“He could be the greatest President of the Philippines if…”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/12 October) — A day after his installation as Archbishop of Davao in 1996, Fernando Capalla, now Archbishop Emeritus, received at the Bishop’s residence a visitor with a special request: “can you help my son become a religious leader?”

The visitor was Soledad Roa Duterte and the son she was referring to was Rodrigo, then into his third term as mayor of Davao City, now the 16th President of the Republic of the Philippines and the first Mindanawon to lead the nation.

Capalla, co-convenor of the Mindanao Bishops-Ulama Conference, remembers vividly how during his installation as Archbishop, the son-mayor went up the altar immediately after the mass to greet him. His first impression of the mayor and subsequent encounters with him, gave the Archbishop glimpses into the man who struck him as a “very, very humble, respectful person.”

Davao Archbishop Fernando Capella: God gave us two ears and one mouth. We have to listen twice as much a we speak. MindaNews photo by GG Bueno
Davao Archbishop Fernando Capella: God gave us two ears and one mouth. We have to listen twice as much a we speak. MindaNews photo by GG Bueno

For a couple of years – Capalla reckons around five – Mayor Duterte would be his special guest every Holy Thursday. “He would let me know that he is coming to see me at 8 o’clock in the evening….Every Holy Thursday he would come and talk about Davao….”

While residents of this predominantly Catholic city spent their Holy Thursdays on Visita Iglesia, “Visita Obispo siya (Duterte),” says Capalla, who is turning 82 next month.

He recalls how Duterte would sometimes come out in media to say “I don’t agree with the Church” on issues like reproductive health, family life, abortion, killings but in their one-on-one conversations, Duterte would say, “Bishop, when you speak as Archbishop of Davao and you teach people about the Church, I really respect you even if I don’t agree with you.”   Capalla responded, “Mayor, ako pud. If you speak as Mayor, I respect you but I will not hesitate to criticize you.”

The Archbishop said the Mayor replied, “Basta we remain as friends.”

“I was really appreciative of his sense of right and wrong,” the Archbishop said.

Capalla served as Auxiliary Bishop of Davao from 1975 to 1977, was Bishop of Iligan from 1977 to 1994, returned to this city as Bishop co-adjutor from 1994 to 1996 and was Davao Archbishop from 1996 until his retirement in 2012. Duterte was mayor from 1988 to 1998, 2001 to 2010 and 2013 to 2016. He was 1st district Representative to Congress from 1998 to 2001 and Vice Mayor to his daughter-mayor Sara from 2010 to 2013.

On November 21, 2001, Capalla issued a Pastoral Letter titled “Thou Shall Not Kill,” a letter that finally broke the silence of the Church on summary executions that had been plaguing the city and were allegedly perpetrated by vigilantes that have generally been referred to as “Davao Death Squad” or DDS.

A month before the Pastoral Letter, Duterte had read in his Sunday TV program a list of 500 persons whom he said could help the city in its campaign against illegal drugs. At least four of those on the list were killed or ended up dead within a few weeks. By November 2001, at least 150 persons had been reported to have been felled since 1995 by the DDS, a shadowy group that has been repeatedly linked to Duterte but which he has repeatedly denied.

The DDS issue, however, continues to hound Duterte, and a recent Senate hearing had self-confessed DDS hitman Edgar Matobato accusing him of founding the DDS and ordering the summary executions. Matobato, the first to testify in public about the DDS, has since been dismissed as “damaged goods” by the chair of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

MindaNews asked Duterte in a long interview in November 2001 if he was not bothered by people referring to him as “Godfather” of the DDS. His reply: “No. Because it’s not true. So if the truth will set you free, I am free because there is no such thing as a government-sponsored killing in the city.”

In 2005, streamers proclaiming “Thou shall not kill; Respect life” were displayed prominently on the facade or fences of all Catholic churches here, in protest of the spate of summary executions in the city.

In 2009, Capalla issued an Oratio Imperata (obligatory prayer) titled “Prayer for Healing of our people” where parishioners in the city were mandated to recite on bended knees after the Holy Communion, “personally and as a community” for one year starting Ash Wednesday, February 25, again because of summary killings.

