There is no Philippine law that prevents Fr. Ed Panlilio from running for public office, unlike in Mexico, where the constitution prohibits members of the clergy from holding public office. Ironically, what could stop Panlilio from running is his own Catholic Church, which has been ambivalent about “political” priests. Panlilio has in fact been suspended from “priestly duties” since he became governor of Pampanga province.
I use quotation marks for the word “political” because the Catholic Church has actually been political for 2,000 years, with popes themselves wielding great political power, while cardinals and bishops have actively intervened to make, or break, kings and queens and presidents.
In the last half century, the Vatican has set its sights on liberal priests. Up to 1980, canon law allowed priests to run if they had the permission of their bishops, but there were tensions here as well, especially if the bishops were conservative and the priests running for office were liberals. In 1980, Pope John Paul II mandated that priests should withdraw from electoral politics, and in 1983, a new canonical law went into effect with a broader prohibition on priests taking up “public positions entailing participation in the exercise of civil authority.”
Nicaragua came to my mind almost immediately when I first read about a possible Panlilio candidacy. The late 1960s and the entire 1970s were a time of political ferment for the Catholic Church in Latin America and the Philippines because of harsh dictatorships. It was during these difficult times that liberation theology gained a strong following among both the religious and lay Catholics (as well as some Protestants). Liberation theology borrowed from Marxism, pointing out the structural roots of poverty, from US imperialism to the greed and corruption of local landlords and capitalists.
Liberation theology talked about a “preferential option” for the poor. Many religious and lay people went to serve urban and rural poor communities, getting involved in community organizing and militant politics. The film “Sister Stella L.,” whose 25th anniversary is being celebrated this year, was based on the lives of Catholic sisters in the Philippines who worked in urban poor communities, joining pickets and rallies and investigating human rights abuses, all amid a repressive martial law regime.
Liberation theology was also strong in Nicaragua, which was ruled by the Somoza family for several decades. As in the Philippines, Catholic religious were among those who opposed the dictatorship. This included a Maryknoll priest, Fr. Miguel D’Escoto, who headed the US-based Nicaraguan solidarity movement.
The Sandinistas overthrew Somoza in 1979 and the new government appointed Father Miguel foreign minister. He resisted his superiors’ orders for him to give up his government position and stayed on as foreign minister until 1990, when the Sandinistas lost power in elections. In 2007, when the Sandinistas came back into power, he was appointed as government adviser by President Daniel Ortega.
Father Miguel was not the type to mince words, calling Ronald Reagan a “butcher” and George W. Bush a “liar.” Last year, he became president of the UN General Assembly, and has taken a more diplomatic approach in his declarations.
There were two other Nicaraguan priests, the brothers Ernesto and Fernando Cardenal, who clashed with their superiors, all the way up to the Pope. Ernesto, internationally respected as a poet and writer, was Nicaragua’s minister of culture from 1979 to 1988. Fernando was minister of education and launched one of the most successful adult literacy programs in the world. Both did not step down from their posts, arguing that the new canonical law came into effect after they had been appointed to the Nicaraguan government.
In 1983, when the Pope visited Nicaragua, there was tension when at one event, Ernesto Cardenal approached the Pope and knelt to kiss his ring. The Pope pulled back his hand and shook his finger at the priest.
Despite what seems to be a hardline Vatican stand, there’s actually a Catholic bishop who ran for president and won. This is Fernando Lugo of Paraguay, who also has roots in liberation theology. He trained as a teacher, and then became an SVD (Society of the Divine Word) priest. He served as a missionary in Ecuador and then returned to Paraguay, only to be expelled by the Stroessner military regime because of his activism. He returned in 1987, two years before Stroessner was ousted, and stayed on to serve Paraguay. He was outspoken on issues of social justice, eventually becoming bishop of the diocese of San Pedro.
