BERN, Switzerland (MindaNews / 30 June) — Going through new Facebook posts, it seems to me that the million-peso propaganda machine is being cranked up again. And the target this time is the Catholic church. The church is being vilified for its excesses in material wealth; for its erring priests and their superiors’ protection of them; for the bishops’ “too political” comments (as opposed to talking about strictly religious matters);  for the church’s institutions indifferent to the poor and marginalized,  and other charges.

There has never been an administration which has attacked the church this much. I noticed that the social media posts increased soon after Duterte amped his verbal attacks on the church, criticizing abusive priests and bishops and even questioning Catholic doctrine in many public events where he speaks as the President.

But first, what ticked off the President about the church? Among others, the church has spoken out against human rights abuses in the “drugs war”; the rise of political domination and the threat of tyranny; continuing social injustice resulting from more taxes and the increased prices of goods; and the attacks on free speech, the media and the people of the church itself.

Instead of addressing these issues, pro-government social media websites and networks are now directing attacks on the church’s excesses and failures. Granted that the church commits and still fails to reform its failures and omissions, posts on Facebook are simply repeating ad hominem fallacies—attacking the church instead of presenting answers to why this government is faltering.

A majority of the comments misunderstand the doctrine of the separation of the church and state. They believe that the church and state are two mutually disparate concepts. A refrain that I often read is this: “Let the priests lead the church; let Duterte lead the nation”.

But why should not the church speak out on social justice and human rights and solidarity with the poor? These are in the Catholic doctrines, in the Bible and in the various church documents over the years embracing social concepts and the church’s responsibility. Priests and nuns participated in the rallies in EDSA against political dictatorship; in the anti-corruption and impeachment trials of the next administrations; in human rights protests against slain journalists and activists and community leaders; and all over the 30-odd years after EDSA, in multisectoral protests against poverty and the rights of the poor. There were religious guarding our ballots and protecting our votes before and after ESDA. There are church communities now helping to protect the environment. Why should they be prevented now from carrying out their accepted mission?

Dahil lang ba sinabi ni Duterte bilang pangulo ng bayan na huwag makialam ang simbahan sa gawaing pang-gobyerno?

The separation of church and state inscribed in our constitution simply describes our state as a secular state, that is, that government cannot impose any religion or any religious practice on the Filipinos as a people. The state should be neutral on matters of belief, is what the constitution simply says. To attack the church now for its political involvement is a fallacy; it is an argument done already after the fact and it attacks the individual freedom even of the religious to express their opinion and beliefs.

The President himself may be violating this secularism concept when he says that we should not believe what the priests and bishops (and nuns) say; or when he attacks the concept of the god or the church that we believe in; or when he sells the idea of his own church (even in a joking manner).

Are we in another spin period? The ongoing World Cup and the drama embracing free kicks inspires this thought in me: Eyes on the ball and shut your ears to the noise in the stadium. And focus.

(Mindanawon Abroad is MindaNews’ effort to link up with Mindanawons overseas who would like to share their thoughts about their home country and their experiences in their adopted countries. Brady Eviota wrote and edited for the now defunct Media Mindanao News Service in Davao and also for the SunStar Cagayan de Oro. He  is from Surigao City and now lives in Bern, the Swiss capital located near the Bernese Alps)