Punchline

Fr. Soc, the politician

By Ermin Garcia Jr.

I grieve for my archdiocese, Lingayen-Dagupan.

This was the archdiocese that molded and strengthened my faith in the Catholic Church from my boyhood years. I was exposed to the duties and work of the clergy early in my grade school days because my father chose a parish priest to be my godfather in baptism.

It was the weekly religious activities in school (Blessed Imeldas Academy) and in the cathedral that made me think that I had the vocation to join the clergy, be a priest. I even learned that serving as an altar boy during a Holy Mass was far more meaningful than having the privilege to raise or lower the flag during the school’s flag ceremony.

I saw how my father deeply respected and collaborated with then Bishop Mariano Madriaga in church’s activities in the 50s-60s till my father died in 1966. They were so close that the bishop took it upon himself to perpetuate my father’s memory with a death mask, just like he did for my sister, Karina when she passed away two years earlier.

I had the privilege of collaborating with Archbishop Oscar Cruz in his advocacy to eliminate jueteng in the country.  He understood more than anyone how jueteng was slowly killing the moral fiber and foundation of families. We never talked politics, all he wanted was to save families from the clutches of jueteng lords.  Soon we had an ally in Senator Ping Lacson who shared his advocacy in 2006 thereabouts and initiated a senate investigation into jueteng operations and the accompanying corruption. Except for exposing some known jueteng lords, we never got farther than that. Then he retired.  I miss him.

Today, I’m seeing an archdiocese I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. Under Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the archdiocese has transformed into a militant organization that uses teachings of Christ in a perverted way, dishonoring Romans 13, Verse 1-14 – Submissions to the Authorities. 

I first began to suspect Fr. Soc’s intent on playing politics when he filled the St. John Cathedral one morning during the 2016 campaign period with seminarians, students and teachers of catholic schools ostensibly to witness the graduation of 13 major seminarians, but in fact to hear then VP candidate Leni Robredo deliver her campaign spiel. Yes, the cathedral was used for a political rally!

I thought that was just one misguided political event by the archdiocese. I was naive.

Soon after Rodrigo Duterte was proclaimed winner, I began to see Fr. Soc in his political armor in social media out to do battle for “good governance.” Little did I know that his political agenda was to help destabilize the government under the guise of his “Truth, Justice and Peace” mantra. (Notice no mention of God’s love and mercy!) But he was not the least coy in his series of pastoral letters read in all churches, denouncing EJKs, lambasting the government, mouthing every word blasted by the LP leaders. I was even shocked to learn from news reports that he allowed the archdiocese’s seminary in San Fabian to be used as a safe house for “witnesses” lined up in senate investigations launched by then Senator Antonio Trillanes contra President Duterte.

Last week, shortly after he was finally named as a suspect with 35 others, charged for sedition and cyber libel, he bused seminarians, nuns and catholic school students to the cathedral to attend his scripted “Candle lighting ceremony of our Archbishop” followed by a procession around the city streets with streamers and placards carried by chanting seminarians (obviously beholden by vow of obedience) denouncing the charges and proclaiming support for him.

But that was not enough. He ordered the tolling of church bells in the archdioceses to make it known that in his turf he has the support for his political war with the Duterte government. (It’s actually the second time that church bells were made to ring out for him since he made known his hatred for the Duterte administration).

No doubt, Fr. Soc is not only media and internet savvy but an astute political organizer as well. He certainly would have given even the likes of former Sen. Bam Aquino a run for his money but that he had to do it as an archbishop grated nerves. It surely doesn’t seem to bother him that he has politicized the archdiocese. I can only wonder how much has been spent by the archdiocese so far for his forays in politics. The production of the clean and clear printed layouts for placards and the tarpaulins that carried his colored prayerful image could be no less that what politicians spend for their impact rallies and social media campaign.     

I sincerely wonder how many more of parishioners in the archdiocese grieve with me today on seeing the archdiocese being used for the personal political agenda of a bishop who knows no accountability to his flock.

I humbly seek the God’s forgiveness for calling out Fr. Soc, being a politician holding a crosier.  

*                *                *                *                *

MAKING KAPITAN ACCOUNTABLE FINALLY. Finally, the DILG is making barangay chairmen accountable through the mayors! And for the first time, we have a police provincial director making our barangay chairmen accountable for illegal gambling in their communities! 

For too long, I’ve wondered whether the barangay chairmen are allowed by law to turn their communities into their private fiefdom. They have not even made accountable for the presence of illegal drug trade in their barangays yet it is public and common knowledge that nothing ever happens in the barangay without the kapitan knowing about it.

The illegal occupation of sidewalks and streets by vendors, shops and stores have long been a profitable venture for the kapitan and his cohorts. But note that the clearing of the illegally occupied public areas is in fact the easiest thing but difficult to do. Easy because nobody argues with the kapitan when it comes to the enforcement of ordinance, even if he is selective. But he has to make that difficult decision to let go of a profit center that keeps his adrenalin going.

It’s the order of P/Col. Rederico Maranan as Pangasinan PNP director, that is the ultimate test for the kapitan. Clearing of sidewalks is a cinch, no real sweat off his back, but to make him/her stop jueteng kobradores, neighborhood mahjong, bingo, pusoy, tong-its, and worse, drug pushers is a nightmare for the kapitan. Illegal gambling is the kapitan’s cash cow, much like the what the tollways, water and electricity are to corporations.  It’s what drives most kapitans and wannabes to keep that position.

I sure hope Col. Maranan means what he said about making our kapitans accountable and responsible. May the Force be with him because I am aware that as I write this item, a thousand are already praying for his reassignment to another post.

Godspeed Colonel! Make your mark in Pangasinan for good governance!

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