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?
SKETCHES By Ana Marie Pamintuan Updated January 12, 2009 12:00 AM
Mary (not her real name) left for Qatar last week.
At 27, she had never flown on a plane and had never seen the inside of the NAIA. But she was traveling with two other Filipino women who had worked for four years in Bahrain, so she thought she would be fine on her first flight.
When she was 15 Mary had dropped out of first year high school in her province that is frequently visited by typhoons and had gone to work as a maid in Manila. The eldest of a big brood, her earnings helped pay for the miscellaneous expenses of sending her younger siblings to school, and the other expenses of day-to-day survival in the hardscrabble rural areas of the country.
About five years later her employer, seeing potential in the spunky teenager, sent Mary to a nearby public high school, tagged as the best of its kind in Metro Manila. She was the eldest high school freshman, and perhaps that helped her graduate with honors four years later.
They were four difficult years, with class sizes sometimes approaching 80, with no textbooks, and with computers only for the use of teachers. Mary struggled with both English and Filipino. But the school was still better than what was available in her hometown.
Upon graduation she decided, with her employer’s blessings (and money) to enroll in a course as a nursing assistant. Over a year ago she graduated, but she entered the Philippine job market as it was becoming saturated with health professionals.
Mary applied for a job in a call center but was turned away because of her limited proficiency in English.
She was luckier in her application for a job overseas. Mary has a two-year contract to work in a hotel in Doha for a monthly salary of 900 riyals (nearly P12,000), with free housing and meals. With help from some relatives, which allowed her to forgo the services of a recruitment agency, she spent a total of about P35,000 for her travel and work documents.
Last week Mary savored what might be her last taste of pork in two years and bade her relatives, including a newborn nephew, and friends goodbye. She left behind crosses, rosaries and prayer books, skimpy clothing, plus a boyfriend she has promised not to replace with a foreigner.
Parting is normally an occasion for sadness. But in this case, Mary left Manila with the hopes for a better life of her family on her shoulders.
The pay in Qatar is not exceptionally attractive, and there have been enough cautionary tales of abused overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). But her first trip overseas trip is an adventure for Mary, and the job is a stepping stone for better opportunities.
* * *
Think of how much better Mary’s opportunities could have been if from childhood she had received quality education in her hometown. Free public education is supposed to help level the playing field, improving the chances of the poor to rise from poverty, and raising national productivity.
Even when the lack of opportunities at home forces people to seek employment overseas, quality education also means better human resources, which means higher earning capacity and bigger remittances.
India’s diaspora, for example, increasingly consists of highly skilled professionals: computer programmers, engineers, doctors, financial managers.
Health professionals now also account for a big percentage of our OFWs. But most of our workers overseas are still employed in blue- collar jobs, as construction workers, electricians and, yes, still as household helpers, chambermaids and sanitary personnel.
Such jobs are vulnerable to economic slowdowns. By the middle of the month, Dubai is sending home thousands of foreign workers as its construction boom grinds to a near-halt. Sailors and workers in the oil industry are also losing their jobs as global energy demand slumps.
The growing army of Philippine cooks, and a still growing army of health professionals, could make up for some of the job losses. While organizations such as the World Bank have warned that this year will be dire for migrant workers, the International Monetary Fund is actually projecting modest growth in OFW deployment in this year of recession.
Mary was among the first to leave. Stories similar to hers unfold in hundreds of thousands of households across the country every year.
Many of the partings are bittersweet, and the diaspora has broken up a number of marriages. Children grow up without one or both parents, and the absence leaves an indelible imprint. Social workers have noted a growing number of problem children whose parents are working overseas.
There are OFWs who have returned to the Philippines, vowing never to venture overseas again for work, after finding certain cultures oppressive and deciding that they could not stand being second-class citizens in other lands.
And yet the exodus continues. As many OFW destinations grapple with recession, the fear is that the job market would tighten and a big percentage of OFWs would be sent home.
An American who traces his roots to Ireland told me that a diaspora is not such a bad thing, especially during tough economic times. Those who leave help keep the economy back home afloat, he said, citing the exodus from Ireland. Those who return often bring back positive aspects of their adopted countries.
I have often said that no nation became great by sending its people overseas. But at the start of a year of recession, it is better to look on the bright side.
Someone like Mary who manages to land a job while others are being sent home is considered by many Filipinos to be truly blessed.
As Mary bade her cousins goodbye on the eve of her departure, the look on the faces of those left behind was of gladness, with a tinge of envy.
For many of the cousins in her extended family, Mary is living the Filipino Dream.
