IN THE May 10 evening newscasts, Executive Secretary Eddie Ermita expressed his personal opinion in favor of banning the movie “The Da Vinci Code” from exhibition. Ermita was fair enough to clarify that his position was a personal one and should not reflect on the government’s final position on the movie version of the Dan Brown bestseller.
However, Ermita’s statement may in reality be a trial balloon and a fishing expedition directed at the hierarchy of the Catholic Church -- more specifically, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. With all the problems of the Gloria Arroyo regime, I don’t see why Eddie Ermita should be delving into The Da Vinci Code in a conference with the Malacañang Press Corps.
Filipinos are hungrier. Gas prices are threatening to transform an already difficult situation into a desperate one for majority of Filipinos, the conditions that promote violent upheavals. Arroyo is having her worst negative ratings, concomitant with the increasing misery of the people. The Armed Forces of the Philippines keeps telegraphing signals of continued division in its ranks and the persistent threat of another adventurer on horseback emerging to grab power.
The Da Venecia Code, as text-message jokers have called Charter change, or “Cha Cha” (in deference to House Speaker Jose de Venecia, Cha Cha’s biggest promoter), regardless if by Con Ass or a bogus people’s initiative, would be the greater concern of Ermita. The Da Venecia Code and not The Da Vinci Code is what Eddie Ermita’s boss, Madame Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, is pinning her hopes on for finishing her term in 2010 and possibly extend her hold on power.
I would be the last to be surprised if that Ermita comment on The Da Vinci Code was indeed a trial balloon. I, for one, suspect that the sudden “kindness” of Gloria Arroyo for death row convicts -- granting all of them a reprieve by commuting their sentences to life imprisonment -- was meant to woo the Catholic Church, soften their stand against Charter change and weaken their resistance to her regime. The repeal of the death penalty has long been the crusade of the Catholic Church. It is a good chip to bring to the bargaining table.
In a previous column (“Impact of recent events,” April 29, 2006), I wrote that three of the major players who made the 1986 People Power uprising happen -- the Catholic Church, the big businessmen and the US -- are now converging on the side of political forces clamoring for Arroyo to step down. Of the three, the most to fear insofar as Arroyo is concerned would be the Catholic Church.
The Catholic Church enjoys the moral high ground, an area where Arroyo is most vulnerable especially after the Supreme Court confirmed the high-handed and dictatorial aspects of her “calibrated preemptive response” (CPR) policy on protest rallies and repressive policies under Presidential Proclamation 1017.
While the Catholic Church will be merely protecting the flock from state terrorism and abuse of authority, Arroyo is largely seen as one who is usurping presidential power through illegal and non-democratic means.
To the big businessmen and the US, Arroyo can claim that it is a conflict of interests -- that of hers and theirs -- and no group in such an equation enjoys the moral high ground. But it is not quite the same with the Catholic Church.
Both the big businessmen and the US government do not have the power of the Catholic Church to mobilize, especially when the issue is a moral one. The big businessmen and the US have the capability to activate forces that can upset the status quo, the military for one, but they do not have the direct command that the Catholic Church enjoys over the people.
The Catholic Church may not appear as effective when it favors one candidate over another in an election, which is why some political analysts say there is no such thing as a Catholic vote. However, that is not the same situation when the Catholic Church takes a strong stand on a moral issue, as when it denounces and confirms that a regime is repressive and oppressive. It is in instances like these when the Catholic faithful listen to the bishops and the priests, believing that these are merely fulfilling their role as men of the cloth.
The administration’s fear of the Catholic Church as an institution goes beyond the Church stand against Charter change. It centers on Arroyo’s continued residence in Malacañan Palace. Arroyo still enjoys other options if and when Charter change is scuttled. There is still tenure in Malacañang even after Cha Cha.
But when the Catholic Church takes an active stance to call for the removal of her regime, it would be a political earthquake of such magnitude that will tend to create shock waves across many other important sectors. The impact will be felt in both local and international circles and power support bases.
As it is, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has been taking a lot of anti-administration positions ever since the new CBCP president, Bishop Angel Lagdameo, took over the helm from Bishop Fernando Capalla. Other than their campaign against the “jueteng” illegal numbers game and its legalized counterpart, the Small Town Lottery (STL), the Catholic Church has been actively denouncing state repression and the manipulation of the truth.
Now they are clamoring for the full disclosure of the Mayuga Report and the Senate’s investigation on the Fertilizer Scam. Both reports carry tremendous implications on Arroyo’s political survival.
Both reports are linked to the suspected stealing of the 2004 presidential election by Madame Arroyo. The Mayuga Report implicates military officers in the election cheating in Mindanao, and the Fertilizer Scam Report traces the misuse of large amounts of public funds that are suspected to have oiled that cheating.
Unfortunately for the Arroyo regime, the Catholic Church is not inclined to have The Da Vinci Code movie banned. Even the Opus Dei, which has been placed in very bad light in the Dan Brown fiction, is in favor of exhibiting the movie here and allowing the public to judge if the assertions are indeed true.
Both the Catholic Church and the Opus Dei realize that banning the movie would be counterproductive and would just give a work of fiction a semblance of truth that vested interests want to suppress. Arroyo’s father, President Diosdado Macapagal banned the Ferdinand Marcos movie “Iginuhit ng Tadhana” [“Written by Fate”] during the 1965 presidential election campaign and that only made more people want to watch it.
Gloria Arroyo would do well to learn from that wise decision of the Catholic Church and the Opus Dei. She should cease repressing the truth and harassing those who espouse the truth through the filing of baseless libel charges and other acts that constitute press suppression.
You may e-mail William M. Esposo at: firstname.lastname@example.org.