In 2006, this “Bishop of the Poor” decided to run for president and applied for laicization or a temporary leave from the priesthood, but his request was turned down because, his superiors said, bishops were not eligible for laicization. Lugo decided to run anyway and was suspended. He ran against a woman candidate of the conservative Colorado Party. Lugo won in the 2008 elections, breaking the Colorado Party’s 62-year hold on Paraguayan politics. The Vatican has since granted Lugo’s request for laicization.
Lugo is one of several leftist presidents now in power in Latin America, refusing to accept any presidential salary because the money “belongs to more humble people.”
I should mention one last case here, from the United States, where a Jesuit, Fr. Robert Drinan, was Massachusetts congressman from 1971 to 1980. He was a liberal Democrat and ran on an anti-Vietnam War platform, unseating a congressman who had held office for 14 terms. (You read right, 14 terms, not 14 years—the US has no limits on the number of terms you can hold office.)
Drinan was outspoken, advocated Nixon’s impeachment and pushed for government funding for family planning and abortion. But he gave up his post in 1980 after Pope John Paul II banned priests from running for office. Drinan remained active in teaching, and continued to speak out on political issues. He died in 2007.
Should Father Ed run or not? I’m ambivalent too. I respect the Kaya Natin team of alternative politicians but I worry about how effective Catholic priests can be, laicized or not. A recent article by Jonathan Chow, “Different Standards, Different Faiths” on the website “Religion, Politics and Globalization Project” (rpgp.berkeley.edu) looks at what seems to be a double standard, where Protestant ministers can run for public office without too many eyebrows being raised while people — from popes to bishops, Protestants or Catholics — hesitate when it comes to Catholic priests assuming public office.
Chow notes that there is a difference between Catholic and Protestant clergy, the former having to obey the Vatican, which technically is a “temporal state that is also a theocratic monarchy.” If Panlilio were to run, he would have to be very clear about his stand on a number of issues, from family planning to social justice, and if he has views different from the positions of the Vatican or the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, will he able to remain independent?
The movement launched by a nebulous civil society group, oozing with messianic ardor, to draft Pampanga province’s Gov. Ed Panlilio for president in 2010 to save this country from the rapacity of the much-maligned “traditional politicians” has roiled the Catholic Church over the very secular notion of separation of church and state in a republican polity. The furor was sparked by the statement of Panlilio that he was “open to the possibility” of seeking the presidency in response to the civil society call.
The draft initiative seeks to make Panlilio run in 2010 with Isabela province’s Gov. Grace Padaca as running mate. The movement has described this tandem as credible “alternatives” to the widely reviled “trapos” [traditional politicos; literally, dirt rags], stigmatized as responsible for the degradation of politics over more than 50 years of representative democracy in this country.
It did not take much for Panlilio to succumb to, or to be titillated by, this flattery to consider himself as a much awaited messiah of Philippine politics.
We have always been exposed to the notion since the 1986 People Power Revolution that our political salvation lies in military coups and soldiers with messianic complex, of the likes of Lt. Col. Gregorio Honasan, Navy Lt. Antonio Trillanes III, and Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim — all failed coup makers. Now, the restless do-gooders in civil society, in a desperate search of alternatives outside the traditional political establishment and political elite, have narrowed their search to a member of the Catholic clergy as a political leader in times of crisis. This time the favored notion by civil society is if the trapos, and the soldiers have failed in reforming society, the man of the cloth might fill the leadership vacuum and become the inspired “man of the hour.”
Unfortunately for the promoters of this project in civil society, the Catholic hierarchy is not of the same mind. The Catholic hierarchy has been unsettled by the implications of this draft movement on the principle of separation of church and state.
Panlilio, who ran for governor in 2007 on a reformist and anti-corruption platform, defeated two administration-backed candidates, one of whom was identified with the underground lottery “jueteng” and the other with quarry syndicates in Pampanga. As governor, he wears two hats: that of a salaried public official and that of a priest on a vague status, considered by the hierarchy as “on leave.” As such, he stands astride a blurred line separating secular and priestly functions, which has bred conflict of interest situations as a secular power and minister tending to the spiritual needs of his flock as well to their secular concerns.