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo Updated February 22, 2009 12:00 AM
In 1980, a Swiss girl I met (who was here as an exchange student) made this comment: “How come the Filipinos are not revolting against the injustice here? Most of them have nothing to lose except their lives.”
That comment was surprising considering that the Swiss girl came from an upper class family in a country where it is assumed that everybody has money. After all, someone from that class in society does not usually think of revolting against a government.
But we cannot blame her for saying that. Even during the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship, Filipino parents were the first to discourage their sons and daughters from joining public mass actions for fear of their children getting hurt or arrested.
Foreigners who have lived here are puzzled at how we Filipinos can allow the irregularities and scandals that are happening all over the archipelago to go on with hardly any public outrage expressed. Some of them conclude that Filipinos are gut-less — too yellow to risk life and comfort to straighten out the big mess in their country.
Some foreigners conclude that Filipinos are some of the most un-nationalistic people in the world. We also cannot blame them for concluding that. They even met some Filipinos who would rather be a Yank or a Brit. There are surveys that confirmed that sad reality, especially among young Filipinos.
Some foreigners found it scandalous that Filipinos would proudly wave their ‘bastion of Christianity in Asia’ flag but are so callous to the grinding poverty around them — much of it the result of the elite’s irrational greed. The scandal is heightened by the fact that many of the greediest have graduated from Catholic educational institutions like the Ateneo de Manila University and the De La Salle University.
Indeed, we are more tribal and have really yet to achieve a sense of nation like the Japanese, Thais and Chinese. We’re led by leaders who even have this wrong notion that imposing English as education medium of instruction is the key to Filipino national salvation. They are stupidly oblivious of the fact that no nation ever progressed simply because they imposed a foreign language as their education medium of instruction.
It is also commonplace in our country to see Filipinos espousing things that favor the interests of other countries while condemning the few nationalists who stand up to protect Filipino national interest. The culture here is so badly-damaged that the promoters and protectors of foreign interests strut around as if they are the “true heroes” of the land while many idiotically condemn the nationalists as boils on the heel of progress.
Still, other foreigners have concluded that the Filipino is so selfish and will not bother to think of the community — fatally focused on paddling only his own canoe. Compared to the Japanese who are inclined to think first about their communal interest, many Filipinos are all too consumed with promoting self-interest.
During the days when your Chair Wrecker was an advertising agency CEO, a former Japanese client said something that struck home. This Managing Director of the famous Yakult Lactobacilli Drink wondered how come rich Filipinos do not even bother to help their cash-strapped government by attending to the gutted patch of road fronting their houses. To him, the cost of repair (at the time which is 1984), would have been no more than P4,000.
That observation struck home because to us Filipinos doing so would have been unthinkable. Have you ever heard of a rich Filipino who initiated the paving of the gutted road fronting his house? I haven’t. We would have been quick to rationalize that the government we pay taxes to owes us that service. So why do we pay taxes if we are to repair the road ourselves?
However, to the Japanese who is culturally conditioned to die for his country, it is expected that he should attempt to solve whatever problem of Japan he is capable of solving on his own. Now, that is why the Japanese live in a first world developed country while we Filipinos live in the rut that we are in.
The most stinging criticism Filipinos will hear from foreigners who have lived here and have gained familiarity with how we have ruined the Pearl of the Orient that our country was once touted to be — is how Filipinos are so proud individually but shameless collectively.
Few Filipinos are aware that many foreigners have observed this hypocrisy in our society. Many Filipinos think that the foreigner is impressed with inane braggadocio, unmindful that Filipinos are only managing to look smaller in the eyes of the alien. The big plunderer thinks that foreigners are awed by the immense wealth that he has stolen. He failed to realize that if they see anything big in him — that is his enormous and irrational greed.
It is the elite of this country who ought to hang their heads in shame for promoting and perpetuating the wealth gap that haunts this nation. It is the elite who can understand the national problem and do something about it. But from all indications, our elite have lost their Christian conscience.
We’re supposed to be rich in natural and manpower resources but we suffer from unexplained poverty. The Japanese do not even have the natural resources that we possess and yet look at what their nationalism accomplished.
Systematically benighted, the unkindest cut would be to blame the poor who are the victims and not the cause of the national wealth gap. If ever they are prone to electing false Messiahs, it is because of the Information and Education Gaps that the elite have perpetuated.
Between the conscience-less elite and the clueless poor, there is the largely inutile Filipino middle class, supposedly the initiator of reform and meaningful change in society. Sadly, our middle class is more engrossed in debating the unimportant and is largely oblivious of the truly important.
Just look at all those so-called civil society groups as they rush to grab newspaper headlines and broadcast media sound bytes instead of pursuing real solutions to the core problems of the country.
* * *
(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.