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I CAN understand why some Filipinos, including lapsed Catholics and especially empowered heretics like President Duterte, accuse the Catholic Church and its members of hypocrisy. Sexual abuse and cover-up, complicity in the power structure, the failure to live by Christian values — these and many other reasons are the gist of the accusations.

Motive is a different matter, and in the president’s case it is clear to me: his attacks on the Church, the apostles, and now the saints are meant to undermine a potential threat. He is doing what he can to weaken the standing of the only institution with the nationwide network and pervasive reach to rival that of government’s.

He is NOT doing a Rizal. Writing to his great friend, Ferdinand Blumentritt, who was a devout Catholic, Rizal said he was aiming at the friars who were hiding behind religion. “How should I not oppose this religion with all my might, when it is the first cause of our sufferings and sorrows?” he asked. It would take an astonishing amount of self-deception to claim that the Church in the Philippines today is still the “first cause.” Not even Duterte has said that. (But, I don’t know. Give him time.) So: reason is different from motive. The president’s continuing attacks on the Church, and on the Christian (and Judaic) God, are political in nature.

But are Filipino Catholics hypocrites? Not any more so than other members of other faiths, I would think. (A longer answer is necessary, but I would leave that for another time.) There is one particular line of reasoning, however, that I would like to respond to: the accusation that Catholics are hypocritical because they took offence at the president’s blasphemy about a “stupid” God but not at the thousands of extrajudicial killings. This paints with too wide a brush. Yes, there must be many who accepted the EJKs in silence or even approved of them, only to think that the president crossed the line when he repeatedly called the Christian God stupid. I would not question their sincerity or religious commitment; I would question their understanding of the Christian faith. To them the question asked by the Christ after whom their faith is named must be asked again: “Who do you say that I am?”

But consider that many other Catholics have resisted or are resisting “Dutertismo” even before the president called God stupid.

First, it’s basic arithmetic. Of the 55 million voters registered for the May 2016 elections, almost 45 million went to cast their vote. If we posit the reasonable assumption that the country’s demographic reality was reflected in the turnout, we can estimate that 80 per cent of the voters, some 36 million, were Catholic. Even if we assume the obviously exaggerated view that the 16.6 million who voted for Duterte were all Catholic, that still means that more Catholics (almost 20 million) voted for other candidates — that is, against Mr. Duterte.

Second, the TV5-Social Weather Stations exit poll showed that Duterte received, proportionally speaking, the least support from the voters who identified as Catholic. As SWS president and Inquirer columnist Mahar Mangahas wrote: “Duterte was least supported by Catholics. Duterte led Roxas by 16 points among all voters, but by a below-average 10 points among Catholics. He led massively by 53 points among Muslims, by 70 points among Iglesia Ni Cristos, and by 24 points among other Christians.” (To be sure, that is still a lead of 10 points among Catholic voters over Liberal Party presidential candidate Mar Roxas.)

Third, and in my view most important, we should not gauge the strength or weakness of Catholic support for the president through street protests or social media activism alone. As an institution, the Catholic Church has been in the forefront of drug rehabilitation efforts. And in their individual capacities, many parishioners have volunteered to help in these efforts. Others are helping out in media literacy or counter-disinformation campaigns. Still others are making their views heard by government officials they know. A few are looking after vulnerable witnesses.

They are, all of them, responding to the sign of the times.

—Philippine Daily Inquirer

Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2018