As the Archbishop during the spate of summary killings here, MindaNews visited Capalla last week to share his thoughts on the Davao experience and the current situation. Excerpts:


Q. What will you say if you see President Duterte now?
A. I would mention his mother, I would say to him that what you are doing now, your mother may not like it. I’ll say also that this is not the Digong I knew.

Q. What was the Digong you knew?
A. Digong was a very, very humble respectful person .. I know he would really respect his mother and respect the church pero karon what he says about the church, it is as if he does not know what the church is all about

There are people who ask me, ‘can you put in one sentence who is Digong to you?’ To me Digong is a person who is consistent with his self contradictions. Very consistent and that is pragmatism, Digong style.

Q. You wrote a “Thou shall not kill” Pastoral Letter in 2001, had “Thou shall not kill” streamers displayed in churches of the Archdiocese in 2005 and even issued an Oratio Imperata in 2009 because of the summary killings in the city. But Mayor Duterte then said he had warned criminals to get out of the city and that he was protecting the city from criminals, drug pushers, etc.
A. I said here in this letter that “crimes like individual murder and drug pushing, though a social sin and problem, are not direct assaults on society. It therefore cannot claim to use capital punishment, much less salvaging by death squads as a form of society’s self-defense. The so-called death squads are violating both civil and moral laws and therefore are criminals themselves.”

Q, In the context today, nationwide, he says ‘you are criticizing me for alleged EJKs of these criminals but I am just trying to save the next generation from perdition. So I am saving thousands of lives actually.’
A. But by that plan to saving, he put in something there that is violent in the new system he is putting up — this violence caused by extrajudicial killings and that is not cutting the spiral of violence but continuing the spiral… You don’t counter violence with another violence. You have to cut. So that’s why I said I have a solution but who will listen to a retired bishop?

Q. What is your solution?
A. First is I think we in the Church have to say ‘mea culpa.’ We failed in the formation of the moral conscience of our people, lay and priests and religious and even bishops because of so much materialism. Wala na-sharpen ang conscience. Kobal (callousness)… And that kobal is manifested in how people are saying nga ‘because everybody is doing it, okay lang.’ But wrong is wrong even if everybody is doing it, and right is right even if nobody is doing it, di ba? But who will say that now?

That has to be repeated and repeated. Conscience formation is our responsibility and I thank Digong for that, for opening our eyes to that.

Q. How do we address violence then?
A. In the time of Marcos, martial law, Father Blanco had a seminar on non-violence in imitation of Mahatma Gandhi… the principle that because of our oneness in God and God is everywhere and every person who is to love everybody, that’s unconditional, and to express love is to love everybody even until death. That’s why ‘love your enemies.’ Di ba ang lex talionis – an eye for an eye — makes you blinded. Lex Talionis was not approved by Jesus Christ. Even Gandhi said it only makes people blind.

Q, Incidentally, Lex Talionis is the name of his fraternity
A, That is Digong style: an eye for an eye.

Q, But how will this message of non-violence get across to Digong?
A. You know, I feel sorry for Digong. I am worried about him as a friend. I think he has a problem and we need to help him. He is in the course of self-destruction without even knowing that he is ruining himself. I don’t know that he knows that but because he is already there, we need to help him. How? That’s a big question if he can only listen… listen to other people.

Q, If you’ll have that opportunity to meet him
A, I will tell him I know he really loves the people ba, the poor people. The people whom he is helping are also suffering but they don’t mind. What they want is listen to them because they can help. Sayang imong gibuhat na di nato malahutay” (It would be a pity if what you’re doing can’t be sustained).

The poor can ask that the innocents have to be protected. People’s common sense wisdom can remind him that creating enemies and losing respect of friends and allies do not make sense to them.

