TO SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER
[Fifth Sunday of Easter]
On the days after the last election, I was just contented with “liking” or “sharing” memes as I was trying to figure out how I feel deep inside myself. I took time to nurse my pain. Like the rest, I have also invested in this fight. Maybe not as much as those who stood in rallies for hours in rain or noonday heat, but I also had to wake up at dawn or in the middle of the night in New York for webinars in the Philippines since the start of this campaign.
THE UPPER ROOM
So it is quiet painful when we think we have lost. The days of silence was like staying in the Upper Room where the apostles gathered — the womb of the Jesus movement. There he once said before he died: “Love one another as I have loved you.” It was also the place where the disappointed disciples hid in fear, feel their sadness, and share their pain after Jesus' death. May takot, may poot, may panghihinayang. “We thought he was the one who was going to redeem Israel and set our nation free” (Luke 24: 21).
And while they were sharing about what they learned from him when he was still alive, he came upon their midst, broke bread with them and gave them courage, freedom and joy. It was not automatic for the apostles. The two disciples who decided to go home to Emmaus did not recognize him. Magdalene thought he was the gardener. Thomas doubted. But while they talked about the scriptures and the prophets, they remembered that the Messiah needed to suffer and die and be handed over to the Sanhedrin. Only through this shall the liberation of the Spirit shall come.
In the midst of this “womb” at the Upper Room — with Mary their mother — they were so inspired and emboldened, so much so that on Pentecost day, they spoke in front of the people in public spheres without their previous pains, fears and doubts. The man from Nazareth whom you have killed? He is vindicated by God. He is raised from the dead (Acts 4: 10).
There were no prophets who were not persecuted. "Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute?" (Acts 7:52). They were kept in chains, imprisoned in dungeons and cisterns, rejected even by their own people. They were ridiculed, silenced, had their reputations destroyed, red-tagged. Some others were put to death. Jeremiah calls himself like “a lamb led to a slaughter” (Jer. 11: 19). Amos was insulted by the high priests in Bethel (Amos 7: 11-15). Elijah was threatened by the wicked Queen Jezebel (1 Kings 19: 1-4). John the Baptist was killed by Herod the Great (Luke 3: 19-20).
There are times in the prophets’ lives that they experience defeat. But there was nothing that stopped them from speaking the truth, from fighting for justice, from defending the poor, from speaking truth to power.
PROPHETIC TASK IN OUR TIMES
Before the elections, the Vincentian community set some Christian criteria as basis on who to endorse. In the end of our communal discernment, we chose Leni Robredo and Kiko Pangilinan to have embodied these criteria. But win or lose, it is these same criteria that we need to prophesy about in this new dispensation. These criteria are values of the gospels and respectable human society. Simula ngayon, sisingilin natin sila.
1. Respect for Life and Human Dignity
As prophets we need to ask what this new administration shall do to the thousands of victims of injustice in Martial Law, those who were killed in the War on Drugs, and the Marcos-Duterte enablers who sang the “Bagong Lipunan March” with gusto and did fist-bump with Duterte as he killed poor people in their shanties. As prophets we need to ask how this new government protect the human rights of people who were detained on trumped up charges, unjustly imprisoned or just disappeared.
When Martial Law was popular in 1972, the majority of the Philippine bishops approved of it. There was a prophetic minority — around 13 of them — who bravely protested. They also wrote a separate Statement weeks after Martial Law was imposed. When Duterte was popular and the police were on a killing spree in 2016, no one stood up except some few bishops, priests and religious. It looks like the Church — bishops, priests, sisters and lay people — generally cowered in fear or gave it a stamp of tacit approval.
The most recent political strategy, “positive campaigning” and no to “cancel culture” deterred us from speaking truth to power, from calling out the Uniteam on what it wants to do with these deaths, on the ICC cases, etc. I have journeyed with the widows and orphans in Payatas. I can feel that the blood of the victims are crying out for justice. If we don’t speak, “the stones would cry out!” (Luke 19: 40).
