MANILA, Philippines – The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) vowed "vigilant collaboration" with the next administration as Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte is set to become the Philippines’ next president.
"The greatest promise the Church can offer any government is vigilant collaboration, and that offer, we make now," CBCP president Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said in a statement issued Monday evening, May 9.
"Vigilant collaboration" deviates slightly from a familiar stance of Catholic bishops during the Marcos dictatorship and in succeeding years: "critical collaboration."
When he was first elected CBCP president in 2013, Villegas vowed "critical collaboration" with the government under President Benigno Aquino III.
“Critical collaboration” was the same stance adopted by his mentor, the late Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin, during the time of Marcos. Sin eventually helped mount the 1986 People Power Revolution that ousted the dictator.
Villegas did not respond when asked on Monday about the difference between "vigilant" and "critical" collaboration.
In his statement, Villegas added: "We will urge our people to work with the government for the good of all, and we shall continue to be vigilant so that ever so often we may speak out to teach and to prophesy, to admonish, and to correct – for this is our vocation."
‘Look, my betrayer is at hand’
Villegas then quoted a passage from the Bible: "Get up now, let us go."
That was from Chapter 26, Verse 26 of the Book of Matthew, where Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane and is about to be arrested.
There, Jesus says, in a context unstated in Villegas’ message: "Behold, the hour is at hand when the Son of Man is to be handed over to sinners. Get up, let us go. Look, my betrayer is at hand."
The CBCP issued its post-election statement after it issued a stinging pre-election statement on May 1. The bishops in that pastoral letter warned against any candidate "who takes positions that are not only politically precarious but worse, morally reprehensible."
Months later, in a personal Facebook post, he also questioned Duterte for making a rape joke.
Other bishops, such as Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, also criticized Duterte for more than 1,400 extrajudicial killings in his own city.
Despite warnings from Catholic bishops and other religious groups, Duterte is now leading in the unofficial tally, with 15.82 million votes or 38.5% of the total.
His closest rivals, Manuel Roxas II and Grace Poe, have both conceded.
‘Credit your victory to God’
While not explicitly mentioning Duterte in its post-election statement, the CBCP also assured prayers for winning candidates.
Villegas said: "God’s hand is to be recognized in the events of history. Credit then your victory, neither to fame nor popularity, but to God who calls you to service and to care for the weakest and the most distressed in our midst."
"Children need care that cannot be postponed. And many women still find themselves in situations of exploitation. Indigenous peoples remain marginalized and the vaunted growth in the economy still has to mean something significant for Filipinos living outside urban areas," he said.
Villegas told losing candidates, on the other hand, that they, "as persons, as sons and daughters of God, are infinitely so much more than the positions" for which they aspired.
"Rather than becoming despondent and discouraged, you should challenge yourselves by asking how it is that the Risen Lord sends you ‘to make disciples of all nations.’ Surely there are so many other ways to contribute to the building of the Kingdom of God. It is for you to discover your paths, in faith and in docility to God’s spirit," the CBCP president said.
Villegas also said the Catholic Church cannot stop in commenting on political issues even if "several critical, even spiteful, voices” have asked them “to desist from ‘interfering’ in politics."
Villegas said: "We do not aspire after office and we have sought none. We do not even impose upon the Catholic faithful a set of anointed candidates. But it would be a denial of Christ’s universal lordship were we to desist from reminding his disciples of what fidelity to him — in all things, including political life — demands." – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.