These conflicting demands have often been irreconcilable. For example, he was caught in a bind when he accepted cash handouts amounting to between P250,000 and P500,000 from Malacañang, distributed to congressmen, governors and mayors purportedly as assistance for their local projects, although the sums were actually intended to secure their support for a move to quash the impeachment complaint against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Panlilio later tried to return the money but Malacañang refused to accept it.
As a power holder and a priest, Panlilio unwittingly appeared to put into practice the dual secular and spiritual status of Iranian ayatollahs in a theocratic state, in a polity that declares a constitutional separation between church and state. The susceptibility of Panlilio to the inveiglement of a movement to draft him for the presidency and the embarrassing contradictions of his dual role were too much for the Catholic bishops to tolerate.
In what sounded like an ultimatum, Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, read the riot act to Panlilio. In a statement titled, “On the Question of Political Leadership,” Lagdameo minced no words in warning Panlilio to quit the priesthood if he runs for president in 2010.
Lagdameo cited a decree of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, which forbids bishops, priests and religious from active involvement in partisan politics. Lagdameo said, “I presume that Governor E. Panlilio, who is a priest, has been told about this and knows it. If he plans to run for the presidency, in view of the separation of the church and the state, it is best for him to seek dispensation from the priesthood. And so he will be free to engage in partisan politics.”
Lagdameo explained that “dispensation from the priesthood” would mean removing Panlilio’s identity and authority as a priest. Panlilio was suspended from performing priestly duties when he ran for governor in 2007.
Lagdameo also reiterated the Church’s non-involvement in partisan politics. “The Church does not support and endorse any political candidate,” Lagdameo said. “This applies also to Governor Panlilio.” It would be up to civil society or members of the laity to identify and encourage potential and “non-trapo” leaders for political renewal. He quoted Pope Benedict XVI who said, “A big part of the vocation of Christian lay people is their participation in politics in order to bring justice, honesty and defense of true and authentic values of society.”
Lagdameo said there were alternatives to the kind of political leadership at present. “I believe that our country is not lacking in people from civil society who have the gifts of authentic, credible, moral and patriotic leadership,” he said.
In plain words, the message is: The clergy is off limits as a recruitment ground for political leadership. The Church cannot be more emphatic than that. Fold your tents.
AT 3 A.M. By James B. Reuter Updated February 21, 2009 12:00 AM
Here’s something very positive written by a foreigner named Steve Ray about Filipinos. Steve Ray authored many bestselling books, among which are Crossing the Tiber, Upon This Rock, and John’s Gospel.
Steve Ray’s open letter to the Filipino Catholics:
We stepped into the church and it was old and a bit dark. Mass has just begun and we sat toward the front. We didn’t know what to expect here in Istanbul, Turkey. I guess we expected it to be sombre Mass but quiet and sombre it was not — I thought I heard angels joyously singing behind me.
The voices were rich, melodic and beautiful. What I discovered as I spun around to look did not surprise me because I had seen and heard the same thing in other churches around the world. It was not a choir of angels with feathered wings and halos but a group of delightful Filipino Catholics with smiles of delight and joy on their faces as they worship God and sang His praises. I had seen this many times before in Rome, in Israel, in the United States and other countries.
Filipinos have special traits and they are beautifully expressed as I gazed at the happy throng giving thanks to God. What are the special traits which characterize these happy people? I will share a few that I have noticed-personal observations — as I have travelled around the world, including visits to the Philippines.
First, there is a sense of community, of family. These Filipino Christians did not sit apart from each other in different isles. They sat together, closely. They didn’t just sing quietly, mumbling, or simply mouthing the words. No, they raised their voices in harmony together as though they enjoyed the sense of unity and communion among them. They are family even if they are not related.
