“Catholics in Politics” (a speech) by then-Senator Francisco “SOC” Rodrigo

Francisco A. “Soc” Rodrigo (January 29, 1914 – January 4, 1998), poet, senator, statesman, oppositionist, political prisoner and member of the Constitutional Commission of 1987, belonged to the generation that finally questioned, challenged and fought the Deist and Masonic-influenced generation of nationalists that traced their intellectual and anti-clerical roots to the Propaganda Movement of the Philippine Revolution. He gained notoriety for daring to cross swords with the formidable Claro M. Recto and Jose P. Laurel over the law making the reading of Rizal’s novels mandatory in all schools.

Unapologetic about his faith, Rodrigo made morality the rallying cry of his political career, together with equally unapologetic Catholics such as Raul Manglapus and Manuel Manahan.

His speech displays a sense of style and rhetorical élan every bit as biting and sarcastic as Recto in his prime; and yet beyond the rhetoric is a message that has endured and which in fact presents the moral, theological and political basis for Catholic participation in politics. In this speech are the arguments that would later on – much later on, yet during Rodrigo’s life and after he had braved water cannon and constant imprisonment for his adherence to these principles – provide the moral grounding for the Catholic hierarchy and the faithful’s rejection of dictatorship from 1983 to 86, charter change in the late 1990s, and a corrupt government in 2001.

Francisco “Soc” Rodrigo himself served with distinction in the Senate, was jailed by Ferdinand Marcos several times; was a close ally of Ninoy Aquino, and helped found the Laban Party in 1978. He was known for his eloquence, piety, fearlessness and incorruptibility.

“Catholics in Politics” was delivered by then-Senator Francisco “SOC” Rodrigo at a luncheon meeting of the Knights of Columbus at their headquarters in Intramuros, Manila on September 7, 1957. This speech appeared in Anvil Publishing and Platypus Publishing’s “20 Speeches that Moved a Nation.” The original copy was sourced from a pamphlet courtesy of the lopez Memorial Library and Museum.

It is always a privilege to speak at a gathering of the Knights of Columbus. But the present occasion is for me not only a privilege but an opportunity; a splendid opportunity to explain my views on a subject of the highest importance in the present election campaign. This subject is important not only to me but to all of us here. We are all Catholics, and we are all citizens. So far, we have not experienced the slightest difficulty in being both. In fact, knowing our Catholic faith as we do, it seems obvious to us that the better Catholics we are, the better citizens we shall be.

THE “INTELLECTUALS”

But what is clear and simple to us does not seem to be clear and simple to certain people who are otherwise very intelligent. That they are blessed by God with intelligence is beyond question. In fact, they are considered the “intellectuals” of our land.

So be it. Let us take off our hats in awe and reverence before the obvious intelligence of our intellectuals. There they sit high above us, each one perched on his ivory tower, occasionally dropping oracles on the worshipping crowds below.

NEW DEFINITION OF DEMOCRACY

Catholics, they tell us, ought not to meddle in politics. Here is an oracle indeed, for it has one of the chief distinguishing marks of an oracle; it makes no sense. Here we are, living in a country eighty percent of whose population are Catholics, and our intellectuals calmly tell us that politics is the exclusive concern of the other twenty percent. The rest of us, the other eighty percent of us, being Catholics, must not meddle. What then? We Catholics must pay taxes, the same as everybody else; we Catholics must obey the laws, the same as everybody else; but when election time comes around, and the people must choose those who are to impose taxes and pass the laws, aah, that is politics – Catholics please stay out. In other words, out of every ten Filipinos, only two can engage in politics; the other eight, being unfortunate enough to be Catholics, cannot. When two out of every ten Filipinos enter politics, that is citizenship; when the other eight Filipinos enter politics, that is meddling. Our oracular intellectuals have given us a new definition of democracy; democracy as now defined is government of the people, for the people; by twenty percent of the people; the reason being that eighty percent of the people are not people; they are Catholics.

