent poor. If they were not killed by government agents, the government agents have been incredibly yet systematically unable to trace the killers and bring the wheels of justice to roll. Sumosobra na talaga!

The vulgarity in language used to shock us years ago. It feels like we were more decent and respectful, polite and courteous many years ago. But it has been only two years since this downslide to vulgarity started rapidly. Women are disgraced in words not once but habitually, as if it were a standard policy to mock womanhood and reduce the God-given dignity of personhood to genitals. Anger can be righteous but in recent months, anger had lost its righteousness. If you are angry, you have a right to be vulgar. If you are afraid of the backlash do not get angry at the wrongdoer. We have become numb to vulgarity. We laugh at vulgarity instead of getting shocked and angry.

Now, vulgarity has taken another twist – to mock the memory of the murdered; to calumniate a faithful departed who cannot defend himself; to gossip about the dead; to add inconsiderate sorrow to the grief of those they have left behind. Is murder to be excused due to the unproven immorality of the killed? Tama na!

We have anti-Christian forces around us shaking our Catholic values. Murder is offered as a solution to our problems and vulgarity is glorified as a way of life. There is hostility towards decency. Human life is under threat. It would be naïve to hope things will improve without us lifting a finger. Please pray and from prayer let us act together to defend the values of Christianity. Vulgarity and murder are anti-Christian.

Hindi ba sobra na? Hindi pa ba tayo maninindigan? Kung hindi ngayon kailan pa? Turn to Mary Help of Christians and let her send you forth in battle for her Son.

Mag-isip. Manalangin. Kumilos nang sama sama.

From the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist, Dagupan City, May 24, 2018.

+SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan 

– Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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