Why did God give us Duterte?
My friend emailed me this question. It intrigued her and it intrigues me, too. To clarify my thoughts on the matter, I had to sit down, pray, reflect, and write.
First and foremost, God did not give us President Rodrigo Duterte. In a democracy, leaders are not divinely ordained. They are elected by the people. We cannot say “vox populi, vox Dei,” that is, “the voice of the people is the voice of God.” Not necessarily! Besides, that saying is not even found in the Bible. Many very bad leaders had been elected by their people. Let us just name Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and even our Ferdinand Marcos. They came to power by election. Duterte was elected by 16 million voters, not even the majority of our 50 million voters in 2016. He is not even a majority president.
Duterte was very much against the Church after the election because the Church leaders cautioned the people about his track record of killings in Davao, about his use of foul language, about his lack of respect for human rights and for women. Now in hindsight, have these cautions been proven to be true?
But now he is already here as the elected President. God allowed us to have a leader we have chosen. While on the one hand Scripture tell us: “Let every person be subordinate to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority opposes what God has appointed, and those who oppose it will bring judgment upon themselves” (Romans 13: 1-2), the same Scripture also tells us: “But Peter and the apostles said in reply, ‘We must obey God rather than men.'” (Acts 5: 29)
They were speaking to the Sanhedrin, the highest authority in their time in Jerusalem. Jesus gave the principle: “Then give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” (Luke 20:25) Taxes are due to Caesar but everything belongs to God.
We render all, including Caesar, to God. He is the first, and loyalty belongs to him first of all. This is the essence of the first and foremost commandment: “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.” (Matthew 22: 36-38)
Therefore subordination to civil authority is secondary to subordination to God, especially if the civil authority is no longer serving truth, justice, and peace.
Is this true of Duterte now? We are told that “rulers are not a cause of fear to good conduct, but to evil. Do you wish to have no fear of authority? Then do what is good and you will receive approval from it.” (Romans 13:3) With his orders to kill and his swearing, does he not cause fear even to innocent people? With his trolls, using government money to pay them, people are now confused and his critics are being bashed. With his machinations, even the justices of the Supreme Court are being co-opted and used.
But there is always the injunction to pray for leaders as the Good Book tells us: “First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity. This is good and pleasing to God our savior.” (1 Timothy 2: 1-3) Even how evil and unfit they may be we should pray for them. Even if they persecute us, as Jesus said: “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5:44-45) Let us pray for them all the more. Let us never cease praying, especially in these dark times.
God did not give us Duterte to be our President. The 16 million voters chose him to be President and he is now President. But God can write straight with crooked lines. Even from something bad, good can come out.
First, I hope we can become better voters this time. We help each other to vote wisely. We vote wisely not only for the President but for all the officials of the land. We are in this mess not only because of Duterte but because of our congress people, our senators, our governors, and the like who have no guts to stand up for what is right but are instead very subservient, for their main concern is their political future and not what is right and just and good for the people.
Secondly, in our desire for change and for a strong leader, hopefully we have learned the lesson not to be blinded by propaganda, like tough talk (which later proved to be empty) and now social media. We are faced with another propaganda once more, this time for Charter change to bring about federalism. Again there are promise that with federalism, people will have homes, jobs, and a better life. I hope we have learned the lesson, or else we may blame God again for our foolishness.
Thirdly, people are now more courageous. If before many are apathetic, now people are standing up because our beliefs are being maligned. We could not have arrived at this stage if already before we had sounded the alarm when the swearings have been happening. We gave him the liberty to swear, now he even swears against God! We should learn the lesson now that if we do not control the power of those on top, they will abuse their power. If we do not make a stand, we allow abuse to take place.
I like this quote from Elie Wiesel, a Romanian-born writer, political activist, Nobel laureate, and Holocaust survivor who said: “Always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victims. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” – Rappler.com
Broderick Pabillo is auxiliary bishop of Manila. He also chairs the Episcopal Commission on the Laity of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.