The Lent season is upon us and life is once again reliving the past. The Lenten season is about sacrifices, repentance, grief, and renewal. In forty days, Christians around the world will engage in such rituals towards self-cleansing by fasting from sins. The drama heightens during the holy week when the passion of the Christ is revisited and replayed. All these efforts of austerity lead to happiness and promise of a new life on Easter when Christ is raised from the dead.
Current events in the Philippines today, a predominantly Catholic country, reminds us that Lent is very much underway with talks of betrayal and spiritual awakening. In older and modern times, Judas Iscariot symbolized and continues to symbolize both betrayal and spiritual awakening. First he betrayed his master for a few silvers but then supposedly realized his “treachery” and promptly returned the coins to Pontius Pilate before hanging himself in remorse. There are so many Judas Iscariots in our midst today and the recent congressional vote in the Philippine Congress on the restoration of the death penalty proves this point.
Without much fanfare and deliberations, the final tally on the 3rd and Final Reading for House Bill 4727 was 217 (yes)-54 (no)-1 (abstained). Thirty-six legislators played it safe and were elsewhere outside of the Batasan and therefore absent during the voting. Among those who voted “no” were three well-known women: former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, movie star and former governor Vilma Santos Recto, and Imelda Romualdez Marcos, former First Lady and the only Imeldific as well as 51 other congressmen who stood their ground. The three women’s stand could cost them their key posts in the chamber or on committee assignments but nevertheless, they have secured their lofty positions in the eyes of the Catholic Church and among millions of women celebrating Women International Day.
Camarines Sur 1st District freshman Gabe Bordado alluded to the Catholic influence within his district where Naga City, the seat of the Archdiocese of Caceres and the Our Lady of Penafrancia National Shrine are located to punctuate his vote. However, his stand only exposed the eroding clout of the Catholic Church among the legislators especially those representing Ecclesiastical Provinces of the Church like Cebu, Capiz, Cagayan de Oro, Davao, Lingayen-Dagupan and others. In Camarines Sur, Congressmen Noli Fuentebella and LRey Villafuerte both ducked the vote while Rolando Andaya Jr, whose district includes the Diocese of Libmanan voted “no.” Before the vote, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez made it known those who vote “no” will be stripped of their positions or committee chairmanships and kicked-out of the super majority. The threat implied money and power for those who vote for the restoration of the death penalty.
The truism that majority of Filipino Catholics in the Philippines are conflicted by their support for PDU30’s bloody purge in the illegal drug trade while being ambivalent when it comes to the death penalty perhaps confound what clearly is a Catholic duty to protect the sanctity of life. Perhaps knowing that most if not all of those who will be nailed to the cross (whether through the death chamber or EKJ alley), if you will, will be poor Filipinos anyway who lack the means to put up a strong legal defense for obvious reasons, adds to the hesitation and resignation. With majority of Catholics breaking away from the Catholic Church’s on these matters tells of the Church’s late and lukewarm response or was not active enough in cajoling legislators to toe the Catholic Church’s line.
And so with the black ashes still evident on their foreheads, over 200 Judases at the Batasan betrayed humanity for money and power. It was not a kiss that gave away their votes but it was either the powerful “AYE” or simply rising to the call of the Speaker. The devil incarnate himself was in celebratory mood as more blood will flow.
But the story of Lent is just beginning and the death penalty vote is just the down payment to a protracted battle to rid the country of perceived or real undesirables legally or otherwise. One such battle occurred at the Philippine Senate. Police Officer Arthur Lascañas now retired had a change of heart regarding his previous testimony at the Senate last year. On his encore appearance, Lascañas recanted his Senate testimony and admitted to being the leader of the dreaded Davao Death Squad and this time, he pointed a nasty finger to the president as the mastermind. The Pontius Pilates of the Senate, however, would have none of it and branded the retired police officer as a liar and heretic and cannot be trusted. Leading the charge was a bible toting senator even tried to hold Lascañas in contempt but a whisper from another Pilato made him retract his motion. Not to be outdone, another member of the Sanhedrin - a Jesus is Lord Movement acolyte and himself mired in the PDAF controversy belittled Lascañas’ testimony as sour grapes because DU30 allegedly turned down Lascañas request to have his own STL franchise in Mindanao.
The senate Pilates belonging to the majority were in unison proclaiming that Lascañas lied during the last hearing without probably realizing that the recanted lie actually bolstered another self-confessed DDS killer, Edgar Matobato who named Lascañas as the guy who they were reporting to for kill orders. When Lascañas disavowed knowledge of what Matobato was talking about, it impeached Matobato’s testimony and branded it hearsay. Lascañas turnaround, however, means that Matobato’s testimony last year now stand unimpeached.
Lascañas’ “spiritual awakening” was not enough to convince the majority senators who were outfoxed earlier by LP senators masquerading as members of the majority stacked their votes to hold a hearing for Lascañas. But the betrayal was also met by another betrayal. Yes, the minority senators were successful in having the hearing but the outcome was already predetermined. First, the masqueraders were stripped naked of their important committee chairmanships and relegated to the minority role. Then, the coup de grais was delivered by the famous boxer masquerading as a senator when he moved to end the hearing for good. Even if other names were mentioned by Lascañas other than DU30 and the PNP chief De la Rosa then Davao Chief of Police, no follow up hearings are forthcoming unless Lascañas can point to a specific passage in the bible that supports his theoretical spiritual awakening. For Senator Manny Pacquiao, his conversion from being a sinner, liar, womanizer, gambler, and drug user to an upright senator is the only model worthy of recognition from the honorable senators. No amount of specificity on the kill details will be accepted unless Lascañas becomes a convict first, jailed at the Bilibid second, and picked by Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre for special perks. Meeting these conditions will greatly enhance Lascañas DDS testimony and will be accepted as gospel truth by the senators.
For now, Lascañas and his handlers have less than 40 days to work on his resurrection. Likewise, the Catholic Church will similarly have these many days to get the senators to see the light of spiritual awakening. Will they follow the path of Judas or find inspiration from Lascañas epiphany?