“Do not bully anyone. Do not use your power to disrespect others. Do not use your power to coerce others.”
--Manila Archbishop, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle
“They say I shouldn’t threaten Bishop Tagle. When have I ever done that?”
It must be no coincidence that both use pulpits for their pronouncements.
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle uses the pulpit literally when he delivers a homily. But even an off-pulpit statement from him or his office is spread by the church network and by media. He and what he says are newsworthy.
President Duterte doesn’t have to use a pulpit to be heard. Whatever he says, inane or earth-shaking, is reported by media to the nation and the world. An American president, Theodore Roosevelt, said his office was a “bully pulpit,” which provides him the “opportunity to speak out and be listened to.”
Jokes, not threats
Duterte didn’t deny the power of his pulpit or that his office is one big platform. He just said he did not threaten Tagle. When the President said last Dec. 5, “Kill bishops, all they do is criticize,” that must not be a threat. A joke, said his spokesman Salvador Panelo. His suggestion last Nov. 26 that Caloocan bishop Pablo Virgilio David was himself into drugs, must not be a threat to have him liquidated, another joke.
The quarrel is not over whether both the church leader and the government chief have pulpits, from where each can hurl or unleash words that sting or bite. Duterte’s pulpit, particularly, does not kill, despite the occasional mention of “blood flow” and “kill” in his pronouncements. But, it must not escape our notice, his words prod, push, agitate and excite.
How much has hate speech contributed to the climate of violence and impunity in the country?
What is preached
In contrast, how much have gospels about love and faith helped appease anger and calmed the fury?
The bishops cannot be said to have made a habit of using the pulpit to incite parishioners to do anything other than what their religion espouses. Most homilies deal with love of neighbor, fear of God, respect for elders and civil authority, and maybe more generosity to the parish church. The occasional maverick who strays, like that priest who at mass berated the dead teenager who committed suicide, is promptly called out by church superiors or his own flock.
There’s the difference on the matter of audience attention and response. Parishioners may walk out on a priest’s sermon that is abusive or disrespectful to anyone and castigate the man of the cloth publicly.
But they politely stay when it’s the President who curses and rages. Duterte shamed retired police general and Daanbantayan Mayor Vic Loot and Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña, separately and repeatedly, and most of the audience cheered or laughed. The few others who chose to be quiet did not boo or walk away.
Which pulpit has greater capacity to inflict harm?
Which is the more devastating bully if the occupant chooses to use it to embarrass and demonize enemies and entertain the audience at the same time?
Each pulpit is devised by the organization—government or church—for the high purpose it seeks to achieve. The purpose, sadly, is at times subverted even by the high leader: cardinal or president.