During the early years of his television program, I chanced upon Bro. Mike Velarde while switching channels. That first time I saw him on television he looked to me like an amateur comic doing a spoof on evangelists – bobbing up and down the stage and barking “Hay-men! Hay-men! Hah-leh-loh-yah.”
For reasons known only to God, people like Brother Mike and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo form part of divine design, a case of God writing straight with crooked lines. By recognizing what’s wrong with the picture, the flock gets a better appreciation and hence a deeper learning of what is right and good.
Witnessing regime after regime of traditional politics culminating in the present distressing rule of Macapagal-Arroyo – only served to prove to Filipinos beyond reasonable doubt that this system will never work. We have gone past the stage of trying to make the system work by seeking personalities who can do the magic trick. The fact is people are darn tired of the ‘seen that, done that’ routine of Philippine politics which has rendered the poor increasingly more wretched and the rich, even more entrenched.
Before Brother Mike, only the Iglesia ni Kristo (INK) showed a semblance of delivering the so-called religious vote. But the INK did not bother us that much because the INK happens to be a religious minority and because there had hardly been any instance when the INK had flagrantly abused its command vote leverage beyond the normal realm of our patronage system. We knew that the INK gets concessions for its support of winning politicians but these tradeoffs have not been known to result in anything grossly disadvantageous to the country.
But because Brother Mike is touted to be some kind of an extension of the Catholic Church, it goes without saying that serious and good thinking Catholics have all the right to raise questions about anything that seems to run counter to their core beliefs and moral foundations. Certainly, creating a political fiefdom from El Shaddai is tantamount to the offense of adoring the Golden Calf.
The Catholic faithful has all the right to ask why on earth the Church needs a Brother Mike when it has its own hierarchy that has survived centuries of challenges, from Attila the Hun all the way to the present assaults by religious extremists. I regard the Brother Mike phenomenon itself as cause for serious concern in that our Philippine Catholic Church may be compromising the very integrity and soundness of its own precepts by cooperating with one whose doctrinal foundations and real intent are questioned even by members of the priesthood. One of them is running priest Fr. Robert Reyes, SJ who said last week on GMA Network’s 24 Oras that he sees Velarde as a businessman (which is an understatement for not seeing Velarde as the evangelist that he purports to be).
Four years ago, when I was still chairman of COPA, I had a discussion with Bishop Ted Bacani in the house of my dear friend Cherry Zapanta. I had then broached to him my misgivings about having Brother Mike operating freely under the wings of the Catholic Church. I frankly told Bishop Bacani that for one who had once wanted to be a Jesuit and one who continues to be serious and concerned about my faith, I saw nothing in Brother Mike that could serve the purposes of evangelization, much less provide enlightenment to the faithful. And yet, the Catholic bishops and the rest of its hierarchy had sheepishly allowed Velarde to arrogate unto himself the mission of shepherding the flock.
Velarde draws mass amusement by adopting showbiz antics and gimmickry. He found a gold mine in doing ‘magic’ acts which included ‘casting spells’ on inverted umbrellas and swaying handkerchiefs. This gimmickry cannot be expected to segue to deeper discussions of faith and morals or instill deeper spiritual values of prayerful piety that will render meaning to the words of Jesus Christ: “Whatsoever you ask the Father in my name, He shall grant it you.” For the Catholic faithful, divine providence comes through the intercession of Christ or His assigns like the saints, Mary and His clergy. Divine providence, in other words, can never come from an illusionist’s bag of tricks.
What Velarde does is to deliver a very long homily and adds to this his showbiz gimmicks. By giving its blessings to Brother Mike, the Philippine Catholic Church may actually be committing a grave disrespect to the principles of the Catholic faith itself. In a way, it also unwittingly demeans the true merit, works and worth of the great Catholic luminaries of our time such as Chiara Lubich of the Focolare Movement and Saint Josemaria Escriva of the Opus Dei.
Those who do manifest spiritual and healing gifts will not want to give in to the lure of money and materialism, the antithesis to spirituality. Yet Velarde has raked in millions of pesos worth of small change from millions of trusting little folks, the fruit of Velarde’s labor. To this day, huge amounts are unaccounted for. Opponents of the Catholic Church have gone to town insinuating that Philippine Church leaders share in these unaccounted contributions, a sad commentary on the state of our corrupt society, indeed.
