Thursday, February 2, 2006

Like the wrath of God

Here is something that could serve as a historical footnote to the latest statement of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on the current political situation issued a few days ago. As we prepare for the 20th anniversary of the EDSA Revolt three weeks from now, I thought I should do a rewind and see parallels between the bishops’ move now and the bishops’ move 20 years ago.

I dug up the long feature story I wrote on the CBCP statement on the fraudulent 1986 snap elections shortly before the EDSA uprising. (``Like the Wrath of God’’, Feb.21-27, 1986, Mr&Ms. Special Edition, the daring and frisky weekly published by Eggie Apostol and edited by Letty J. Magsanoc, now Inquirer editor in chief.) I remember we were camped out at the CBCP compound waiting with bated breath for what the bishops had to say. That damning CBCP statement helped create the groundswell that led to the toppling of the Marcos dictatorship a few days later.

Take a trip down memory lane. Excerpts:

Finally things snapped. Out of the silent halls of the Catholic Church the voice of the hierarchy crackled. The post-election statement of the CBCP came down like the wrath of God.

Valentine’s Day 1986 would be long remembered as the day the bishops came out to condemn a political exercise. Lifting up their hemlines, they at last waded into muddy waters to cross the moat and lay siege on an impenetrable fortress.

The statement was, by far, the most scathing and the most pointed ever released by the CBCP. It outdid all previous pastoral letters, statements and exhortations and although nowhere in the statement was it mentioned who was guilty in the elections described by them as ``unparalleled in the fraudulence of their conduct’’ there was no mistaking who the bishops meant. As former hostage Bishop Feredico Escaler SJ (Zamboanga de Sur) exclaimed: ``Marcos will be boiling mad!’’

Scoring the systematic disenfranchisement of voters, the widespread and massive vote-buying, the deliberate tampering with the election returns, intimidation, harassment, terrorism and murder, the bishops took issue with ``a government in possession of power’’. Signed by CBCP president Ricardo Cardinal Vidal…the statement said: ``If such a government does not of itself freely correct the evil it has inflicted on the people then it is our serious moral obligation as a people to…(Sorry, the bottom page didn’t come out in the photocopy).

``We are morally certain that the people’s real will for change has been manifested,’’ said Bishop Teodoro Bacani. Bishop Claver said: ``The mandate for change is very clear. You make up your mind what that change means.’’

Although the bishops did not go into specifics on the action to be taken, they prescribed ``active resistance of evil by peaceful means—in the manner of Christ’’. Their call would later see shape in Ms. Corazon Aquino’s seven-point program of civil disobedience laid out at the ``Tagumpay ng Bayan’’ rally at the Luneta where she called for a boycott of the crony banks, media, corporations and delay of payments to the government. The bishops’ presence at the rally lent legitimacy to Ms. Aquino’s claim to victory in the elections.

They’ve come a long way, the monsignores. Since martial rule was imposed in 1972, there was nary a whimper of protest from the CBCP….(It was the rank-and-file that fought and suffered with the masses.)

Before the February snap elections the CBCP released an exhortation ``We Must Obey God Rather Than Men’’ calling on the faithful ``not (to) passively surrender to the forces of evil and allow them to unilaterally determine the conduct and results of these elections.’’ Cardinal Sin and the auxiliary bishops of Manila wrote one last December while Cardinal Vidal also issued one for Cebu. Several other bishops issued letter for their respective dioceses.

Coming out with the post-election statement was not all that easy. As Bishop Antonio Fortich of Bacolod said: ``It is 90 degrees Fahrenheit.’’ Closeted at the CBCP complex in Intramuros, several times retreating into silence to pray and discern, the 66 bishops (of the more than 100, several of whom are retired) divided themselves into groups and presented their reports on the elections. Namfrel’s Jose Concepcion, Vicente Jayme and Jose Feria also came to give reports.

Not to be outdone, Imelda Marcos did a Nicodemus and came in the dead of night to reportedly convince the bishops not to come out with the statement. Ms. Aquino came too, two hours before the bishops’ press conference to ``assure Cardinal Vidal of my non-violent course of action….’’

Last Sunday there were ``staged’’ walkouts while the letter was being read. The government TV crew was not far behind to shoot. Labor Minister Blas Ople would later take issue with the bishops while Comelec chairman Victorino Savellano would stop going to church even as the Pope expressed confidence in the bishops’ judgment. One thing was sure though—no one walked out of the CBCP conference contrary to what Marcos would later say at a press conference…

There were two drafts to choose from. The bishops voted for the stronger one…According to Escaler, four theologians helped in the drafting. They were Frs. Antonio Lambino and Pedro Achutegui, both Jesuits, Fr. Fausto Gomez of the Dominicans and Fr. Miranda of the SVDs...

While many bishops emerged from the conference beaming with satisfaction, there were a few who reportedly abstained from voting for the letter. ``Don’t ask me the names,’’ said Escaler. ``But there were three or four who kept putting up objections…But it was all done in an open spirit. We said, look, you’re not telling us we’re liars but that is how we perceive the situation—there is enough basis. We were practically unanimous.’’