When the camp of presidential aspirant Bongbong Marcos (BBM) said that the clergy were meddling in politics, an initial message was sent on the kind of Church and State dynamics a probable BBM administration would prefer. Its statement on the alleged abuse of the pulpit, “allowing it to become a platform for hateful and negative campaigning” should, this early, be taken as a subliminal message that criticism does not have any place under a government whose aim is “unity.”
The word “meddle” is not harmless. Presidents and politicians have used the term whenever they would like the Church to stay in its limits. In the world of politics enemies should not only be identified but also created. By calling some members of the clergy as meddlers, the camp of BBM has set open fire against those it perceives to be stepping into a business not their own. It is not difficult to discern that their recent statement is one that is heavily footnoted with worldviews and biases of what it believes should be the relationship of religion and politics. These are what will eventually define a possible Marcos administration’s attitude towards engagements by faith-based groups in matters of human dignity, development, human rights, and the environment.
We can only pray that we will not have the same horrors experienced by some members of the religious and the clergy during the Martial Law years. Although President Ferdinand Marcos (Sr.) was friendly to some bishops who were either supportive of his administration or contented with their life in the convent but, apparently, he was not with those who criticized the government for its objectionable policies and practices. His government, then, was supportive of many ecclesial events like the beatification of Lorenzo Ruiz but was aggressive in arresting some members of the clergy and the religious who were perceived to be vocal against human rights violations. We would remember the names of Fr. Zacarias Agatep, Fr. Godofredo Alingal, Br. Karl Gaspar, Sr. Mary John Mananzan, Bishop Francisco Claver, and Bishop Julio Labayen among others. It can be said this early that part of BBM’s probable learning curve would be dealing with the Catholic Church. Truth to tell, any Philippine president should learn how to live with the Church (or the Churches).
It is important for the political sphere to enjoy a certain degree of autonomy from religious influence. In fact, among the hallmarks of a democracy is the presence of a secular Constitution that allows all citizens the free enjoyment to believe and to practice what they believe. However, this does not mean that politics in a democracy cannot be without the participation of religion. The absence of religion in a democracy is not healthy in the context of a governance that seeks to optimize people’s liberties and welfare. Religion after all cannot be imposed but neither does its non-imposition mean that it must be obliterated from people’s lives and more so in the larger scale of decision-making.
There is no country so democratic that it can live and thrive without religion. Even the most secular societies in Europe and North America acknowledge that although its policies and laws must not favor one religion, but views and interpellations from peoples of faith contribute to the growth of democracy as well as the stability of its foundations. It would require political craft on the part of a President to dialogue with its critics especially institutions that remain intertwined with the nation’s values and culture. Sadly, we have not seen and felt this under the current administration, and we can only hope that we shall not experience the same in the next.
If the word “meddling” is to be used to describe that kind of political interference that is not healthy as it is unwanted, then it must be to those religious groups that endorse candidates without any reason but plain self-interest. That is why the criticism from BBM’s camp cannot be without criticism as well. Other than the fact that this so-called act of meddling is not specified, it is quite ironic that the presidential aspirant got endorsed by El Shaddai leader Mike Velarde. If they are true and consistent in their line of argument that religion should unite rather than divide, they must also apply this logic not only to those who are critical of Marcos but even to those who are favorable or approving of him.
Compared to Velarde and Quiboloy, we should thank those priests, nuns, and other sectarian institutions who did not just endorse but gave their reason for doing so. This means that they are not politicking for the purpose of power brokering or an expectation for some payback in the future. Their well-explained endorsement means that they respect our democracy as a rational system where anyone has the freedom to participate so long as they can translate their position in a language that is accessible by the public.
On the contrary, one would not hear any substantial explanation for the endorsement from El Shaddai or Iglesia ni Kristo. Apparently, their people might follow out of obedience or because of claims to divinity or revelation. Sadly, they are not accused of nor charged with “meddling” in politics. They are in fact “looked up to” by politicians because of their influence. And this is where the said-to-be separation of Church and State in this country, or at least how people want it interpreted, is nothing but a sham. It is a separation which we want to apply when things are not favorable to the State or politicians, but not so when things are beneficial and favorable to those who are seeking to win during elections.
So, again, when Bongbong Marcos’ camp said that the clergy are meddling in politics, we are given a sneak preview of an administration that would want a Church to keep quiet in matters of development, social justice, and civil liberties. Most likely it will be a government that would want the Church to stay in the sacristy. Of course, there are priests and pastors who would love this kind of setup, but for those who believe that the Word of God is impotent if it cannot transform people’s lives in the here and now, the road that requires some struggle for justice is getting visible within the horizon.
The late strongman Marcos Sr. was ousted by a People Power whose frontline players were priests, nuns, and seminarians. I am not sure if this is not an issue anymore for BBM. We may give him the benefit of the doubt that he has forgiven the Church on this. What we are not sure though is if this time he would like to make sure that his administration (should he win) won’t be checkmated by the bishops. – Rappler.com
Rhoderick John S. Abellanosa is Director of Human Resource of Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu, where he teaches Introduction to World Religions and Philosophy of the Human Person. He is also the editor-in-chief of the PHAVISMINDA Journal of Philosophy.