It’s not just rare, it’s practically unheard of for any Filipino politician to be critical of the Catholic Church, much less to call its bishops names. Soliciting its support during and after elections; maintaining a respectful silence even when they disagree with its bishops’ pronouncements; meekly nodding their heads in submission; providing bishops SUVs for “missionary work” and other favors; and even outright approval of Church collaboration with dictatorship, have been the most common forms of politician and government engagement with the Church—to which they’re likely to belong, anyway, 80 percent of Filipinos being Catholic.
President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s reiteration of a campaign promise to have Congress restore the death penalty resonates among most Filipinos who’re justly concerned with, and are in fact terrified by, the crimes that almost daily threaten their homes, their property and their lives and those of their kin. The number of rapes has nearly doubled, say women’s groups, and murders, kidnappings, assaults, and robberies have been multiplying, even as the drug trade destroys entire families. Outrage over these crimes’ persistence and their going unpunished is not limited to the survivors and kin of the victims. The demand for retribution cuts across classes but is especially strong among the students, professionals, office employees, and graveyard shift workers who feel they’re most vulnerable, and who are the most common crime victims.
“Philippine elections,” says the British publication The Economist, “are always local and thuggish.”
The “thuggish” part every Filipino is, or should be, familiar with. That’s the “guns and goons” in the “guns, goons, and gold” equation that too often decides the outcome of elections in those places where the police are either too weak to prevent voters from being intimidated, or are themselves among the thugs in the pay of the local warlord. These are the hoods responsible for the violence that characterizes most Philippine elections (but which the police always describe as “orderly and peaceful”). At least vote-buying, or the “gold” part that comes in both cash and kind, helps redistribute, rather than death and injury, the wealth that’s been stolen from the people.