“JESUS said: ‘Suffer the little children and forbid them not to come unto me, for such is the kingdom of heaven.’” (Mathew 19:14) This beautiful biblical passage was meant to allow the lambs into the fold of the shepherd, the Christian Church. But many Catholic priests took this passage too literally, enticing the innocents into their toxic predatory embrace. Thus, the presence of a morally deviant underclass and an evil adjunct to the Holy Mother Church. Diabolically, the Bible’s guidance became the conceptual defense of many pedophile priests who may have assuaged their conscience, as a pretext for this aberration.

It pains me to write about this subject matter, having been born in the Roman Catholic Church (RCC), though not a fanatically practicing one, and an ex-seminarian and tutored for years by the Jesuits. The magnitude of the problem is simply too egregious that it requires public exposure for it to wither and eventually be purged against the light of truth. To many Filipinos, 70 to 80 percent reared in the Catholic faith, discussions on this subject is still taboo, which exacerbates the dastardly deeds. But the greater tragedy is that the RCC hierarchy itself has one eye closed — “pa-dedma” in the vernacular — on this despicable abnormality. It is through this culture of silence and denial where evil proliferates.

The Australian Church
To put this in perspective, this is not a local problem. The pedophile priests have been a running scandal in the Church for generations. It has come into public consciousness lately with the incarceration of the third most powerful cardinal in Christendom, Australian George Cardinal Pell. Prior to his conviction, he served as head of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy and was a respected member of the Council for Cardinal Advisers. His crimes of child sexual assault on two 13-year-old boys was taken to court in early 1990 while he was still Archbishop of Melbourne. It was only in March last year that Pell was sentenced to prison. He denied his crimes and maintained his innocence, but his appeal was denied by proper Australian courts. The Holy See’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is currently conducting its own investigation of the charges against the Cardinal, which could lead to his being defrocked as a priest. But these sexual predatory acts by Catholic priests are just the tip of the iceberg.

Horror stories abound in all the major archdioceses of the Australian RCC. Hundreds of priests were brought to court and many convicted of sexual assault against underage boys and girls even in orphanages run by the Church. As an example, in the Archdiocese of Sydney a pedophile priest, Fr. Roger Flaherty had been molesting three altar boys since the 1970s and 1980s. He pleaded guilty in 2016 and was sentenced to prison. It turned out that two princes of the Church, James Cardinal Freeman, while Sydney Archbishop and Auxiliary Bishop Edward Kelly were shielding Flaherty from prosecution when these sex acts were committed. It is reported too that the Australian hierarchy secretly paid $276 million to thousands of children sexually abused by pedophile priests.

The American Church
Which brings us to the despicable practice that reached its apex in the Archdiocese of Boston in the United States, which brought the downfall of the powerful and feared Bernard Cardinal Law. He had knowledge of the extent of pedophile priests in his domain sexually abusing thousands of children over several decades. The pedophile priests were simply transferred to other parishes where they were left free to reprise their deeds.

Had it not been for the exposé of the Boston Globe, the city’s leading newspaper, which was the subject of the movie “Spotlight,” an Oscar-winning film in 2015, the extent of the scandal within the RCC would have been buried in the archives and forever lost to memory. The cardinal was the central dramatis personae in this criminal abuse and cover-up that encompassed the Boston archdiocese. It is estimated that the archdiocese and the Catholic Church in America spent $4 billion in settlements and payouts for sex abuse cases. Skeptics now look with jaundiced eye upon their Sunday Mass contributions to the collection plates of local parishes.

It is perhaps a measure of the Vatican’s conceit that the Cardinal, upon his resignation from his position in Boston, was instead appointed by Pope John Paul 2nd to a sinecure in Rome in 2004 as archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, where he remained influential in the Vatican. He died in 2017 and never paid with corporal punishment for his acts.

The Philippine Church
It is now established that the RCC in many countries has reluctantly kept pace with the demands of modern concepts of justice and the rule of law. It is not so in the Philippines. Arrests much less prosecution of pedophile priests are rarely initiated. According to Bishop Buenaventura Famadico of San Pablo, interviewed by the Catholic newspaper La Croix, no priest in the Philippines had ever been convicted of child sexual abuse. (Though there may have been one or two in recent years.) In contrast, the Australian and American Catholic Churches have convicted hundreds of pedophile priests within the past two decades.