Second, they have an inner peace and joy which is rare in the world today. When most of the world’s citizens are worried and fretful, I have found Filipinos to have joy and peace — a deep sense of God’s love that overshadows them. They have problems too, and many in the Philippines have less material goods than others in the world, yet there is still a sense of happy trust in God and love of neighbor.
Third, there is a love for God and for his Son Jesus that is almost synonymous with the word Filipino. There is also something that Filipinos are famous for around the world — their love for the Blessed Mother. Among the many Filipinos I have met, the affectionate title for Mary I always hear from their lips is “Mama Mary.” For these gentle folks Mary is not just a theological idea, a historical person, or a statue in a church — Mary is the mother of their Lord and their mother as well, their “Mama.”
The Philippines is a Catholic nation — the only such nation in Asia — and this wonderful country exports missionaries around the world. They are not hired to be missionaries, not official workers of the church. No, they are workers and educators, doctors, nurses and housekeepers that go to other lands and travel to the far reaches of the earth, and everywhere they go they take the joyous gospel of Jesus with them. They make a sombre Mass joyful when they burst into song. They convict the pagan of sin as they always keep the love of Jesus and the Eucharist central in their lives.
My hope and prayer, while I am here in the Philippines sharing my conversion story from Baptist Protestant to Roman Catholic, is that the Filipino people will continue to keep these precious qualities. I pray that they will continue loving their families, loving the Catholic Church, reading the Bible, loving Jesus, His Mother and the Eucharist.
As many other religions and sects try to persuade them to leave the Church, may God give the wisdom to defend the Catholic faith. As the world tempts them to sin and seek only money and fame and power, may God grant them the serenity to always remember that obedience to Christ and love for God is far more important than all the riches the world can offer.
May the wonderful Filipino people continue to be a light of the Gospel to the whole world!
Really the Filipinos are strongest when they are in their lowest ebb. They leave everything to their faith in God and Mama Mary in surpassing their challenges.
* * *
The Jesuit Vocation Promotions Team invites male 4th year High School students, college students and young professionals to a Vocation Seminar. It will be held on March 7, 2009, Saturday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at St. Therese of the Child Jesus Parish, UP Los Baños, Laguna. For more details, please contact the Jesuit Vocation Promotions Office at tel. no. (02) 4266101 or mobile number 0917-JESUITS (5378487) or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or sjvocations @jesuits.ph. You can also visit the website of the Philippine Jesuits at www.jesuits.ph.
View previous articles of this column.
(Editor’s Note: Times are tough. Let’s do something about it. Now. Share with us what you or other people are doing to get you through the rough times. If we are together, we can tough it out. Send suggestions to email@example.com)
MANILA, Philippines—The tougher the times, the harder people pray.
At the popular “Our Mother of Perpetual Help” shrine in Baclaran, Parañaque City, people attending Wednesday novenas and Sunday Masses often spill over to the courtyard. Churchgoers used to peak at 120,000 on the first Wednesday of the month.
Now crowds fill the church to overflowing even on ordinary Wednesdays and Sundays. (The shrine holds 12 Masses and novenas every Wednesday.)
Prices have risen, but devotees are not scrimping on their donations to the church. In fact, Wednesday and Sunday collections in Baclaran have slightly increased.
The Baclaran shrine is a favorite place of solace for people seeking special favors from Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and for any good Samaritan willing to help someone in need.
On the first Wednesday of the month, the shrine gets 3,000 to 4,000 written petitions. It receives 2,200 to 2,800 petitions on ordinary Wednesdays.
“Those are twice the number of letters we got five of ten years ago,” said Vivian Bersola, a lay missionary of the shrine for 19 years.
Devotees also write prayers of thanksgiving—around 500 are received weekly.
Petitions for jobs
While petitions used to focus on family and spiritual problems, recent ones are more work-related, such as prayers for landing a job in the country or abroad and for passing of job interviews and board exams, according to Bersola.
Tens of thousands of jobs have been lost in the country over the past few months because of plunging demand for exports like electronics and garments as the recession in the United States and other developed countries deepens.