I am afraid, however, that before our intellectuals are through, there will others besides Catholics in the category of those who are not people for the purpose of politics. For it seems that the reason why Catholics ought not to take part in politics is because they insist on dragging their religion into politics. They don’t know when to stop being Catholics; that is their trouble. They are so stupid or stubborn that they want to be Catholics always and everywhere, even when they are voting or running for office. They lack that malleability of mind, that pliability of conscience, which enables a man to be a good Catholic on Sundays and religious holidays, and abandon Catholic principles on working days, official holidays, and election day. There is only one way to deal with such people. If they insist on being practicing Catholics, let them be non-practicing citizens.

But, if this is the case, then practicing Protestants ought no to meddle in politics either. Practicing Moslems ought not to meddle in politics. In fact, anyone who practices his religion, who takes his religion seriously, ought not to meddle in politics. Only those are qualified in politics who have no religion at all, or having one, do not practice it.

“LIBERAL” CATHOLICS

This may sound ridiculous to you, but before you start laughing, let me warn you that not a few of our intellectuals actually use this as a practical rule of action. They may not put it as crudely as I have done – for I am obviously not an intellectual – but they act upon it. For what do they demand as a necessary qualification to enter politics, to take an active part in politics, or to make dogmatic pronouncements on politics similar to their own? Why, that anyone who wants to any of these things must be a liberal; and if he is Catholic” It means very simply, a Catholic who does not think much of his religion; who does not think enough of his religion to make it a part of his daily life. It means a Sunday Catholic, who keeps his Catholicism where he keeps his Sunday clothes – in the close, out of sight. That is to say, if he has any Sunday clothes; for it seems that many of these Catholics are not even Catholic enough to go to Mass on Sundays.

Why are these liberal Catholics so anxious to display their liberalism and so careful to hide their Catholicism? Why, because Catholicism is like the uniform of a soldier. A uniform stands for something. It stands for a cause to which he who ears the uniform has pledged himself. By wearing the uniform, the soldier publicly declares that he has dedicated himself to the cause of his country, and that he is ready to fight, to suffer and to die for it. Even so does the ordinary Catholic who practices his religion.

But the liberal Catholic has no stomach to fight for any cause, much less to die for it. And so he prudently leaves his uniform at home, tucked away in his closet, and goes about as quietly dressed as possible. He is like those interesting insects which assume the shape and color of their surroundings in order to protect their precious lives. Among twigs, they look like a twig; among leaves, they look like a leaf; in the mud, they look like mud. Because of this remarkable ability, they are able to escape their enemies and surprise their prey. So, too, the liberal Catholic strives to fit in with his surroundings; he calls it being adaptable, progressive, intelligent. In fact, you can call it many things specially if you had a vocabulary as picturesque as that of some politicians; but one thing it certainly is – IT IS SAFE. A liberal Catholic, having put his protective coloring, is completely safe. He can criticize without being open to criticism. He can take pot shots at everybody without being shot at. He has nothing to defend, and so he can attack everything else. He has noting to defend and so he can attack everything else. He has prudently taken off his uniform, and so he can safely say that everybody else’s uniform is the wrong one. Naked himself, he can afford to find fault with everybody else’s clothes.

GUIDING PRINCIPLES

But perhaps we have misunderstood our intellectual friends. Let us make a special effort to understand them properly. They may speak to us as follows: “When we order you Catholics not to meddle in politics, we do not mean to forbid you to vote. You even have our gracious permission to run for office. But you must no, under any circumstances, present yourself as Catholic candidates.”

Let us set the minds of our friends at rest by explaining once again the principles to which we, the Catholic citizens of this country, subscribe. These principles are few, simple and clear.

First Principle: As Catholics, we consider it to be one of our most important duties to be good citizens, and as good citizens, to take our full share of the responsibilities as well as the privileges accorded to citizens by our Constitution.

Second Principle: As Catholics, we consider I to be the duty of every citizen to vote as his conscience directs. This means that he must give his vote to that candidate whom he honestly thinks to be the best man for the job, putting aside all irrelevant considerations.

Third Principle: Just as the ordinary citizen should vote as his conscience directs, so too the candidate for office and he who is actually elected to office ought to discharge his responsibilities in accordance with the dictates of his conscience. This means that he ought to hold public office as a public trust, and do that which he honestly believes to be for the good of the country as a whole; again, as in the case of the voter, putting aside all irrelevant considerations.

