IF there’s anything the current travails of the farceur of a senator, Antonio Trillanes 4th, has demonstrated to Filipinos, it is the following.
The exploitation of the Catholic religion by a group of clerics in that Church in the service of this military mutineer – a Yellow tactic since 1986 – has become so sickening. And as I will argue here, it is in the same genre as the now exposed ignominy of widespread sexual abuse by priests not only of girls but of boys.
Other than scenes of Trillanes’ rantings before an incredulous media, the images of this humbug’s quagmire have been the following:
— Clerics’ “laying of hands” (a superstitious practice in many cultures, that magical rays come out of the priests’ hands) on his bowed head;
— Daily Catholic mass at his Senate quarters attended by his sparse crowd of supporters, in which during the sermon in one mass, the priest Noel Gatchalian said he prayed to God to make President Duterte ill so he would die (using the euphemism “magpahinga na”);
— The handing over to him – I presume to be stationed by his sofa – of a statuette of the so-called “Lady of Peñafrancia,” another of the thousand images demonstrating the hidden dominance of the goddess cult in Christianity.
What the pro-Trillanes’ clerics are trying to tell Filipinos is essentially this: “We are God’s representatives (a belief hammered into Filipinos’ consciousness in three centuries of Spanish friar rule), and we know what He wants. The Almighty himself supports Trillanes. If you are Catholics, you have to support Trillanes.”
While these clerics have not succeeded at all in getting people to support Trillanes, their very attempt to do so sickens me to my stomach. They have debased the religion which is meant to be a doorway to what is transcendent in human existence.
These political clerics’ implicit false claims are also the same lies their colleagues use so they could sexually abuse who knows how many thousands of the young faithful—1,000 documented cases by 300 priests in Philadelphia dioceses recently disclosed—and to hide their crimes for decades.
“I am God’s representative on earth, “a priest in some Philadelphia parish priest and in some convento in a Philippine province would have told a young boy or girl, “therefore submit to me your body. Only God may know of this. You will be condemned to eternal fire in Hell, if you tell anybody what I have done.”
It is in only in the Philippines though, starting in the late 1980s, that clerics have dabbled in such political exertions. Even in Catholic countries, a clown like priest Roberto Reyes—who mimicks the running of Forest Gump in that eponymous movie to draw attention to himself –who engages in political theater would have been called out by his superiors and cloistered in some monastery.
Clerics’ political involvement here is also unique in that they have been almost exclusively part of the political actions of either the Communist Party of the Philippines, and since 1986, of the Yellow Cult.
This is due to very historical reasons, which explains their persistence.
The idealistic youth of the 1960s and 1970s were drawn to only two ideologies to be their crutches to confront the mostly feudal exploitation in our country in that era.
First was Maoism, since after all Mao Zedong led the successful revolution in the biggest country on earth, and was an inspiration to similar uprisings all over the undeveloped world. Second was the so-called “liberation theology” that emerged in Latin American countries which was essentially the injection of God into Marxist class theory.
In the 1960s to the early 1970s, there were even more liberation-theology activists than Maoists under the wing of the Communist Party led by Jose Ma. Sison. This wasn’t surprising really as it was embraced by the rich religious orders like the Jesuits, the Society of the Divine Word, the La Salle Brothers, and Augustinians. They had very enthusiastic activist organizations like Christians for National Liberation, Chi Rho and Lakas Diwa.
When martial law was declared though in 1972, many of their leaders believed the communist propaganda that a cruel fascist organization could be resisted only through armed force, which only the communists had through their New People’s Army.
Many of the liberation theology leaders drifted to the Communist Party, and several even become its top leaders, like the priest who was the crush of not a few activist nuns, Edicio de la Torre, as well as Fr. Luis Jalandoni and his wife Sister Consuelo Ledesma – both scions of the wealthiest sugar landlords in Negros, and Fr. Conrado Balweg, the NPA’s top commander in the Cordilleras who would later found the breakaway Cordillera People’s Liberation Army. Although a layman, former NDF chairman Edgar Jopson was deep into liberation theology until he joined the communists in 1973 to become one of its top leaders.
It wasn’t really too difficult for these religious people to embrace communist ideology. Both actually have the same structure of unquestionable dogmas, a commitment to the poor, and the notions of the inexorable march of history—for the Christians the triumph of the Kingdom of God, for the Maoists the ushering in of a classless society.
The priests-turned-communists became one of the Communist Party’s strengths. Their priestly aura weakened the anti-communist caricature of communists as ruthless atheists. They easily managed to infiltrate Catholic schools and build up party cells with colleges like St. Paul’s College, to this day becoming a base for communist recruitment of idealistic youth. The outfit that reported human rights abuses during martial law, and padded the figures, was Task Force Detainees organized and funded by the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines headquartered at St. Joseph’s College, which had been a major recruitment area for communists.
With their elite background, they easily convinced middle-class organizations to join the communists in a united front. Thus, former priests De la Torre, Jalandoni and his wife Consuelo were key figures in setting up the National Democratic Front, with the latter two still heading it. It became de rigueur for the communist-led demonstrations to have at the head of the pack their young activists recruited from the seminaries wearing their soutanes, even if they just had a year in the seminary, both to discourage religious riot police from attacking the crowd and to project an image that even priests were against Marcos.
The Communist Party drew closer to the Yellow Cult in the years leading to Marcos’ fall in 1986, with its former cleric- cadres and their fronts ordered to support the opposition. By February 1986, the communists who had become experts in street “agit-prop” theater, managed to convince nuns to carry statuettes of the Virgin Mary and say the rosary while facing the military’s tanks during the EDSA uprising.
However, the Yellow Cult, because of Cory Aquino’s religiosity, managed to get many of the clerics recruited by the communists to defect to it instead, and to establish its own base in religious organizations.
I suspect though that going by the issues in which the political clerics have been most visible—alleged widespread human rights abuses under President Duterte’s term and Trillanes “persecution”—they are still mostly functioning as the communists’ lackeys.
Yet these caricatures of holy men and women are, like the communists, a dying breed. It is so pathetic for Trillanes that they make up much of his supporters, and their snapshots with him the only photos of any worth to be published or broadcast.