Glass houses

TO THE QUICK - Jerry S. Tundag - The Freeman

President Duterte has once again launched a harsh verbal attack against certain Catholic bishops in the Philippines, accusing them of interfering with his violent war on illegal drugs without truly appreciating the real depth of the problem, and wishing them dead.

There is no argument that what Duterte did was bad. In fact it was very, very bad, considering that he is the president and that his countrymen deserve, at the very least, better language and decorum from their president. And yet, aside from his usual critics, most Filipinos preferred to stay in pained silence.

This silence is instructive. It tells us many things. It tells us that violent though the war on illegal drugs may be, most Filipinos have come to accept it as a necessary consequence if the war is ever to succeed, a position probably born of the realization that illegal drugs is a real problem that needs to be licked at whatever cost if the country is to survive, its future preserved.

The silence also tells us that very bad though the Duterte language may be, he is actually not very far off in his resentment toward some bishops. To a certain extent, many would agree that the bishops only got what they deserved. Duterte did not start the fire, even if he may have blown it out of proportion.

Before you think I am taking up the cudgels for Duterte, which I am not because, as you have seen, he can ably and amply defend himself, try to look at the Duterte-bishops relationship this way: It does not diminish the message the bishops want to convey if they formed a delegation and went to see and talk with the president privately.

Not only will Duterte listen but, more importantly, because of the respect he is shown, he probably might even respect the bishops and their position in return. People with too much power in their hands often realize fear is the only way to get things done and are thus hungry for respect. Give them a little respect and they will eat from the hands of the lowliest subject.

But apparently, some bishops do not realize this, perhaps because they themselves are drunk with power. Mistaking humility and respect for weakness, they refuse to deal with Duterte humbly and respectfully. Instead of seeking an audience, they call for press conferences and, before microphones and cameras, launch a public attack against the man and his policies.

The bishops’ message is not wrong, only the methodology used. But to Duterte, an attack is an attack, to which no measure applies to the response. And here is the most crucial thing. It does not help the bishops that, from within their own ranks, there is so much dirt that for so long they themselves swept under the rug. You just can’t throw stones if you live in glass houses.

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