Pope Benedict XVI may or may not be familiar with the “Hello Garci” scandal. He may or may not know that some Catholic priests and ordinary Catholics as well as members of other Christian churches have been denied their basic rights and have even been shot dead in the Philippines.

He may not know either that still many more could lose their lives in the Arroyo government’s anti-insurgency campaign. He may or may not know that the Philippines is the second most dangerous place in the world for journalists—and the most dangerous for members of certain legal political parties, advocacy groups, and non-government organizations.

Like other heads of state, the Pope has advisers to brief him about visiting heads of state. What he knows about the person kneeling before him to kiss the papal ring in apparent piety to a great extent depends on those advisers. Thus the possibility that, as Bishop Oscar Cruz claimed the other day, the Pope may know about the crisis of legitimacy Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has been trying to defuse since June last year. But it is equally possible that he may not. The Philippines is only one of the many countries that include Catholics among their populations, and the Pope is only one person after all.

Meanwhile, we have only Mrs. Arroyo’s word that the Pope was bullish about the Philippine government and our de facto ruler.

But Filipinos have enough reasons to doubt Mrs. Arroyo’s version of events. She did say she didn’t influence the counting of the ballots in 2004. She has said countless times that she favors new politics, and implied that she’s not a politician of the traditional type. She claims her government is serious in rooting out corruption. She’s actually said with a straight face that she will go after the killers of journalists and activists. And so on.

In addition, Mrs. Arroyo’s visits to the Vatican also seem to result in every Pope’s—whether John Paul II or Benedict XVI—giving her his blessing. In 2005 Mrs. Arroyo emerged from an audience with Pope John Paul II to announce that the Pope was encouraging her to do all she can to “promote morality” in Philippine society.

After her audience with Benedict XVI Mrs. Arroyo declared that the Pope was “very supportive” of her policies.

These alleged papal statements sound so much alike they might as well have been slapped together by some hack in the service of Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye– among whose most recent achievements is to make it seem to the Catholic faithful that the Philippine government can lobby the Vatican in the naming of saints and the appointment of cardinals.

As quoted by Mrs. Arroyo, the Pope also seems to be one of her staunchest political partisans. He supposedly told Mrs. Arroyo that the Church should not meddle in politics. It is true that Benedict XVI has made that principle a major pillar of his papacy. But his supposedly saying so while priests and nuns and even bishops are challenging Mrs. Arroyo’s legitimacy amounted to a statement that they should desist.

The paradox is that the Pope’s supposed statement was itself political because it seemed supportive of Arroyo policies. That is exactly what Mrs. Arroyo the politician wants Filipinos and the world to believe–while she urges Filipinos to shun politics.

Mrs. Arroyo was not, and in the past has not been, averse to using the Pope for her own purposes. But neither has this Pope been true to his own admonition about staying out of politics. He did praise Mrs. Arroyo for the abolition—at least legally and officially—of the death penalty in the Philippines. The praise could not but be political, since the abolition involved policy and the use of political power and will. Mrs. Arroyo knew it only too well. After all she brought along a bound copy of the law abolishing the death penalty to show it off to the Pope.

Meanwhile, Benedict XVI has said nothing about the killing of journalists and political activists in a Catholic Philippines ruled by a Catholic de facto president. Concerned Catholics may be forgiven for being outraged over the double standard which on the one hand declares that convicted felons of all stripes may not be executed, while those accused only of harboring political views different from that of Mrs. Arroyo and company are not only deprived of their liberties and even lives, but also denied them without the benefit of trial.

The way things are going in Mrs. Arroyo’s Enchanted Kingdom, conviction of rape, murder, kidnapping and plunder means life imprisonment at most. But mere suspicion of being a reformist–or worse, a revolutionary– means a death sentence. This is bad enough. What’s worse is that Mrs. Arroyo implies that the Pope approves.

(Business Mirror)

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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