Editor’s Note: The author originally wrote this on Facebook as an open letter to the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC). Rappler is republishing this with the author’s permission.
I recently saw a report that PCEC leaders will meet with President Duterte and have offered to wash his feet as an act of humility and healing for the abuse he suffered under a Roman Catholic priest.
Whether this is true or not, it raises important questions that need to be aired. While acts of contrition and solidarity are noble and good, it is the wrong time involving the wrong people for such an effort. The issue of church responsibility for sexual abuse is being used by Duterte to divert attention from his own violence – the killings and his verbal attacks on women and Christianity, mismanagement of the economy, corruption, and more.
Engaging the issue of Duterte’s childhood sexual abuse in this context incorrectly shifts the focus away from the justified outrage that people have over Duterte’s recent words and actions. Now is the time to channel that outrage into action that will bring Duterte to account for his own foolish and reckless behavior. Washing his feet will symbolically send a powerful image of subservience rather than prophetic witness, and will be used to coopt your credibility and cause confusion and division within the PCEC.
There is nothing worse than helping someone avoid the consequences that their actions deserve, and the outrage that has erupted is a necessary part of that corrective process of accountability in the Philippines. The reign of violence and injustice that has mutated under the Duterte regime is only made possible because the Filipino people and key sectors of Philippine society continue to consent and give their support to that regime. To divert Filipinos’ righteous anger into an untimely act of reconciliation is to enable impunity rather than advocate for healing, justice, and transformation.
Just like former PCEC director Bishop Efraim Tendero presiding over former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s supposed evangelical conversion, it is an incredibly controversial and theologically questionable use of a sacred ceremony. It can easily ruin the credibility of evangelical leaders who will be seen by many as more interested in currying favor with powerful politicians rather than critical engagement and leadership.
The issues of Duterte’s alleged abuse at the hands of priests are serious and should be addressed by the Catholic Church directly. Archbishop Romulo Valles is a known friend of President Duterte and the appropriate person for such dialogue and serious discussion. Additionally, I personally know of at least one evangelical church association in Mindanao where sexual abuse of minors has occurred and they swept it under the carpet. In other words, the PCEC has enough of this issue in its own backyard to deal with, there is no need to try to wash the Catholic Church’s dirty laundry.
Washing Duterte’s feet would improperly politicize the critical issue of Duterte’s abuse while ignoring the real and urgent needs of many victims of sexual abuse who suffer silently across the nation. It would be a great disservice to them and do nothing to bring voice to their enduring pain. Nor is it part of a larger, constructive, and prophetic process that is needed to address the horrible sexual violence suffered by many at the hands of people in power.
We should not confuse the accountability needed for victims of sexual abuse with the accountability demanded for the many gross and unconstitutional abuses of presidential power.
I know that these are difficult times in the Philippines, so you are in my prayers.
Jeremy Simons lived in Philippines for more than 20 years, and taught conflict transformation at the Asian Theological Seminary in Quezon City from 2014 to 2016. A Davao City resident for 8 years, and contibutes to MindaNews while blogging at Plowing Peace-Pagdaro sa Kalinaw. He is currently a PhD student at the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies in New Zealand.
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