When the frustrated Jesuit in me confronted Bishop Bacani for what I consider a clear usurpation of functions rightfully vested for men of the Church, Bishop Bacani was then the assigned pastor of El Shaddai. This was another instance that projects Catholic Church official sanction for the activities of Velarde. The impeachment trial of Joseph “Erap” Estrada already started and Mike Velarde was trying to move heaven and earth to save Estrada from impending ouster.
Now, Velarde wants to broker a deal to save President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from the same fate that befell Estrada. Estrada got the axe for plunder. Macapagal-Arroyo faces a similar ouster for allegedly stealing the 2004 elections. Outside the courts however, a wide range of other alleged crimes hound her and her closest of kin and this has made its imprint on people’s minds and hearts. From her very first days in office in 2001, scandals have rocked Macapagal-Arroyo’s regime one after another. In the court of public opinion, she has been impeached many times over.
So what business does Mike Velarde have brokering a deal between two such controversial figures in contemporary Philippine history? A coalition government combining two failed presidents cannot produce an improvement to the sorry state of affairs in the country. With Velarde under its wings, is the Catholic Church aware that it will be party to sealing the contract that will likely lead to our national perdition?
Estrada capitalized on the memory and illusion of his protagonist movie roles and his washed-out appearance by projecting himself as the champion of the poor (para sa mahirap). Gloria M. Arroyo exploited the prevailing miserable economic conditions (which she herself largely caused) and the relative lack of education and experience of her main contender, Fernando Poe Jr., by claiming herself to be the country’s ‘last, best hope’. But the curtains have been drawn and the illusion has faded for both Estrada and Arroyo. They have disgraced themselves and people want only to see the day when they will be rid of this national nightmare.
But lo and behold, along comes Mike Velarde – proposing a coalition government that will unite the two presidents who brought the country to its worst economic and moral crises. Claiming to be backed by the El Shaddai numbers, Velarde now has the nerve to invoke his right to intercede in the affairs of State. And yet the so-called command vote of El Shaddai, which Velarde claims he enjoys, has long been debunked by recent elections and borne out by scientifically-derived data.
The SWS demystified the so-called El Shaddai religious vote during the 1998 presidential elections in which Estrada won:
“That the only significant religious votes were those of Iglesia ni Kristo members, who went 81% for Erap, and Muslims, who gave him 63%.”
“That the charismatics who truly supported Erap were Jesus Is Lord (JIL) who gave him 52%, whereas El Shaddai only gave him 39%, the same as the national average.”
In other words, Velarde’s so-called El Shaddai command votes were indistinguishable from the national average, which is also the predominantly Catholic vote. In contrast, the INK, Muslims and JIL distinctly delivered Erap votes on a scale perceptibly higher than the national average. Yet Velarde continues to peddle the illusion of the mythical El Shaddai command vote as the basis for his claim to political fiefdom.
By himself Velarde delivers nothing. To claim otherwise is to expose the mark of the false prophet. The true spiritual healers know deep inside they are but instruments of Divine Love and Mercy. The true spiritual healers will never claim ownership of their powers. When people flock to worship and pray, they seek to make a connection with the Divine. Anyone who nurtures the illusion that they are the objects of worship themselves just because they happen to be on the altar saying Holy Mass or on stage delivering speeches and mouthing ritualistic clichés is a false prophet.
In the same light, no one delivered the mammoth crowd that met the late Pope John Paul II during his visit here on World Youth Day in the mid-1990. They came because they loved and wanted to see the charismatic Pope. His Holiness’ presence delivered its own crowd.
Again, the question – why is the Philippine Catholic Church allowing this? How can a Church that stands for truth and promotes honest dealings countenance these patently political actions of one who operates under its authority? The CBCP carefully charted its position with regards the demand for Macapagal-Arroyo’s resignation and ouster. And yet there is no censure for one who operates under its wings for attempting to form a coalition government between two failed presidents largely-perceived as thieves.
Is the Catholic Church afraid of losing its members who are amongst the El Shaddai flock? There would have been no El Shaddai flock had the Catholic Church not allowed Velarde to operate under its wings in the first place. Had the Catholic Church avoided any involvement with Velarde from the very start, he would be in no better plight than the smart alecky Ely Soriano of Ang Dating Daan or that other foolhardy evangelist Wilde Almeda of the Jesus Miracle Crusade who thought his group could just walk into the lair of the Abu Sayyaf ‘to pray over and soften the hearts of the hostage taker’. (He and his men ended up in the holding pen with the original kidnap victims.)
Surely, the CBCP (Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines) is aware of the liberties and abuse done to its own authority and influence. So what is keeping the bishops quiet?
You may email William M. Esposo at: firstname.lastname@example.org