ANSWERS TO DIFFICULTIES

These, I sincerely believe, are the principles by which we as Catholic citizens should be guided; and are actually guided, making allowance for the weakness and limitations of human nature. Now let us try to answer some of the honest difficulties and doubts which people may have about Catholic participation in the light of these principles.

ROLE OF PRIESTS AND BISHOPS

First, is it not a fact that Catholics are expected to vote the way priests and bishops tell them to? NO, THIS IS NOT A FACT. Furthermore, it is my understanding that no priest or bishop familiar with the nature of his office will ever issue any such directive in his official capacity. I can conceive of only one abnormal circumstance when it may be necessary for the authority of the Church to direct its members to vote in a certain way, and that is when the very existence of democracy itself is in danger; for instance, when the choice at the polls is between a democratic and a communist government.

What then is the fact? The fact – which can easily be checked by anyone who is looking for facts and not gossip – the fact is that the Catholic hierarchy of the Philippines has officially, publicly and repeatedly declared that it has no “official” candidates in the present election, and that all it expects of catholic citizens is that they should vote, and vote as their conscience directs.

RELIGIOUS ATTITUDES OF CANDIDATES

Does this mean that the religious attitudes of a candidate are considerations irrelevant to politics and voters must not look into them at all? By no means. For to quote from The Citizen’s Handbook issued by the CWO some years ago: “One’s philosophy and practice of government will ultimately depend upon one’s religious beliefs or lack of them. A man who does not believe ion God as the source of all human authority can hardly be expected to use that authority only according to the legitimate ends for which God has given it. A man who does not believe in the sanctity and indissolubility of marriage can hardly be expected to protect the good of the family and promote the cause of public morality. We must therefore look into the religious attitudes and moral convictions of candidates before we vote for any of them.”

THERE ARE GOOD CATHOLICS AND BAD CATHOLICS

Second, will not Catholics tend to vote for Catholic candidates simply because they are Catholics? Is this not why a number of candidates have become “pious” Catholics all of a sudden, in order to capture the so-called “Catholic” vote? My answer to this is to beg those who entertain such doubts to give us ordinary Catholics credit for having little sense. We may not be very intellectual or even intelligent, but we know this much at least, that there are good Catholics and bad Catholics; there are false Catholics and genuine Catholics; there are Catholics who will probably make good officials and there are Catholics who will make poor, inefficient or dishonest officials; and there are non-Catholics who will make better officials than Catholics. As voters, we are not called upon to decide between the religious beliefs of the various candidates, but between their respective qualifications for office.

At the same time, let us bear this in mind: that all other things being equal, there can be no better guarantee that a candidate will be a prudent and responsible official than that he is a practicing Catholic. The reason is simple. A practicing Catholic not only sincerely believes in, but consistently endeavors to realize in his own life, a moral law which teaches that the powers of government are not to be used for his own or his family’s or his party’s aggrandizement, but solely and simply for the welfare and happiness of the people, to whom that government belongs and whom it is supposed to serve. Furthermore, the practicing Catholic believes and acts upon the principle that while sovereignty does indeed reside in the people, it proceeds ultimately from God; and hence all who exercise authority are responsible not only to the people but to God Himself. You can judge for yourself what a powerful brake this is against the underhanded abuse of authority. For a man may possibly deceive the people; but he will have to be a fool indeed if he thinks he can deceive God or escape the just judgments of God. Finally, the practicing Catholic is a man who is not ashamed to pray. He is humble enough to realize that he is weak, and that in order to fulfill the duties of his office faithfully and well, he needs the grace of God. He will therefore pray fervently and frequently for this grace, and God will surely not turn a deaf ear to his prayers.

SKELETONS IN CLOSETS

Third, is it not a fact that candidates who take pride in proclaiming themselves to be Catholics turn out to have skeletons in their closets? These vaunted model Catholics are not such great saints after all! All men are sinners, with one exception – the glorious Mother of God – and no one knows and feels this more keenly than a Catholic.