This disparity could be attributed to the special role of the RCC in the country. Going back to the Spanish colonial period, the RCC has always held a pre-eminent position. It is the richest conglomerate in the country, constitutionally exempted from paying most taxes. It is a divine oligarchy unto itself, despotic in its internal governance and has always comfortably worked hand in glove with its counterpart among the “chosen few” in the civilian world — the oligarchy and the elite.

This unholy alliance between these conservative groups has a huge impact in the political environment. And thus, the RCC hierarchy’s political clout and its influence and implicit intimidating control over the faithful allow it certain liberties unique to the Philippine Church. It is perceived to operate beyond the ambit of the law. It is no surprise, then, that it has the effrontery to protect its own, preventing conviction and incarceration of pedophile priests.

These crimes are kept in the shadows; the miscreants are simply reassigned to other parishes where the cycle of sexual predatory acts continue. Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, the archbishop of Manila until his recent appointment to high office in the Vatican, declared to Catholic site UCAN that “…it is often better for such cases to be handled quietly, inside the Church.” Until about 2013, the Church’s own guidelines insisted that bishops need not report sexually abusive priests to police and civil authorities, saying they had “a relationship of trust analogous to that between father and son.” No, Your Excellency, this aggravates this travesty. It is high time you reverse your position.

President Rodrigo Duterte, himself a victim of a pedophile priest as a student, has derided the Catholic bishops, calling them “sons of b*****s.” His attacks have been gaining traction, eroding the patina of piety and invincibility of the Church hierarchy. If there is anything good to come out of this barrage, Duterte is succeeding in making the Church less intimidating to the hordes of its faithful. On this, many support this populist president.
The Senate President crowed yesterday that the party he nominally coheads, PDP-Laban, has a “pleasant problem” — too many potential senatorial candidates. Koko Pimentel’s estimate is they have up to 20 possible choices for the 12-person slate for the 2019 senatorial race. But his list includes the five administration-affiliated senatorial incumbents up for reelection next year. This is a group that has made noises that, much as it prefers to remain in the administration camp, it is unhappy with the way PDP-Laban has been designating its local leaders and candidates, and therefore prefers to strike out on its own, perhaps in alliance with the other administration (regional) party, Hugpong ng Pagbabago, headed by the President’s daughter and current Davao City mayor, Sara Duterte.

Setting aside, then, the five-person “Force,” the administration-oriented but not PDP-friendly reelectionists (Nancy Binay, Sonny Angara, Cynthia Villar, Grace Poe, and JV Ejercito), what Koko’s crowing over is a mixed bag. Some of them have been floated by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez (with whom Mayor Duterte clashed in recent months): six representatives (Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who is in her last term in the House of Representatives; Albee Benitez, Karlo Nograles, Rey Umali, Geraldine Roman, and Zajid Mangudadatu), three Cabinet members (Bong Go, Harry Roque, and Francis Tolentino), and two other officials (Mocha Uson and Ronald dela Rosa), which still only adds up to 11 possible candidates (who are the missing three?).

Of all of these, the “Force” reelectionists are only fair-weather allies of the present dispensation; their setting themselves apart is about much more than the mess PDP-Laban made in, say, San Juan where support for the Zamoras makes it extremely unattractive for JV Ejercito to consider being in the same slate. Their cohesion is about thinking ahead: Creating the nucleus for the main coalition to beat in the 2022 presidential election. The contingent of congressmen and congresswomen who could become candidates for the Senate, however, seems more a means to kick the Speaker’s rivals upstairs (at least in the case of Benitez and Arroyo) and pad the candidates’ list with token but sacrificial candidates, a similar situation to the executive officials being mentioned as possible candidates (of the executive officials, only Go seems viable, but making him run would deprive the President of the man who actually runs the executive department, and would be a clear signal that the administration is shifting to a post-term protection attitude instead of the more ambitious system-change mode it’s been on, so far).

Vice President Leni Robredo has been more circumspect, saying she’s not sure the Liberal Party can even muster a full slate. The party chair, Kiko Pangilinan, denied that a list circulating online (incumbent Bam Aquino, former senators Mar Roxas, Jun Magsaysay, TG Guingona, current and former representatives Jose Christopher Belmonte, Kaka Bag-ao, Edcel Lagman, Raul Daza, Gary Alejano and Erin Tañada, former governor Eddie Panlilio and Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña) had any basis in fact.

What both lists have in common is they could be surveys-on-the-cheap, trial balloons to get the public pulse. Until the 17th Congress reconvenes briefly from May 14 to June 1 for the tail end of its second regular session (only to adjourn sine die until the third regular session begins on July 23), it has nothing much to do. Except, that is, for the barangay elections in May, after a last-ditch effort by the House to postpone them yet again to October failed.

