Last April 9, we commemorated Araw ng Kagitingan or Day of Valor and remembered the brave heroes and heroines who gave up their lives for Philippine freedom – during the revolution against Spain, the Filipino-American war and the anti-Japanese war.
We also recalled the many lives lost during the repressive martial rule of former president Ferdinand E. Marcos. Many young lives were snuffed out prematurely for speaking the truth and clamoring for democracy.
I often think that had these student leaders not died so young, the present bicameral Congress may be different, filled with these young, idealistic minds whose love of country would have served the Filipino people well. I refer to Liliosa Hilao, Archimedes Trajano, Ishmael Quimpo Jr., Ferdie Arceo, Edgar Jopson, Juan Escandor, Emmanuel Lacaba, Maria Lorena Barros. Add Lean Alejandro to the list. Although killed in 1987, after Marcos was deposed, Alejandro was hunted down by the remnants of Marcos’ repressive military.
How quickly we forget these stories of heroic sacrifices. At the very least, let us remember the people who have blatantly betrayed the ideals of public service and not allow them back to public office.
Betrayal of public service
Come this May elections, I hope our voters do not forget that a number of those making a bid for the Senate have been accused of betrayal of public trust.
Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. has yet to return the P224.5 million commission he got from his misused pork barrel as ordered by the Sandiganbayan. Though acquitted of criminal liability, the antigraft court has ordered him to return the money he siphoned from public funds. Alas, it appears the money is being used to fund his candidacy.
Jinggoy Estrada is facing plunder and graft charges for allegedly misusing P183.793 million of his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
Juan Ponce Enrile is accused of diverting P172 million out of his P345 million PDAF into fake or non-existing nongovernment organizations.
Imee Marcos is under investigation for the misuse of tobacco funds and for purchasing vehicles amounting to P64.45 million without public bidding.
Those hundreds of millions of pesos are enough to put the orphans of victims of extrajudicial killings back in school, feed streetchildren, build health and day care centers, relocate urban illegal settlers, build irrigation systems for farms now suffering from drought and provide many, many other essential services.
The champion among those unqualified to serve in the Senate, for me, is laos or washed-up singer Freddie Aguilar who dared call senatorial candidate Chel Diokno a “joke” for saying the Senate is not a venue for karaoke. But Duterte supports him. Bagay nga sila.
Bayan ng mga magigiting
It is now one month before elections. We are seeing some brave warriors who dare to stand up for the truth and for what is right.
Media outfits such as Rappler, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and Vera Files are doing their job in bringing out the truth, the corruption in government, the involvement of the First Family and people close to Duterte in the drugs trade.
Very early in the Duterte administration, a friend close to many of the President’s cronies told me that the anti-drugs campaign was meant to neutralize rivals and opposition so only the big syndicate can corner the trade. I refused to believe it then, but recent revelations of Acierto, of alias Bikoy, and others seem to lend credence to the accusation.
Many of the journalists are being harassed and threatened. Rappler’s Maria Ressa has had to bail herself out eight times in recent months. I hope these journalists take their personal safety and security seriously.
We also have the clergy being threatened to be killed by no less than the President himself. Sadly, we don’t have a Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin brave enough to defy even a sitting dictator.
Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines have been criticized many times for being silent in the face of Duterte’s repeated attacks on both clergy and doctrine, on death threats against priests critical of Duterte and for his gross disregard for human lives and decency.
In the midst of Duterte’s relentless attacks, we fortunately do have brave souls like Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of the Diocese of Kalookan, the champion among cities in the number of extrajudicial killings that have shaken the country to its core.
He is one of the few bishops bold enough to speak plainly about the Duterte government’s role in the killings and challenge Duterte’s attacks on the church. His response to Duterte’s tirade against his mother, Bienvenida Siongco David (1922-2000), was very touching. I felt that Duterte fell further in the Catholic flock’s esteem following his attack on this good mother and wife.
Catholic conscience vote
David is joined by Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, who must have been strongly influenced by Cardinal Sin’s activism. After all, Villegas was Cardinal Sin’s protégé; he was always by the cardinal’s side in the fight against dictatorship.
Last March, Villegas’ video, “I believe…therefore, I reject!”, went viral. His message to Catholics was clear: “My dear brothers and sisters, are you going to betray God, are you going to deny your faith, by your vote?” He meant that those who vote for candidates like the God-cursing, foul-mouthed Duterte could end up denying their faith.
To what extent can Villegas and David influence the other bishops? Will they openly campaign against Duterte’s candidates? Many Catholics feel, after all, that Duterte has declared war on the Catholic faith, values and doctrines – human dignity, justice, charity, the common good – which they all look for in candidates.
The CBCP has 130 active or honorary members. We badly need more brave voices from their ranks to join Villegas, David and other bishops like Ruperto Santos of Balanga, Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon, Broderick Pabillo of Manila, and Teodoro Bacani of Novaliches, and priests like Flavie Villanueva and Robert Reyes.
Just for this election, I hope there will be a Catholic conscience vote.