What then do we say when we say that we are Catholics? We say that we hold certain beliefs to be true, and that we intend to live up to these beliefs to the best of our ability. We may fail; we may, being human, act against our principles; but when we do, we are doing wrong, and we know that we are doing wrong. We do not change our principles to suit our acts. We do not commit a sin and then try to justify it. This is the only advantage which a sincere and practicing Catholic can claim over one who, Catholic or not, has lost his faith in his own principles. Both are sinners; but one has the humility and the courage to acknowledge his sin and to try, again and again, to put away his sin and live up to his principles; the other, having no principles to live up to, is in danger of losing even the ability to tell right from wrong.

BEST GUARANTEE

If we Catholics, therefore, are more inclined to vote for those candidates who, besides having the required qualifications for office, are sincere, intelligent, fearless in the practice of their religion, it is not because we have already canonized them, but because we believe that the sincere, intelligent, fearless practice of one’s religion is the best guarantee that the candidate will strive to maintain his moral integrity in office; it is because we believe what no less a practical politician than President Quezon believed when he said: “Let me avow publicly the form of conviction that faith in God and practice of one’s religious beliefs keeps a man, perhaps more than any other consideration, within the bounds of law and helps him in the performance of his duties.”

BASELESS FEAR

My friends, everyone seems to consider himself qualified during this election campaign to give us Catholics advice. This is very generous of them, and we are grateful for it. Perhaps they will now permit us to return the courtesy. First of all, our critics seem to be painfully aware that there are a great many Catholics in this country. We comprise a very large segment of the population; the majority, in fact. And there seems to be real fear in certain quarters, which they try to conceal under a great deal of bravado, that we shall wake up to this fact and begin to use it. Let them put aside this fear. We Catholics have been aware for some time that we have the majority in this country, but our Catholic principles do not permit us to use our majority against any minority. If they did, we would have done so long ago. But we have not.

Rather, we have gone to great lengths to refrain from using the advantage given to us by numbers. In certain areas of civil life, notably in education, we have been treated, strange as it may seem, like an impotent minority; our rights have been abridged, our petitions unheeded, our just demands rejected. Had we a mind to do so, we could have exerted pressure and imposed our will; but we did not. When our rights are threatened or challenged, we shall affirm and protect those rights by fair and lawful means, according to the processes established by our Constitution.

SACRED DUTY

Our critics will surely not object if we Catholics exercise and discharge the responsibilities which are ours equally with citizens of other faiths or of no faith. This is not for us a matter of free choice, but a sacred duty. The service of God demands that we participate fully in the life of the community, not outside of it or inspite of it, that we must render Him that service. Hence, we are resolved to continue in the future that which we have tried to do in the past; namely, to live up, along with our fellow Filipinos not of our faith, to our sublime vocation as citizens and patriots.

We shall continue to take an interest in public issues. We shall continue to express our frank opinion and our considered stand on these issues. We shall exercise our right to vote in order to place good men in office and throw bad men out of office. We shall, when the occasion demands, humbly yet confidently present ourselves to the electorate as candidates for public office, in the conviction that we have a positive contribution to make, no matter how modest, to the well-being and advancement of this great country of ours. To put it all in a brief word; we shall continue to be and to act as Catholics, because that is the best way we know how to be a good citizen and a good Filipino.

CALL FOR UNITY

Finally, I call on all our countrymen of all faiths: This is no time for Filipinos to look upon each other with suspicion, fear or hate. Our greatest need at the present time is unity. Noting must divide us, if we are to meet the grave problems with which we are faced. We may have, and we should have differences of opinion as to how these problems can be solved, and who are the best men to direct our efforts in solving them; but let these be differences of opinion merely, and not division of minds and hearts. A house divided against itself cannot stand. Let us unite to make it a happy house to live in.

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Posted in The Catholic Perspective
One comment on ““Catholics in Politics” (a speech) by then-Senator Francisco “SOC” Rodrigo
  1. Lucy Almiranez says:

    Thank you for posting this piece.
    It’s timely – how I discovered it just now.

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