I NEARLY fell out of my seat when I read Lingayen Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas’ Lenten message. Villegas is also the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) which posted his message in its website – dramatically titled “Meditation”.

What kind of Church leaders do we have now in someone like Villegas? Political partisans exploiting the name of God, and lusting to be the country’s second Cardinal Sin, who had a glorious crucial role in the EDSA revolt that toppled a dictator?

The title of Villegas’ meditation is shocking enough: “Edgar and Art and God’s Mercy.”

Who is Edgar? He’s Edgar Matobato, an admitted hit man, whom the Yellow Cult or probably just Senator Antonio Trillanes IV got to testify in the Senate last October not really to seek justice, but to portray in the most vivid way that President Duterte was a ruthless killer who organized the Davao Death Squad (DDS) that murdered innocent people in that city in the 1980s.

Who is Art? He is Arthur Lascañas, worse than Matobato as he was an officer of the law, a police sergeant. “Just our low-level killer we contracted at times,” Lascañas even denigrated Matobato. Lascañas in contrast was a middle-level DDS leader, who ordered men under him to kill, and who by his own admission, himself killed some 300 human beings.

That puts him in that very small group of serial killers in the modern world with that many people murdered. Matobato obviously is the Phase 2 of the Yellow Cult’s program to demonize Duterte.

How can Villegas be so naïve or gullible as to assume that these two killers repented for killing so many people? I watched so many of the TV interviews of these two killers, and endured so many hours of their testimony: Did they ever shed a tear, or become misty-eyed over their victims? Absolutely not.

Lascañas testified that he stopped killing people, not because he sympathized with his victims or their relatives, but because the Devil visited him in his dreams – which means he was simply afraid of some killer more powerful than he. (Villegas claims though that the Devil actually appeared to him.)

Killed two brothers

Why, even Lascañas had some respect for the truth that he didn’t even attempt to narrate that such a dramatic conversion happened to him: He simply said he had a “spiritual renewal,” a term that had obviously been fed to him to say.

Like a telenovela writer, Villegas wrote of Lascañas: “He did not give up. He returned to his knees and sobbed tears of shame and guilt. He heard a voice again ‘Do you love me? Feed my people. Feed them the food of truth. Set my people free. I will wait,’ the Lord assured Art.”

Villegas didn’t even consider the possibility, given the apparently good financial situation of the two killers, that the Liberal Party or just Trillanes may have paid them a fortune to blacken Duterte’s image, probably explaining to them that they could trigger an EDSA kind of revolution?

Villegas didn’t even consider that the institution with more expertise on worldly affairs—the Senate committee that heard the testimony of the two killers—concluded that they were liars.

The Lenten season commemorates Catholicism’s core teaching of Jesus Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection, an event really more mind-boggling than the Big Bang, when God entered Human History. Therefore, Lenten messages are supposed to be about transcendental ideas—who we are, our mortality, our relationship with the Infinite.

Degrades the Infinite

Yet Villegas degrades this commemoration of the Infinite to the mud of politics, about how bad this very temporary President is. He thinks he is being cute, or hoped his message would land in the newspapers’ front pages by referring to the two killers’ boss as “Superman,” which they had said in the Senate hearings was their code for Duterte.

In the Lenten messages this year of Pope Francis, and those of other Church heads around the world such as the Singapore Archbishop Goh, Brisbane Archbishop Coleridge, Melbourne Archbishop Hart, and Glasgow Archbishop Tartaglia, there is not a single word referring to a current event.

Which is as it should be, as an event as transcendental and cosmic as Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection, cannot be dragged down to the mud of ephemeral politics. Doesn’t Villegas know that clerics get involved in politics only in a few Islamic countries, with the term Ayatollah even now connoting something fearful?

Why, for God’s sake, did Villegas do this?

Villegas’ motive is not really to inspire the faithful to have faith in God, to believe that their sins will be forgiven, whatever they are. That is certainly not a problem for most Catholics: it is in fact what makes this religion attractive for them.

Villegas’ motive is to revive in the public mind the testimonies of the two killers and to believe their allegations against Duterte, which have all been dismissed and forgotten, with the prevailing view being that these two are merely Trillanes’ paid minions.

Jesus Christ himself, Villegas claims, have forgiven them: “On the charge sheet for the sins of Edgar and Art, Jesus had stamped in clear words “PAID”. Therefore, believe their testimonies.