Names can be floated but the real signal will come in July, when the President mounts the rostrum and calls for the big push for a new constitution—or not. Connected to this would be whether the Supreme Court disposes of its own chief, which would spare the Senate—and thus, free up the legislative calendar—to consider Charter change instead of an impeachment trial. In the meantime, what congressmen do seem abuzz over is an unrefusable invitation to the Palace tomorrow — to mark Arroyo’s birthday. An event possibly pregnant with meaning.
“Then I fall to my knees, shake a rattle at the skies and I’m afraid that I’ll be taken, abandoned, forsaken in her cold coffee eyes.” – A quote from the song, “She moves on” by Paul Simon, singer/songwriter

THE recent tremors affecting the central provinces of Mindanao caused by a series of seismic waves radiating to the northern and southern parts of the island, were like nature shaking a rattle, emitting sharp sounds and unnerving motions from the underground, both frightening and bewildering as to the intensity and confusion they generated.

The successive earthquakes and aftershocks were rattling the nerves not only of residents close to the epicenter but also those living along the active fault planes who were not used to strong earth movements. Some reported dizziness, anxiety, depression and other post-traumatic stress symptoms after experiencing continuous shaking and periodic vibrations.

As this article was written, less frequent but perceptible tremors were felt on the affected areas although everyone is reportedly bracing for aftershocks which many hope and pray, would not turn out to be the dreaded “big one,” as some irresponsible persons are falsely posting on social media. Shake a rattle drum to this latter blokes.

According to Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), since the 1900s, Mindanao has been rocked by at least 35 earthquakes, three of which, felt at “Intensity 7” or worse, were deemed destructive: the 1976 Moro Gulf earthquake which caused a tsunami reaching up to nine meters that killed about 8,000 people including the unaccounted ones; the 1999 series of earthquakes in Agusan del Sur damaging roads, and poorly constructed schools and infrastructure; and the Sultan Kudarat earthquake in 2002, killing eight people with 41 others injured and affecting over seven thousand families in the provinces of Sarangani, North and South Cotabato (Rappler 2019). Shake a rattle of prayers for all who perished in these tragedies.

The series of earthquakes in October of this year, just weeks apart, with magnitudes of over 6 hitting many provinces, again, in Cotabato and southern parts of Davao accounted for the death toll of 22, damaging homes, school buildings and many infrastructure, shaking and sending chills to many residents who have to deal with continuing albeit smaller tremors which can be felt as far up the city of Cagayan de Oro and down the southern province of Sarangani.

Some local officials reported residents having developed “earthquake phobia” keeping watch on their clock hanging inside their tents in evacuation sites, losing sleep with anxiety awaiting when the next tremor would be coming. With frayed nerves, some would panic over even slight ground shakings.

But this is not about the temblor as much as the response of people and the country’s leaders and responsible officials. Except for the government of China which donated P22 million in aid and support for relief efforts in Mindanao, hurray for China, other foreign countries just expressed condolences and messages of sympathy to families of victims. No pledges, no assistance. Perhaps, they can’t trust our government agencies to do the job for them anymore. To them, a shake of the baby rattle.

To the initial bunch of donors who immediately come with their financial assistance such as Yorme Isko Moreno of Manila with his P5 million personal money, Mayor Vico Sotto with relief goods and P14 million coming from the people of Pasig City, Mayor Marcy Teodoro of Marikina with 100 modular tents, movie star Angel Locsin who moved about sans fanfare for her charity work offering food and other assistance to victims in Davao and North Cotabato, to Mayor Inday Duterte for relief distribution, Cebu provincial government for disaster relief campaign and to the many nameless others who came with their relief aids, shake a rattle of joy and thankfulness for their kindness and generosity.

To our government officials and politicians goes our appeal to set aside politics, distribute the relief items according to the wishes of their donors and not allow goods to rot because of political colors as was shown in the previous administration’s handling of donated goods. To them, shake a rattle of enlightenment and peace.

In whatever disaster or crisis that befalls the country, trust Filipinos’ resiliency and coping mechanisms such as resorting to prayers and humor to come to their succor.

Social media become a natural venue for memes, practical jokes and bantering such as the ones which came after Pastor Apollo C. Quiboloy reportedly claimed that he caused to stop the earthquakes so they can no longer create damage. To everyone, shake a rattle of laughter and fun while we help provide for the needs of our less fortunate brethren in Cotabato and Davao provinces.