GENERAL SANTOS CITY, April 23, 2014 – President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III delivered to the nation two messages in four days – one, his Lenten Message on Maundy Thursday; the other, his Easter Message on Easter Sunday. In reality, behind their religious facades, the first was a socio-political exhortation; the other a state of the nation address.
The sham becomes more evident if ranged against Pope Francis’ Easter Message, ‘Urbi et Orbi’ (Latin for to the city and to the world). The Pope related the good news of the Resurrection told by an angel to the women at Jesus’ empty tomb; explained the meaning of the Resurrection and its essentiality to the Christian Church and Faith; then in prayers petitioned the resurrected Christ to help Christians strengthen their faith, to give comfort to the sick and to those suffering from hunger, to end wars, terrorism and to bring peace and justice – mentioning the nations in need.
President Aquino III recalled the Passion and Resurrection of Christ then reverted to analogies – the suffering of the Filipino people to the suffering of Christ; his “Daang Matuwid” to the life chosen by Christ; and his acclaimed socioeconomic recovery and socio-political reforms to the resurrection. Vice President Jejomar Binay and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte joined in.
“If Jesus Christ was able to sacrifice himself, the people should also be willing to make their own sacrifices,” INQUIRER.net stated in gist the President’s Lenten message from Tagalog, “Aquino to public: Learn to sacrifice”, in its April 17 posting.
His core message is in three paragraphs. Translated from Tagalog:
“May the love that Jesus Christ has shown us serve as our inspiration. This love gave strength to His disciples to continue the good work. This love is our guide, as Christians, to face our many challenges and this will serve as the light of Christians in the future.
“As we travel the ‘Straight Path’ (Daang Matuwid), we are confronted by many challenges. The call [of Christ] to us: As His followers, may we also be ready to accept [make] our own sacrifices. It is certain all our sacrifices will have positive contribution to the good of all. Isn’t it that what is being asked of us is so small compared to what Jesus Christ has given? (Emphasis supplied)
“May we not forget to be humble, to have concern and toss care for others and to do the righteous not just during the Holy Week. Our meditations and prayers prepare us to follow the examples of Christ in our lifetime.”
What is wrong with the President’s imploring his people to imitate Christ? Yet, in a report by INQUIRER.net (April 17, 2014: Netizens seethe over Aquino’s ‘sacrifice’ message) many reacted angrily. They accused the President of “adding insult to injury” by asking the Filipinos, particularly the poor to sacrifice more, when they had been sacrificing much for so long; for having not tasted the bitterest of sacrifices; for knowing nothing of what most people are going through every day – all these while elected and high government officials and their families live lavishly “beyond their means” on “their loot and bonuses”.
Some twitted the President for deceiving them about his “Daang Matuwid” – expressing hope the corrupt politicians would do penance and sacrifices for the welfare of those in need.
In his Easter Message, also in Tagalog, the President exhorted the Filipinos to unite in the celebration of Easter, keeping in mind how Christ redeemed man from sin and how His Resurrection gave light to the world and strengthened the Faith of many. Then he quoted the Scripture about how the Apostle Thomas doubted the Resurrection but believed when Christ appeared to the apostles huddled in fear and beckoned Thomas to see and touch His wounds.
Then he likened the life of Christ, His Resurrection, to the “resurrection” of the Philippines under his presidency. His message translated from Tagalog:
“Like the path chosen by Jesus Christ to travel by, our country stood [by the path it has chosen – the ‘Daang Matuwid’] and rose from grave wrongs and adversities. The people’s faith in government has returned. Justice, again in blindfolds, has punished the wrongdoers no matter how rich or powerful.” (Emphasis supplied – analogous to the Resurrection strengthening the Faith of many.)
Then he proclaims the benefits of the country’s “resurrection” under his stewardship:
“The economy continues to prosper; the social services continue to expand.” As examples, he cited millions of beneficiaries from the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino (Conditional Cash Transfer) Program and thousands of TESDA scholars with high percentage of employment; quality education in the public schools and the sufficiency of desks, books and classroom; and housing for police, the soldiers and squatters – noting these to be just a few among the many.
