Let’s not even talk about the size of the crowd, which varies wildly from a sparse 2,000 to an in-your-dreams 30,000, depending on who you talk to. Crowd estimates in this country will never be accurate, after all, as long as there are people who will belittle the drawing power of the organizers of a political rally and others who want to bloat actual attendance in order to push their agenda.
My problem with last Sunday’s “Heal Our Land” gathering along Edsa has to do with the supposed non-political nature of the event. Because judging from the presence of nearly all the members of the opposition to President Rodrigo Duterte, those who went were definitely political—whether they call themselves Yellows, Blacks or Whites these days.
From both Houses of Congress, present were the Liberal Party minority in the Senate, together with the Magdalo Twins. Then there was the usual assortment of professional Yellow rally-attenders, whose names are too insignificant to mention here; suffice to say that none of these people could be convinced to attend to a patient with a paper cut if they were all trained doctors and the wound was on a Duterte supporter.
What it really was, I think, was yet another scam foisted on the gullible Church by the Yellow opposition. And because the leaders of the Church are always flattered when they are courted by politicians, they fell for the same old racket one more time.
The idea of a “healing” event appealed so much to the political amateurs in the Church that they never even thought to ask why only Yellow politicians were present during the rally. They were played, to use the contemporary lingo, and they didn’t even know they were being played.
Of course, not all the assembled churchmen were clueless newbies. Some of them are actually political veterans, if of the hopelessly partisan kind.
One these is the always-political Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines president Archbishop Socrates Villegas, longtime acolyte of the late Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin and pretender to the still-vacant throne that the meddlesome Sin left behind. During his homily, Villegas even channeled his medieval clerical brethren, warning darkly of a curse that will befall the land (which they are supposedly trying their best to heal), unless the killings of drug suspects stops.
As for the rest of the clergy in attendance, they would be lying if they insist that the gathering was apolitical when they got to the venue. After all, even priests could not have missed the printed-out posters placed at the shrine of Our Lady, which called Duterte and his officials all manner of unsavory names, decorated—in the manner of tombstones on All Souls’ Day—with lit candles.
No, there was no healing intended during that day, whose highlight was a Catholic Mass. What took place was another blatant attempt to use the Church in order to foment further division in an already polarized political environment.
And the Church, if it is to heal the wounds that divide Filipinos, must understand that the people have long seen through this charade. Even if the would-be Torquemadas and Richelieus amongst them will never admit it.
* * *
I really had high hopes for Harry Roque as presidential spokesman. Roque, I even said, would succeed where his predecessor, the fatherly preacher Ernie Abella, failed—in his own words, after all, Roque said he would throw hollow blocks at those who would throw the stones of fake news and unfair criticism on the government of Duterte.
Then Roque faced his first test of settling a brewing dispute that he himself started between the popular blogger RJ Nieto and Malacañang reporter Pia Ranada Robles (no relation to me). And he failed miserably.
In an interview last Friday on the program Karambola sa DWIZ, Roque was asked about his tough-guy position on critics of the president. Nieto, a co-anchor of the show, jokingly suggested to Roque that Robles—a reporter for the online news service Rappler—should be attacked with a hollow block because she always seemed to come up with critical reports about the president.
No one, of course, took any of this talk-show banter seriously and literally—until Robles and her news organization did. Over the weekend, Robles and Rappler demanded that the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas sanction Nieto and DWIZ for threatening the life of the reporter.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines echoed the sentiment, as if Robles was actually in dire danger of being killed using construction materials. But it was Roque who really made the surreal story into a farce, by telling people to lay off Robles and other legitimate journalists.
Yesterday, Roque made a big show of bringing pan de sal to a Malacañang briefing, during which he said that critics who figuratively “stone” the president should, as the admonition goes, expect retaliation in the form of bread thrown back at them. Roque copped out—and he knew it.
In short, Roque wussed out of a controversy that he himself started. I’d love to see the contortions he’s going to make in the future, especially when real problems totally unrelated to the use of metaphorical speech arise.