We Must Pay The Price

by Jose Ma. Montelibano


It would have just been one of those ridiculous incidents that deserved no more than a momentary smirk if it did not have serious implication to an issue of great importance. I refer to a statement of a Catholic bishop who tried to put a connection between Typhoon Pablo and the effort to pass the RH Bill in Congress. He wondered out loud if the storm was not a sign of the wrath of God.

While this audible mumbling may have upset the more intelligent and sensitive among Filipinos, it is also a good reminder for us that the Catholic Church continues to be populated with religious elders who are an embarrassment to her Founder and teachings. The self-righteousness and bigotry that have been a scourge of Catholicism throughout the centuries, manifesting its worst in the Inquisition and wars waged in the name of God, remain in their more subtle form in some bishops. That these same bishops fumble and blurt out their perverted attitudes every so often allows the many good ones among them to work all the more to defend the true spirit of Christianity from extended blemish.

For the bishops who may believe that the wrath of God brought Typhoon Pablo to Mindanao because Congress was deep in the effort to decide, once and for all, whether to pass the RH Bill, let me bring another alternative thought on the altar of public attention. The typhoon was a destructive force because it killed hundreds of people. But of these several hundreds, what makes it special is that most of those killed were poor. This is in consonance with most other natural calamities which keep visiting our motherland – that those who die in these calamities are mostly poor, and in many cases, only the poor.

So dear bishops, and with this, I address all bishops, the one theme that is carried in these never-ending tragedies is that it targets the poor. I must assume that this fact disturbs you greatly even if you say little about it because you are the primary agents of the Church with a preferential option for the poor. If Typhoon Pablo had any message whatsoever, it said “The least protected are the first to die in all calamities before me, and all other calamities that will follow – until you all find a way to safe keep the people you claim you love the most.”

But the Church of Catholics is not the only guilty party. There is also the government of Catholics. It is a national government whose Constitution says it is not religious but has always been dominated by Catholics. Because most government officials and employees are Catholic in their religious affiliation, their failure to raise Filipinos out of poverty is not any less than the failure of the Church to give preferential option to the poor. Poverty is the common evidence of failure of governance by Catholics – in the Church or in the State.

The RH Bill issue is like the calamities that beset the Filipino people. They have destructive power primarily because they exist in the context of poverty. There is no reproductive controversy, regardless of contraception items or medicine employed, in Forbes Park or Dasmariñas Village. The population growth rate there is the lowest in the land but there is no suggestion to use the effective methods of these rich subdivisions. Pro-RH advocates do not recommend to study why birth rates in plush villages are very low. Pro-Life champions say nothing despite knowing that the birth rates are low and not from sexual abstention.

Only in the context of poverty have the RH Bill and the natural calamities found their most controversial relevance. If there were no poverty surrounding the RH Bill and the calamities, there will be no controversy as the rich have long practiced birth control in unlimited ways and have suffered the least of deaths from the calamities.

Why, then, are we dancing around with non-essentials and using them to distract us from the ugly truth called poverty? Why, then, do we allow Church and State leaders from covering the truth we all need to see, the ugly truth called poverty?

Perhaps, it is because poverty shames us all. Perhaps, it is because poverty reveals an even uglier truth – that we don’t care about others beyond our blood ties or small circle of friends, that we can sleep easily while men, women and children in the tens of millions go hungry, go cold in their shanties or in the streets, go aimlessly looking for a piece of earth they can call their own.

The Executive Director of Gawad Kalinga, deep in his relief work inside devastated Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental, cried out in pain as he witnessed the misery that typhoon victims were experiencing. He wrote me and said he kept asking why. Every time he looked into the eyes of an orphaned child, a newly widowed, he asked why. I know he knows why. I know because he set the mission for the volunteer organization to take millions of families out of poverty by 2024. And to do it no matter what, whether it is supported by government or not, whether it is supported by Church or not.

The ascendancy of the Philippines, driven by a newfound credibility awarded by the people to national government amidst an environment so rife with optimism, will inevitably encounter serious roadblocks in its development path. At the very moment when a great leap is about to happen, death and destruction will come like very wet blankets. These serve as grim reminders to the State, to the Church, to us as one people, that tens of millions of impoverished Filipinos cannot be treated as second-class concerns. If we choose to continue living side by side with poverty, then we must pay the price.

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