The Philippines could lose up to 300,000 jobs in the first six months of the year, according to the labor secretary.
Other petitions include prayers for health and recovery from sickness (particularly cancer and other ailments needing surgery), peace in the home, travel abroad, release of housing loans and even divine intervention in the payment of tuition and credit cards.
“These petitions keep us grounded in the day-to-day struggle of ordinary people,” Fr. Ino Cueto said.
Redemptorist priests read some of the prayer petitions during Mass.
Mass for OFWs
Noticing that problems of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and their families were a recurring theme in petitions and even confessions, the priests decided to hold special Masses for the workers and their families at 9:30 a.m. every last Friday of the month.
Shortly before the Mass for OFWs was to be held in January, the priests wondered, “Would people attend?” They were surprised when the whole church was filled.
When Cueto became shrine rector a year ago, he noticed that some 20 beggars would appear on Tuesday nights in anticipation of the Wednesday devotees.
Recently, he counted more than 50. “Most of them are old women,” he said. “We cannot prevent them from coming, but we are thinking of a more systematic and effective response to their plight.”
The Redemptorist priests are noted for their social programs for the poor, as well as their activism during the martial law years, when they were teasingly called “Redempterrorists.”
There seems to be less political activism now, which is true of the whole Catholic Church, but the social services remain.
“We used to get eight walk-in clients a day, but now we get around 15,” said Arlene Camua, social worker of the shrine’s Crisis Intervention Center.
“The more common requests are for transportation back to home provinces, medication for ailments such as diabetes and stroke, hospitalization and surgical operations.”
Clients who seek help come from Metro Manila and as far as Mindoro, Quezon and Leyte.
Eunice Barrozo, another social worker, said the Redemptorist Education Assistance Program got 55 applicants for college scholarships and continued to do so after the deadline ended last month.
The scholarship used to be open to students from any part of Metro Manila. Soaring costs of education forced the program to limit scholarships to Parañaque residents only.
The hard times are also sending more children to the streets.
Phen Mangahas, team leader of social services and director of the Sarnelli Center for Street Children, said the children the center gathered recently for street education sessions reached 100 from last year’s 60.
“Street children are now less willing to stay at our drop-in center,” she said. They prefer to be out in the streets to help parents by selling sando (plastic) bags or sampaguita (jasmine).
The three social workers noted that ironically, more clients were being referred to Baclaran by government agencies, such as the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the Office of Vice President Noli de Castro.
“Five years ago, we were able to get augmentation funds from the DSWD,” Mangahas said. “Now, these agencies say they really have no funds.”
Baclaran shrine’s social services are sustained by donations—not only from wealthy patrons but also from ordinary people who share whatever they have.
Donors include those whose petitions were granted and those who want to share their blessings, say, lotto winnings.
One donor said she doubled her donations because she believed that “if you increase your donations, you will get more blessings in return.”
The devotees’ generosity is partly encouraged by the Redemptorist policy of transparency, especially now that people are fed up with rampant corruption, according to Cueto.
The priests give monthly updates—announced before Masses—on where collections go.
According to the last quarter of 2008 report, a total of P1,461,552.86 went to medical assistance for 166 patients, such as 55 chemotherapy sessions, 51 operations, six cobalt/radiotherapy and medicines for 35 patients.
A total of P254,764.84 was used for transportation, medical, food and funeral assistance.
The shrine also supports 64 full and partial scholars and helps fund the social services of the other Redemptorist shrines in Lipa City in Batangas and Legazpi City in Albay.
“In our homilies, we try to help people see things in a bigger context,” Cueto said.
“The Lord does not want people to wallow in poverty. We want devotees to think, why does poverty persist? Hopefully, the shrine also helps people to realize that there are so many possibilities that we can attain as a people.”
He also expressed hope that “devotees will develop a sense of mission and service to respond to what is happening to the larger society.” Project Editor: Juan V. Sarmiento Jr.