Q. You are worried?
A. I am worried as a friend and because of his mother. His mother asked me to help him.

Q. Who decided on the theme for the Mindanao week of peace?
A. The board of the Bishops-Ulama Conference. When I said ‘respect life,’ they said okay. A few minutes later, another said ‘protect life,’ So it’s “Respect and Protect Life.” How people interpret that, that’s another thing. But it can be seen in both ways

Q. Digong will say ‘I’m saving the next generation,’ that ‘I told the police patayin lang iyan sila if they resist arrest’
A. Pero may mga reklamo na wala man nag resist arrest.. Gahapon I spoke to a friend who is also a friend of Digong. He is now 71 like Digong and he said to me he is really for Digong but now he is beginning to say ‘ahh he is losing the respect of many people.’ And he said that’s not just on the local front but also abroad and that sayang ang gibuhat niya nga mga maayo kung mawala (it’s a pity if the good things that he has done will be lost).

Q, Sayang..
A. Sayang. .. Awayon nya America, UN and the churches and EU. He could become the greatest President of the Philippines kung wala lang siya magpasagad ba. Pero being a man of faith I’ve been thinking and reflecting: why is God allowing this to happen to us? What could be the reason? And then muingon ko, maybe blessing in disguise, for us in the Church, to open our eyes. Digong is only an instrument. He would be gone and the church would remain here until the end of time. Good conscience decides what is sin and not sin. There is therefore need for good education and formation of moral conscience. This must be based on and motivated by love of God and neighbor, even of enemies. Turning the other cheek or non-violent response is an expression of love. ‎The spiral of violence is broken when, instead of counter violence, you allow yourself to be inflicted with violence. This was shown by Jesus Christ and martyrs, by Gandhi, Marin Luther King, etc.

Q. There’s a group here that met last week because they’re worried how children are growing up in the midst of these violent images on television and violent language.
A. Precisely. The formation of conscience begins in the family when Mama or Papa corrects or points out to a child what is wrong and right. Some TV shows have no parental guidance. So children grow up with conscience misinformed or deformed.

Q. The salvaging, summary executions. Vigilante killings, EJKs. We’ve seen these before here. Are we seeing the Davao template into the national framework now? Is that accurate to say that?
A. While Davao is a microcosm of the whole country in this issue of the spiral of violence, people though are ambivalent about it because violence both fascinates and horrifies. I, too, like action movies and I am thrilled by good shooters like Bruce Willis and Liam Neeson. But what happens to their victims is revolting.

Q, While there were protests against summary killings here before, there were more people saying ‘sige lang tutal ang gipangpatay mga angay man pud patyon’ (that’s alright, anyway those who are killed deserve to die).
A. The template has become a national reality that you have to be concerned about, and the good things that Digong did cannot surpass the intensity of evil or intensity of violence that has been started by his administration.

Q. But Digong will say, ‘What I’m trying to do lang Archbishop is I am threatening criminals. Is there a crime to threaten criminals?’ That is what he has been saying always. Everyday.
A. His meaning of threatening criminals is obviously explained by what is happening. What other meanings could there be? The immediate meaning of threat is to warn. But people know it does not end there.

Q. But he would say ‘the police are just doing their jobs. If people are resisting arrest then the police is going to kill them.’
A, But this information has to be verified. All information that comes from him refers to the so-called matrix or list‎ which when reported in media appeared to show his personal knowledge.

Q, This is a list supposedly of people involved in illegal drugs. But a few days ago he apologized to some who were included in that list.
A. That’s really to me a major act of suspicion already, to list people you do not know. To put them on the list of future criminals is already a wrong move.

Q, So by releasing the names even if he says that it is verified you are actually giving license more or less to anyone to go after these guys, anyway they are ‘criminals?’
A. Yes. That’s not going to solve the problem at all.

Q, If they really have proof, file charges?
A, Yes. One thing I think that can contribute to public discourse is a new language.

Q. And what is this new language?
A, A language of non-violence because in the statements of people, religious and non-religious, the inner aggression is visible in the wording of the statements, in the way they choose the words.

Q. There is also aggression in the statements of the President.
A, When I say a new language in the public discourse I am referring to the language of non-violence which is equivalent to unconditional love. But when there is violence in your inner self or internal aggression, it manifests itself in your use of language. Now the words you use reveal the values you believe in and promote. If these values are anti-life, anti-people, anti-church, they will divide, turn off people. They will not create community.

