Church and State
INTROSPECTIVE - Tony F. Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - April 23, 2019 - 12:00am

Holy Week 2019 has come to an end and for the estimated 84 million Catholics in the Philippines this brings an end to the yearly Lenten season used to pause, reflect, and pray as we commemorate one of our biggest religious celebrations and the bedrock on which our faith is largely based – the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus. Although the age-old rituals of the week may be overshadowed by family vacations, staycations, or the like the spirit remains and it’s the perfect time to remind ourselves of what we truly believe.

Despite the fact that most Catholics choose to spend their Holy Week time out of town swimming and having fun with family and friends, there are still many who observe traditions like Visita Iglesia and Black Saturday vigil mass. Just because things may have changed over the years doesn’t mean that these holidays no longer hold the religious meaning they once did. Churches were still overflowing last week and many faithful flocked to houses of worship to reflect and send up their intentions and thanks.

Personally, I think it’s a beautiful time to pause and ask ourselves what we really believe in now. It’s so easy to get rushed along at by the frantic pace of day-to-day life and easier still to lose sight of our beliefs as we struggle to just get by. As I wrote in my previous column, we have been dealing with our own set of issues from the lack of basic goods and services to the constant rise in prices of daily commodities. Our spiritual aspect can easily get pushed aside in the constant struggle for simple survival.

But that shouldn’t be the case. We are lucky we get this time to slow down and mark what really matters. It’s when we do this that we remember what kind of people we actually want to be and hopefully this guides us as we move forward. The fact that Holy Week happened right before the final stretch of the election season is just fitting because we need to be more vigilant and more thoughtful about the votes we choose to cast this May.

There have been age-old arguments about the separation of Church and State and I can certainly understand that from a distinct point of view. With so many different religions and beliefs in the world, the State should (theoretically) remain impartial so as to be able to rule fairly without favoring one religion over the other. However the extreme is also true – the State shouldn’t bash one religion while respecting others as well.

Here in the Philippines it has become increasingly obvious that President Duterte has it in for the Catholic faith with a series of never-ending relentless diatribes about Catholic religious beliefs and sacred moments in scripture, which he has reduced to mere punch lines in his various speeches throughout the country. He is constantly ridiculing the faith, the religious leaders, and more. Is this something a highly “faithful” population should abide by or is it time to make him more accountable for his actions?

I know that the Catholic church has a lot of work to do to rehabilitate its image due to the alarming rise of issues with modern religion – lack of empathy, sex scandals, and cover-ups are merely a few of the issues that need to be addressed, but that still doesn’t make it fair for the president to put a bull’s-eye on the entire religion. You’ll notice that he doesn’t do the same for the Islamic belief (not that he should – just pointing it out). It could be because he’s scared of the Muslims because they would react accordingly. Just goes to show that he truly believes he can say anything he wants about the Catholics because they’ll just take it – and a majority of them will continue to praise him.

Although Duterte’s name will not be on the ballot this coming election, the President knows that the outcome will showcase whether or not the people still believe in what he is doing and his agenda. The electing of his candidates will validate his current path while the election of those he opposes will show that the people are growing weary of the way the Philippines is being governed and will be a wake up call to the current administration that their time to bring about this promised change for the better is limited.

I believe that is why he is doubling down on campaign season, consistently pushing for the candidates on his slate. While it’s already in poor taste for the president to be trying so persistently to influence elections, it has become commonplace for President Duterte to push his agenda and assure people that he needs these particular candidates in power for him to achieve the goals he promised he would when he was elected – promises, which if we are keeping a tally, are nowhere near fruition despite the six-month timetable guarantee.

We all know that this election is a major one for the country. It can greatly impact the future of the Philippines and it’s because of this that we have to be very careful when it comes to casting our votes. As far as the Catholics go – while the church has urged voters to be wise they have refrained from mentioning specific people by name. Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle did say in his Easter message that our “world appears dark when abuse, hate, killing, and corruption seem to reign,” but he did not attribute them to anyone or any group in particular. Instead the church reminds voters to vote for those who are honest, dedicated, and seeking office to serve the people instead of serving themselves. With that laundry list in mind I believe we know whom we should and should not be voting for.

After all, what has really changed in the country in the past few years other than the fact that it is now common for us to get speeches degrading women, mentioning male genitals, and abusing religion? It’s not just about a lack of moral compass anymore. The lack of improvements in basic commodities, infrastructure, livelihood, and human rights show a problem in basic governance as well and one that we need to acknowledge if we really want things to improve.

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