Of Priests and Revolutions

Are you still watching the news TV? What about the newsfeed? If you are observant, Mr. Duterte has three obsessions that he seems to be unable to stop creating a public spectacle of. His unhealthy, often twisted, views on women, violence, and priests have already made several local and international headlines. Everybody’s having a field day, really. And both fanatics and critiques alike spared no bullet for the killing.

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Just recently, Mr. Duterte spewed a barrage of expletives and other not-so-nice statements against the Christian God. Calling him “stupid” and “lonely”, Mr. Duterte mocked what believes to be the irrationality of Original Sin as well as the creator’s design to put Man in an already perfect creation.

These statements come in the wake of the third priest killed within this year. All three priests were linked to advocacies against human rights abuses, militarization, and environmental aggression by big businesses.

Former Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas answered through history that all who have cursed God are now dust and a spit towards heaven eventually lands on one’s face. He asked the faithful to pray for people who are in error and are possessed by evil.

Perhaps I understand Mr. Duterte’s frustration with creation. As in the words of philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre: Hell is other people.

Going back to priests. Mr. Duterte has often vented out his anger against the established church, the Roman Catholic church. So many people, too, hate institutional Christianity with its intolerant legalism, hypocrisy, and apathy to the social ills of the world. The progressive Pope Francis comes in as a breather to the otherwise stifling air of dogma and tradition, but his reign is not without challenge.

Throughout human history, the established religion of Christianity (I will call it “the Church” for convenience, has always helped maintain the status quo of the ruler and ruled, master and slave, the subjugation of the female to the male, among others. In fact, Rome, centered on the Vatican, itself once wielded political power enough to have its own Papal States.

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The Church has always been consistently on the side of the government, whether evil or lesser evil. In the colonial history of the Philippines as well as Latin America, the Roman Catholic Church has always played an oppressive role in the so-called Christianization and administration of the natives.

In fact, priestly overlordship and abuses became so entrenched that the word “frailocracy” was born. This comes from the word for “friars” or priests of specific religious orders who wielded and exploited their ecclesiastical status to gain politically and economically.

The Church has always disapproved of movements and personalities that would dare challenge and change the status quo. And so Philippine freedom fighters like Andres Bonifacio, Jose Rizal, and others of like minds and sentiments were branded as heretics.

But the Church, for all its human faults, has its own redeemers: fiery prophets, angry saints, and divine rebels. These were ordinary, often lowly, priests, nuns, and other religious who saw the injustices of society and the abuses and ironies of the cloistered walls and heeded the call of change, of revolutionary change.

Three priests—Mariano Gomez, Jose Burgos, Jacinto Zamora—and their deaths, their martyrdom, became one of the first catalysts to the Philippine Revolution. The clerics were all Filipinos and fought, at least surely for Fathers Gomez and Burgos, the right for native and Philippines-born priests to oversee their own parishes—a right that was denied by their Spanish seniors and superiors in the belief that these clerics were unfit for temporal and spiritual governance. They were falsely charged with treason and sedition against the Spanish crown when they were implicated in the Cavite Mutiny of 1872.

Their martyrdom, by garrote or strangulation, in Bagumbayan (Luneta) deeply affected the people of the time like the young Jose Rizal who witnessed the execution of his brother Paciano’s teacher, Father Jose Burgos. The “revolutionary” El Filibusterismo (Rizal’s sequel to the reformist Noli Me Tangere) is dedicated to the GomBurZa.

To err is human. Priests and other religious are human beings and as such are not exempted from the flaws and imperfections of their secular, non-believing counterparts. It is true that we should hold them to higher standards and that we should call them to account when they do wrong, but we must not discount the fact that some members of the clergy saw themselves as protectors and fighters of the people against the grave injustices of this world. Such was Father Gregorio Aglipay, founder of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente and Vicar General of the Philippine revolutionary forces who saw that a departure from the existing Catholic institution is needed in order to better serve the Filipino people’s temporal and spiritual needs.

Let my people go …, declares Moses to Pharaoh, slaver of the Hebrew people.

Fathers Burgos and Gomez, Hermano Pule (Apolinario dela Cruz) persecuted founder of the Cofradia de San Jose, the Beatas of 17th Century Manila: Madre Ignacia del Espiritu Santo, the Hermana Sebastiana, Father Gregorio Aglipay—these were religious people who stood up against the calumnies and abuses of the established church.

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In Latin America, Fathers Miguel Hidalgo and Jose Morellos inspired and led Mexico’s War of Independence against the Spaniards. In modern history, the Liberation Theologians of Latin America, like Gustavo Gutierrez, called for a more involved church and spirituality in the addressing the socio-economic inequality and the political oppression experienced by the people. This movement would be baptized in the blood of many religious like El Salvador’s saint, Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was gunned down while celebrating mass. In the Philippines, Father Tulio Favali was killed by the Manero Brothers for his pastoral work among the harassed people of the Visayas. And in the line of progressive revolutionary movement, former priest Luis Jalandoni and Jose Balweg answered the call to struggle for a more just, more humane, truly democratic Philippines.

History teaches us that institutional Christianity is both a reactionary and revolutionary force. It has all its faults for being all too human, but let us not discount its capacity and ability to lead and to rally people to struggle for real, emancipatory, and empowering change.

And so to Mr. Duterte and to all oppressive powers-that-be, we join the martyr and saint, Oscar Romero of El Salvador in saying,

“Les suplico, les ruego, les ordeno en nombre de Dios:

Cese la represión!”

“I beg you, in the name of God, stop the repression!”

Dom writes for pay by day and writes for passion by night. He is a Japan major at the University of the Philippines. He’s fond of ramen and anime but not of nice people.


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