To heaven

He even implies that these two murderers will go to heaven: “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.” So, Villegas thinks that Matobato and Lascañas are better human beings than us who have never snuffed out a human life? Bullshit.

Why is Villegas doing this? The only reason I can think of: For vainglory. In his mind, he is the political heir of Jaime Cardinal Sin, since nobody was as close to the Hero of EDSA as he.

Villegas was for 25 years the personal secretary of Sin, who intervened actively in politics in the 1980s for the emergence and victory of the EDSA revolt that overthrew the dictator Marcos. Villegas was disheartened when instead of the prime post of Manila, Pope Francis assigned him instead in 2009 to the provinces, as Archbishop of Dagupan-Pangasinan, far from the center of politics in the country. His hopes of being the new Cardinal Sin were, however, revived when he was elected CBCP president in 2013, a post his mentor had occupied in the years leading up to the EDSA uprising.

In his egotism, Villegas believes he is the Sin of this period, which requires him though to lead such a glorious event similar to EDSA that his idol did—like the overthrow of Duterte through some People Power kind of revolt. Like the Liberal Party, Leni Robredo, and Trillanes, Villegas thinks that the controversy over extra-judicial killings and the supposedly explosive revelations of the two killers would trigger such an EDSA.

Truth—and Lenten messages—are the casualties in such ambition and in such plots.
Published in Commentaries
Monday, 13 February 2017 09:12

Is the Church a hypocrite?

Many commonly assume that when they see the word “church” with a capital C, the reference is to the Roman Catholic Church. In English usage (not just the Inquirer’s), the common noun “church” refers to a building, while the one spelled with the capital C refers to the institution.

Political leaders reacting against pronouncements of certain Church leaders on extrajudicial killings must take note of the same message from other denominations besides the Roman Catholic Church because the institutional Church is not a singular church.

One month into the Duterte presidency, in August 2016, a strongly worded declaration was issued by the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC) on the blood shed in the war against drugs. Without glancing at the signatory, one would have easily fallen into the trap of thinking it came from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP):

“Where is the rule of law that ensures every Filipino accused of an offense must first be convicted beyond a reasonable doubt by a court of law before fair and just punishments are meted out? Where is justice in the killings of those who are accused when our law does not even permit as a punishment the killing of a person?”

It then graduates to a sterner tone: “How can we claim justice and peace in our land when murderers are allowed to kill with impunity and roam freely?” Then the tenor becomes even more demanding by calling out a response from its faithful: “We call on Evangelical Christians to denounce the unlawful and brutal killings of drug suspects, which demonstrate utter disregard for human life.”

Both PCEC and CBCP statements obviously proceed from the commonality of emanating from the same evangelical message, albeit they may differ in magisterium or teaching authority. Respect for human life is a universal value across many denominations and cultural societies.

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez’s popish statement that bishops of the Catholic Church are “a bunch of shameless hypocrites” fails context for singling out only one particular messenger when in fact it is echoed by other denominations under similar circumstances.

Alvarez passed judgment by actually implying he is not a hypocrite. He places the onus of proving guilt of hypocrisy on the one being accused and not the accuser.

Freshly minted at that time in his new legislative role, Alvarez probably missed out on the PCEC statement. Seven months and much porcine lard later, not counting more false supporters at his beck and call because of pork enticements, he lashes out at the CBCP statement “Thou shalt not kill” and calls its signatories (the CBCP

president signs in behalf of all the other bishops for a statement agreed in plenary) hypocrites.

Refreshing our memories, Alvarez is currently embroiled in a plunder case now up for review in the Supreme Court. He is accused of having financially gained from the construction of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 when he was transportation and communications secretary. He was technical committee head and member of the bidding committee that awarded the contract to the winning bidder.

The Ombudsman indicted Alvarez for violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act with a charge of plunder. In the construction company named Wintrack Builders that won the contract to remove subterranean structures from the terminal site, the name of Alvarez’s wife appeared as an incorporator, her share accounting for a third of the capital.

To piggyback on the Alvarez judgment on the Church statement: Are the Catholic bishops hypocrites? Yes. Are all Churches’ ordinary laity hypocrites? They are. Everyone is a hypocrite. All of us, save none, are hypocrites, at one time or the other in our lives, Alvarez included.

“Stop the killings, investigate the killings” is hardly any judgmental call at all. We are missing the message: Killing a human being without the benefit of protection from the law is in itself a form of exceedingly grave hypocrisy.
Published in Commentaries