Q. A number of people have been saying Digong’s mouth is uncontrollable now than when he was mayor.
A, That’s what I told you. This is not the Digong I knew. There are many other friends who find it difficult to understand and explain this ‘new Digong’.

Q. But many of those around him apparently can’t tell him he has crossed the line. They defer to him or pander to him.
A, Well, let us help him come up with a new language that does not hide inner aggressions and violent-laden values.

Q. He will say ‘you cannot change me anymore’
A. New mouth and new spirit unta. I will tell him nag-ampo kami sa imong mama ngadto sa langit nga tabangan ka (we prayed to your mother in heaven to help you).

Q. You are praying to the mother also?
A. Yeah. I ask the mother, ‘Unsa man ni? Kung naa ka diha sa uban sa Ginoo nganong gitugutan man ni sa Ginoo nga maingon ani ang imong anak? (What is this? If you are with God why did God allow this to happen to your son) Or something good will come out of this one?’ Questions ra ni. No answers.

Maybe the thing is in the question… Ang new language karon is how people ask questions so that people can reflect, can take it into heart to respond. It’s not all about hatred, about violence…. Busa akong prayer, goodness can never be erased. It’s inborn. That’s why ang solution is not to kill but to reform. But the secret is how do you reach such goodness? That’s education, formation of conscience, rehabilitation. That’s where we are maybe deficient.

Q, So mamalandong tang tanan ani?
A. Many criminals came from Catholic schools. That’s why ako sometimes I go with Digong nga daghan man mga Catholic groups, pari gikan sa seminary taught students who later became oppressors sa mga kabus.. We know that already. We do not have to say that. Problema lang is what is really the purpose why things are happening now? Nothing happens without a reason so ang reason is really our mission to find out through prayer and meditation. And maybe sharing.

Ako I would like to consult the poor people what they truly feel.

Q, What is your message to the President on his first 100 days in office?
A. Listen. Listen. Listen. I will tell him. ‘Digong, ang Ginoo naghatag kanatog duha ka dalunggan, usa ra baba’ (God gave us two hears, one mouth). Which means that we have to listen twice as much as we speak, di ba? But it’s the reverse eh. That’s why we are in trouble… The ears are important. But we should listen not only with the two ears but with the third ear or the heart. Mao na akong message sa iya pero will he accept that? Will he listen to that?

Listening is very, very important. Bisan sa dialogue. Si Estrada said ‘few words few mistakes. No word, no mistake.’

Q, There are pronouncements today that his Cabinet secretaries will try to figure out the next day. Or will be denied.
A, Saludo kita sa iyang maayong gibuhat, iyang decisiveness pero mawala ang imong respeto kung puro ‘I will kill you’ lang sa baba niya. (We salute him for the good things he is doing, for his decisiveness but he will lose respect when he keeps saying ‘I will kill you.’)

Q, But he was also like that here in Davao.
A. Not as bad as karon. Tibuok kalibutan makadungog na sa iya. Sa una, pasagdan lang nato bisan pa mamalikas sya. ‘Digong man gud na, so okay lang siya,’(Not as bad as now. The entire world can hear him now. Before, he was tolerated even if he cursed. That’s, Digong, that’s okay’), people would say.

Q. In the same speech he said ‘pang mayor lang man gyud ko dili pang big league’ (I am just for mayor, I am not for the big league). Senator Gordon said ‘stop talking, the President is so noisy and everytime he says ‘I will kill’ you na-a-affect ang country.’
A, I think Digong is effective in calling attention of people to what he is going to say, But the problem is, what he says how he says it is turning off people. Instead of calling on them to listen to him — that’s why he can’t see the contradiction ba — it’s like inviting people to come to you but you turn them off. The problem is if he turns off people, kinsa’y maminaw sa iya? (who will listen to him?) (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

DUTERTE REVISITED: Q and A with Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte on drugs and vigilante killings 

PASTORAL LETTER. Thou shall not kill

ORATIO IMPERATA. Capalla issues Oratio Imperata for city’s healing from ‘unabated series of summary killings’

Duterte says Catholic church should modify mandatory prayer; warns criminals anew

Davao’s Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla to Duterte: “Listen”