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(Updated 1:12 p.m.) Right in front of Pope Francis, President Benigno Aquino III on Friday criticized local Roman Catholic Church leaders for their supposed silence during the past administration.
In his message during the Pope’s courtesy call in Malacañang, Aquino hit members of the Filipino clergy for supposedly tolerating “abuses” committed by his predecessor, former President now incumbent Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
“There was a true test of faith when many members of the Church, once advocates for the poor, the marginalized, and the helpless, suddenly became silent in the face of the previous administration’s abuses, which we are still trying to rectify to this very day,” the President said.
Aquino then went on to lambast local Church leaders critical of his administration.
“In contrast to their previous silence, some members of the clergy now seem to think that the way to be true to the faith means finding something to criticize, even to the extent that one prelate admonished me to do something about my hair, as if it were a mortal sin,” the President said.
“Is it any wonder then, that they see the glass not as half-full, or half-empty, but almost totally empty? Judgment is rendered without an appreciation of the facts,” he added.
Aquino, who approved the Church-opposed reproductive health law in 2012, also stood firm on giving Filipinos “freedom of choice.”
“If we do not intercede to make each person capable of exercising true freedom of choice, then we are not our brother’s keepers,” he said.
Citing Biblical scriptures, President Aquino likewise encouraged Church leaders “to be concerned with injustice in temporal matters.”
“When the Church engaged in temporal matters, it was truly working to bring the Kingdom of God apparent in this world. It was a living Church, a source of nurturing and support for the faithful,” he said.
Praises for the Pope
But towards the end of his speech, President Aquino changed his tone and shifted to praises for Pope Francis.
“I appreciate and respect Your Holiness, for your role as a unifying and revitalizing voice, not just among Catholics, but also among all peoples of goodwill,” the Philippine leader said.
He also even quipped about the “security nightmare” caused by the Pope’s decision to ride open vehicles during his five-day state and apostolic visit to the Philippines.
“Exhibiting the same humility, you eschew the trappings of your position, even to the necessary security preparations, which, I should admit, has been somewhat of a security nightmare for us,” Aquino said.
“In all seriousness, who can deny that Your Holiness is truly living the life of one who is dedicated to advocating for the oppressed and marginalized?” he added.
Pope Francis is scheduled to meet with Filipino families later this afternoon. He will fly to Leyte, a province still recovering from Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), on Saturday.
‘PHL Church shone during Martial Law era’
Before criticizing the Filipino clergy, Aquino recalled the Martial Law era, when he said local Church leaders “truly lived their faith and acted as followers of Christ in being their brothers’ keepers.”
The President said former President Ferdinand Marcos’ decision to place the Philippines under military rule triggered an era “in which the most fundamental rights of many Filipinos were flagrantly and routinely violated.”
“I had a front row seat to that tyranny and persecution. After all, the dictator wasted no time in having my father, one of his most influential and vocal opponents, imprisoned,” Aquino said.
The President's father, former Senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr., was gunned down at the tarmac of the Manila International Airport on Aug. 21, 1983 under the Marcos dictatorship. The MIA now bears his the slain Aquino's name.
Aquino's assassination triggered a series of protests that led to the EDSA People Power Revolution in 1986, which was supported by local Church leaders such as the late Jaime Cardinal Sin.
The 1986 revolt ultimately ousted Marcos and catapulted President Aquino's mother, Corazon, to the presidency.
Last September, President Aquino admitted that he wanted to exact revenge on the late strongman after Ninoy's assassination. — RSJ, GMA News