The last bu­long


As in pre­vi­ous pro­ces­sions, there was an im­pres­sive turnout of Catholic devo­tees at the an­nual Black Nazarene trasla­cion last week. Con­sid­er­ing all the in­sults heaped by Pres­i­dent Duterte on Catholic bish­ops and priests, and even on “their” God, could that mas­sive crowd be con­sid­ered largely anti-Duterte?

The Pres­i­dent, who fin­ished 2018 with com­fort­ably high sur­vey rat­ings, saw the num­bers fall last year when con­sumer prices soared, pushed up by higher taxes par­tic­u­larly on fuel plus a short­age of cheap rice. But his rat­ings saw the steep­est plunge af­ter he called God “stupid.” He con­tin­ues to ex­plain that re­mark by say­ing that he has a dif­fer­ent God.

Does that enor­mous crowd at the Nazarene trasla­cion buy that ex­pla­na­tion? Do they take of­fense when the coun­try’s high­est of­fi­cial in­sults God and the shep­herds of their faith? Since the Catholic Church played a key role in the peo­ple power re­volt that top­pled dic­ta­tor Fer­di­nand Mar­cos, Philip­pine pres­i­dents have courted Church sup­port.

The Church has had a mixed record in its for­ays into pol­i­tics. It seems Filipinos lis­ten to the bish­ops for peo­ple power, but not for choos­ing elec­tive of­fi­cials. Despite the Church’s pref­er­ence for the Catholic Ra­mon Mi­tra Jr., the Protes­tant Fidel Ramos won the pres­i­dency in 1992 (although from the grave, Miriam Defensor-San­ti­ago will con­tinue to dis­pute this).

Joseph Estrada, the can­di­date with a pen­chant for ex­pen­sive red wine, women and gam­bling, also won the pres­i­dency by a land­slide in 1998. But the Church got its re­venge in 2001, when it sup­ported his ouster and re­place­ment with his prayer­ful vice pres­i­dent, Glo­ria Ma­ca­pa­gal-Ar­royo.

The Church loved GMA, a pres­i­dent who re­port­edly started her day by at­tend­ing mass and ac­tively courted the bish­ops’ sup­port. Her nine years in power can be at­trib­uted partly to that sup­port.

But ly­ing down with her scan­dal-tainted ad­min­is­tra­tion took its toll on the cred­i­bil­ity of the Church. When Noynoy Aquino be­came pres­i­dent and GMA landed in hospi­tal de­ten­tion with­out bail for plun­der, among the is­sues raised against her were the Pa­jeros she gave to sev­eral Catholic bish­ops, one of whom even wrote a let­ter re­quest­ing for the sport util­ity ve­hi­cle.

The Church had sup­ported P-Noy’s mother Co­ra­zon since her cam­paign against the Mar­cos regime and through­out her pres­i­dency. But even as Noynoy Aquino be­came the black swan in the 2010 pres­i­den­tial race, he was al­ready show­ing that he in­tended to draw a clear line be­tween his ad­min­is­tra­tion and the Church.

Us­ing his con­sid­er­able pop­u­lar­ity, which he re­tained till he stepped down, P-Noy got the re­pro­duc­tive health law passed. Of course the Supreme Court then sat on the law, which is just start­ing to be fully im­ple­mented.

Duterte is just the cruder ver­sion of P-Noy in thumb­ing his nose at the bish­ops.

Ro­drigo Duterte’s rise to power has been seen as just the lat­est man­i­fes­ta­tion that there is no such thing as a Catholic vote in this pre­dom­i­nantly Catholic coun­try.

If Catholics voted as a bloc, would Pres­i­dent Duterte be as rude and con­fronta­tional to­ward the Church and its clergy?

Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Dindo Man­hit of pol­icy think-tank Strat­base ADR be­lieves that the in­flu­ence of the Church on vot­ers can­not be be­lit­tled.

Man­hit, who faced us on The Chiefs on One News / Cig­nal TV the other week, cited the late for­mer health sec­re­tary Juan Flavier, who con­sis­tently topped sur­veys on Se­nate can­di­dates, but al­ways landed sev­eral rungs lower in the ac­tual vote. Man­hit at­trib­uted this to the ac­tive Church cam­paign against the guy who openly pro­moted con­dom use.

The last day of cam­paign­ing is al­ways on a Satur­day, Man­hit pointed out. “We vote on a Mon­day; we go to mass on Sun­day,” Man­hit told us, stress­ing that the Church then gets to give “the last bu­long” as vot­ers go to the polls.

This is partly true. Un­for­tu­nately for our weak democracy, the last bu­long can in fact be given late on Sun­day night when all the an­tic­i­pated masses are over, or even on Mon­day, elec­tion day it­self.

The bu­long or whis­per is given by can­di­dates’ lo­cal lead­ers – of­ten barangay per­son­nel, even if they are barred by law from en­gag­ing in par­ti­san ac­tiv­i­ties – af­ter they have handed out cash, rice, medicine packs, canned goods and other items.

The dis­tri­bu­tion of cash and goods would con­sti­tute vote-buy­ing. But cam­paign­ing has be­come an any­thing­goes ac­tiv­ity in this coun­try, with the Com­mis­sion on Elec­tions emas­cu­lated by the Supreme Court and the ex­ec­u­tive.

For those liv­ing a hand-to-mouth ex­is­tence, and even for those who are not as im­pov­er­ished but still below the poverty line, re­ject­ing such gifts from can­di­dates is silly. They would rather heed the ad­vice to ac­cept any gift from can­di­dates, but to vote with their con­science.

That ad­vice was fa­mously given dur­ing elec­tions held in the twi­light of the Mar­cos regime, as the lu­pus de­bil­i­tated dic­ta­tor strug­gled to cling to power by throw­ing money at his eroded pub­lic sup­port.

The ad­vice for vot­ers to take the bait but not the hook was given by peo­ple power icon Manila Arch­bishop Jaime Car­di­nal Sin.

There are con­tin­u­ing de­bates on whether a po­lar­ized coun­try ac­tu­ally gave Mar­cos a ra­zor-thin vic­tory in the 1986 snap elec­tion, or whether his ma­chin­ery stole the vote from Cory Aquino.

In any case, if Car­di­nal Sin’s bu­long didn’t work on the elec­torate, it worked to mo­bi­lize peo­ple power against Mar­cos.

To­day an­other Pres­i­dent is fight­ing with the Church, heap­ing pro­fan­i­ties on God and re­li­gious mys­ter­ies and urg­ing peo­ple to rob and kill bish­ops. The ver­bal abuse is passed off by Malacañang as a joke.

The up­com­ing elec­tions could in­di­cate if the Church would have the last laugh, af­ter giv­ing the last bu­long.

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