2. Integrity and Accountability
The Marcoses — from the mother to the son and the rest of the family — need to answer for the ill-gotten wealth and plunder. They have not paid State taxes. They have been convicted. Duterte has protected the Chinese businesses in the Philippines, even as thousands were dying during the COVID pandemic. Remember Pharmally, pastillas scam, Phil Heath, magnetic lifters, etc. The UniTeam is an alliance of plunderers— all convicted, “pardoned” or on bail. No amount of historical revisionism and trolls can erase this. How can this new government make these criminals accountable? Dangerous times indeed. But the prophets must put them into question.
3. Territorial Integrity and Care for the Environment
Marcos is “friendly” to China. That is quite obvious. Duterte is “friendly” to China. He has justified this time again and again: I love Xi Jinping. “Gawin mo na lang kaming province ng China,” he quipped one time. How do we assert territorial integrity and sovereignty in the midst of these forces. Connected with this is the issue of the environment (mining, coal power, dams, Malampaya, etc.) which China's development aggression is quite interested. The prophets should be sensitive to the crucial positions on these issues as this new government choose people to craft their foreign policy and development agenda. Remember what Duterte did to Gina Lopez?
4. Political Dynasties and Empowerment of the Poor
The Marcos-Duterte supporters take pride in the fact of millions of poor people are their supporters. But my contact with those on the ground tells us that vote-buying, intimidation — all characteristics of patronage politics — is the long standing electoral strategy that lures and/or threatens the poor ever since. 500 or 1000 pesos distributed one or two days before the elections — this time, it is cards with QR codes — is the name of the political game. Mired in poverty and beholden to (or coerced by) their local leaders, this token amount is enough to buy electoral position in the next six years, and so on and so on. The practice of elite patronage politics is the evil that plagues Philippine politics. Duterte and Marcos ran under the banner of the populist anti-elite discourse, only to gather new kinds of oligarchs and cronies, as the Davao oligarchs and the old ones enrich themselves. The Sofitel post-election party is a picture that paints a thousand words.
As prophets, we need to exact how this government can solve the post-pandemic poverty, produce jobs, give food to our tables, and empower those at the margins. The UniTeam did not give any concrete ways on how to do this; and the political dynasties around Marcos do not have the track record of doing so.
5. Truth and Historical Revisionism
It looks like people have bought the revisionist Marcos and Duterte narratives hook, line and sinker. When asked what is their source of knowledge, people tell us “social media”. The endless money poured into this project since maybe 10 years ago, the thousands of trolls in the Philippines, China or Russia, the algorithmic microtargeting in these platforms illegally using our personal digital footprints, makes our friends even the educated — clergy and religious included — so “convinced” that Marcos and Duterte are the best leaders the Philippines ever had, and their children are the leaders we need today. This “pandemic of lies” is most difficult to counter. We are in for a long haul as the revisionist narrative will use government funds and programs from now on.
We should not also forget the question on the election returns, the malfunctioning automated voting machines, the statistical impossibility of a consistent 68/32 percentages, the massive vote buying. We should keep pursuing these questions to the end, etc. We should not be ruled by deceit. Unless these questions are answered, people could "move on" as they wanted — at least the 14M.
Back to the Upper Room. In the Gospel today, Jesus told his disciples: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” (John 13: 34-34).
Radical love is not just sentimental loving: being nice and good to everyone, even to those who kill the poor and do us injustice. Even as we organize ourselves into an NGO or massive civil society and volunteers, we need to remember that we are also prophets.
And prophets are brave and fearless. We should "call out" atrocities and injustice. We should not be afraid to "cancel", if need be. Prophets should speak truth to power.
To tweak a little the popular song of Peter, Paul and Mary famous in the 1960s, we ask people today: “where have all the prophets gone?”
Daniel Franklin E. Pilario, CM
Vincentian Center for Social Justice
St. John’s University – New York