All this time extrajudicial killings seem to be on a rampage, it also seemed nothing was heard from Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle. Not even a whimper.
Until last August 28 when he finally said something on the spate of killings, Tagle’s avid followers longed to hear from him as they were at a loss over the eerie silence of Asia’s most prominent Roman Catholic leader amid increasing condemnation by other Church leaders and even United Nations key officials.
Tagle’s perceived silence was so unlike that of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines president Archbishop Socrates Villegas who had said before that “mine is the silence of Jesus before the arrogance of Pilate” as he stressed that “wisdom is knowing when it is time for silence” amid President Duterte’s tirades against the Church.
But I don’t think it’s appropriate for some critics to relate Tagle’s silence to what Italian poet and philosopher Dante Alighieri said: “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.”
I’ve always admired Cardinal Tagle for his insightful homilies on how we Filipinos, who belong to Asia’s largest Catholic nation, ought to live our lives and how to strengthen our faith in God amid all the challenges we face daily.
With Tagle’s apparent deep compassion for the poor that has impressed Church leaders in the Vatican, many eagerly awaited whatever the good cardinal had to say about the unabated killings in the ongoing all-out war against illegal drugs.
After all, it’s mostly the poor who are doing the dying—whether at the hands of lawmen citing self-defense against those who purportedly resist arrest and shoot it out, or at the hands of lawless elements or vigilante groups that hit with impunity amid the apparent lack of zealousness by authorities to stop them.
But until last Sunday no news could be heard of Cardinal Tagle voicing concern over an issue raging for many weeks now. The last time he spoke about it was last June as he called for the Oratio Imperata beseeching God to “bless our leaders with true reverence for human life and unyielding opposition to the culture of death.”
Tagle even had the chance to talk about it when he paid a courtesy visit to Duterte on July 19 in Malacañang where both leaders were seen on TV doing the traditional “mano” yet no news has been heard about the cardinal speaking out.
When news finally broke out that on Aug. 28 he spoke about the killings, many were glad. “Basta taong may buhay kahit sino pa siya, ang buhay na yun ay sagrado. Alam ko na ngayon na ang malaking usapin ay ang nagiging mga pagpatay, sabi pati raw sa mga hindi guilty, sa mga inosente, pero kahit nga guilty man o hindi guilty, ang buhay ay dapat alagaan at igalang. At kung guilty bigyan ng bagong buhay, pagkakataong makabangon mula sa lumang buhay,” Tagle said.
“Ang Diyos ay Diyos ng buhay kaya dapat alagaan ang buhay. Pero marami worried sa extra-judicial killings. At dapat lang,” Tagle said in an interview with Radio Veritas.
But his message on summary executions appeared diluted when he added: “Sana naman worried din tayo sa abortion, bakit kaunti ang nagsasalita against abortion? Pagpatay din yan. Unfair labor practices isang uri rin yan ng pagpatay ng dangal ng manggagawa…Be consistent to promote whole or integral life, let us not be selective.”
Many wonder what took Tagle so long to speak up when many Church leaders from many parts of the country have raised their concerns about the killings. And why didn’t his message focus sharply on the burning issue of extrajudicial killings?
Did he feel intimidated by Duterte who doesn’t mince words against anyone, no matter how revered, who criticizes the ill-effects of the drug war? Is Tagle just being careful not to provoke the President who might again go ballistic at the Church which he once called the “most hypocritical institution” for campaigning against him in the last election?
Or is Tagle sparing the Duterte administration from further heat on a global scale? It’s highly possible that had he made a lot of noise just like what the late Jaime Cardinal Sin had done during the Marcos years, the Vatican would take notice.
And should Pope Francis eventually speak out, it could be a real nightmare for the President’s men and Malacanang’s Presidential Communications Office which now seems to be failing miserably in its task to make critics understand the complexities and dynamics in the drug war, and why the President acts and speaks the way he does on the issue. (To be continued)