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Simplicity and Duterte

Teresa R. Tunay, OCDS

…and that’s the truth

FIRST thing that greeted me on Facebook this morning is a news item from a friend, a Protestant—headlined “Three Bishops praise president-elect Rodrigo Duterte”.  And it began thus:  “This is not a satire news. It’s real!  The president elect has received praises from three Catholic Bishops…”  The link ( cited as its source Radio Veritas and the CBCP News.  I checked it out.  Indeed, it’s real, as reported in—“Bishops laud ‘simple’ Duterte”—and the three are Bishops Pedro Arigo, Antonio Maralit, and Honesto Ongtioco.  They reportedly praised Duterte for his simplicity, manifested in his preferences for the rather austere inaugural arrangements on June 30.  “Simplicity is an important value we have to promote,” was essentially the message of the three bishops.

I was happy to hear that, and I’m pretty sure many more bishops feel that way about simplicity, or Duterte, because they know what it is to love.   Amoris Laetitia 118 says: “Love bears every trial with a positive attitude.  It stands firm even in hostile surroundings.” Mr. Duterte can cuss to high heavens, womanize all he wants, plan to abolish Congress, threaten your life if you disagree with him, call us hypocrites, poke fun at the things we hold sacred, but if we must remain true to Christ we must not stop loving him simply because he ruffles our feathers.

Duterte’s calling the Catholic Church as “the most hypocritical institution” went viral. Comments from the Church’s critics over social media went Boom!, as though they were just waiting for someone to say “Apunten, fuego!” and they would unleash all the venom in their hearts.  Insults of all kinds were aired, and Duterte was hailed, again, as a hero who could be holier than the pope.  But, of course, we who know what being Church means would take the president-elect’s tirades as just so much water under the bridge.  We who understand the limitations of the man could only sigh: Pity Duterte— forgive him for he knows not what he is doing.  As for me, no matter how dreadful some “saradong Katoliko” find Duterte, he is not an earthquake—he’s just a seismograph.

None of us human beings dead or alive is totally good or totally bad.  That is why we are against the death penalty, right?  No matter how vile a criminal is, we do not want to end his life, because for us Christians, for as long as there’s life there’s a chance for change, for remorse, for forgiveness, for transformation, for rediscovering the mercy of God.  In every saint, there’s a whiff of the sinner, and in every sinner, there’s a trace of the saint.  Precisely when we, the Church, are being tried and bullied, should we hold on to Jesus, and pray more intensely that He may conform our will to His, that we may love as He loves.  Allow me to repeat  Amoris Laetitia 118:  “Love bears every trial with a positive attitude.  It stands firm even in hostile surroundings.”

Duterte may have been hostile to Catholics, but the three Bishops found something to praise in him—simplicity.  The “simplicity” in the inaugural arrangements is apparent in certain rules like “only 600 guests invited”, “ambassadors may not bring along their wives”, “no selfies allowed”, etc.  The inaugural fare Duterte has approved, according to official reports includes Lumpiang Gulay, Monggo Soup with Alugbati, Pandesal with Kesong Puti and Longganisa, Durian Tartlets, Pritong Saging, Pineapple-Mango Juice, and Dalandan Juice.  It’s a frugal all-Filipino menu and it’s being lauded by the public over social media for its being free from fancy dishes with tongue-twisting French names.  The diplomatic circle can take it or leave it, for all Duterte cares.

The “simplicity” in the inaugural arrangements is news because politicians are expected to be lavish hosts, so that when austerity is observed in something as important as a presidential inauguration, it makes the headlines.  But I know for a fact that many bishops and priests live simplicity in their dioceses and parishes.  They cringe at extravagance, even if it’s their birthday that’s being celebrated.  They would rather spend the money on their projects for the less privileged—but it doesn’t make news.  In fact, the virtuous things the Catholic Church does hardly get media coverage.  But does it really matter to us—that nobody toots the horn for us when good things are happening in our backyard?  No, it doesn’t matter—because God never sleeps, period.  And that’s the truth.

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