Obviously, he alluded to some critics of his programs and the country’s recovery as the doubting Thomases: “We thank those who believe and continue to believe; and so, too, those who first doubted and now are contributing to our good agenda.”
His assurance: “Rest assured that within the remaining years of our term, the more we will strengthen our [democratic] institutions, the more crooks will be prosecuted, the faster our economy will grow, the more our services will increase and intensify, and the higher will be the quality of life of our people.”
Toward the end of his message, his reminder of Christ: “Let’s remember: Jesus Christ passed through many severe sufferings. Instead of giving up, He accepted them all fully to give us the opportunity to have eternal life [in Heaven]. And His challenge: “This is His challenge to us as His followers: That we give the utmost importance to his gift, the means to renounce evil and attain the Kingdom of God. In the face of many trials, hardships or prosperity, may we always live up to His sublime teaching – to do what is right, to love and to care for our neighbors.”
He ends his message with reference to the state of the nation and a promise of what more he will do before his presidency ends:
“It is clear: Because of our concern for one another, the future of our country is bright. As your president, our term has a limit. Yet, it is our duty to continue the good we have started and make permanent the reforms our people are enjoying. This we want the majority of our people to feel assured: either now or after our term, the opportunities for the people will remain and increase. We will take full advantage of these opportunities; in our hands are the keys to total progress.”
Vice President Jejomar Binay and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., in their own Easter messages, joined the President in exhorting the nation (The Philippine Star, April 20, 2014: Continue treading the right path – Noy).
Binay urged Filipinos to reflect on the sacrifices made by Jesus Christ and to be of service to others. “Let us be men and women for others, as Christ teaches us. This, I believe, is a trait that is crucial if we are to succeed in building a nation that is not only progressive but more importantly, bound by love and peace.”
Belmonte Jr. said that Easter, a time for renewal for every Filipino and for all Filipinos as a nation, “follows a week of soul searching on the various roles we play as members of a family, of a work force or as citizens of this nation. Whatever difficulties we face today are like seeds, which [will] eventually grow into strength and evolve into the success of our pursuits. While we look inward and celebrate this salvation we have received, let us likewise make Easter a time of renewal as one people, as well as a time of rebuilding hope for ourselves and for the bright future we aspire for the Philippines.”
The Pope and the heads of archdioceses and dioceses issue Christmas and Easter messages addressed to their flocks reminding them of the significance of these Feasts and expressing love and solicitude for others outside their flocks. We stand to be corrected. We don’t remember any Pope or Archbishop or Bishop issuing a Lenten message. Lent is for reflection on the Passion of Christ. We were surprised to read Aquino III’s Lenten Message and the report about it.
Heads of state and of various levels of government may issue Christmas and Easter messages – if they are Christians and to highlight the significance and spirit of the occasions. When occasions call, they may include prayers or wishes for special concerns.
As excerpted by Philippine Star, the Easter messages of Vice President Binay and Speaker Blemonte Jr. only dwelt on what Filipinos may do in the spirit of Easter. They were proper.
Can the same be said of President Aquino III’s Lenten and Easter messages? Behind their religious facades, the real messages are apologies for the socio-political state of the country. Rappler.com (April 20, 2014) said it correctly in its subhead “The President likens Christ’s life to the Philippines’ development from a struggling economy to one of the promising in the region.” To the angry netizens the President’s call for sacrifice was to cover up the Metro Manila people’s complaints about hardship in transportation, power, water services, etc.
Read closely his Easter Message. Some analogies verge on blasphemy; some are hypocritical. In likening the “recovery” of the country “under him” to the sacrifice and Resurrection of Christ that Thomas – also likened to his critics — doubted, is Aquino III not likening himself to Christ? What is the point in asking the Filipinos to reflect and follow Christ during Lent and Easter when Government and its top officials starting from the President forget, deny and defy Christ the rest of the year? [“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You may e-mail your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org]