The Philippines needs a wooden statue of Senator De Lima

Procession of the Black Nazarene [Photo by Rhoy Cobilla; Interaksyon]

By JoeAm

I was awestruck by the outpouring of faith by Filipinos at the procession of the Black Nazarene. Around a million Filipinos hit the streets to profess their faith in . . . in . . . in . . .

I am not sure what, in miracles? In Mary? In Jesus? In God? In resilience? In the holy spirit of being one in worship? Or there is no need to define what? In all of the above?

Certainly not in civility or truth or kindness or justice, because in the polls they also profess their respect for President Duterte and he represents the opposite.

So color me impressed, but color me confused.

Sharp right turn.

Then there are the yellow campaign rallies, respectful gatherings of 20 to 100 people speaking of hope and human rights and good governance. But there is no energy that attracts the masses. No mystery. No promises. No nothing. It is, for the most part, a dead and failing campaign.

The thought that spun across my hypothetically imaginative mind is that my good friend Will Villanueva should find a carpenter to hack out a likeness of Senator De Lima in a flowing robe and start parading her across town. And the Catholic Church should join in and put her on a nomination list for future sainthood, because what she is going through qualifies her for the suffering that most saints endure, and all the while she is doing good deeds. And defending the Church like no other person, in or out of jail.

Senator De Lima, from her small confinement, does more writing and proposing of legislation and hearings than do most other senators who have the whole world to march around in and no jail walls to limit their good works.

Doing good works is not what drives them. Serving themselves is what drives them. They zero in on popular interests and promote themselves. That is their purpose in life.

The good Senator De Lima sits in her cell and feels the weight of injustice and does her good works. Day after day after hundreds of days. Two years worth of days.

She cares.

That’s what she does, that the other senators do not. Read her writings if you doubt this.

She cares.

About truth. About civility. About human rights. About democracy. About compassion.

She cares.

And she writes and writes and writes.

That’s why she deserves fervent emotional appreciation by the masses.

Because she cares.

“Oh, Joe, give me a break! She had an affair with her driver! She’s no saint!”

Well, the living can’t be saints, but you are wrong in your conclusion. Saints aren’t perfect. They struggle. That’s what they do. They bear burdens so the rest of us do not have to. Of injustice, of cruelty, of poverty. Then they get right with God and they preach and teach.

  • St. Augustine rejected his Christian upbringing to live a life of hedonism and constant partying. He fathered an illegitimate son with his young mistress, whom he abandoned at the prospect of marrying an heiress. Yet his holy and devout mother never gave up, constantly following him and urging him to repent. Eventually her persistence paid off, and Augustine became a priest who related his story in a volume titled Confessions, which is still widely read and referenced today. St. Augustine is considered a Doctor of the Church and is the patron saint of brewers and beer (a nod to his former partying lifestyle). 
  • St. Mary became a prostitute at age 12 and engaged in the “oldest profession” for over 17 years until her dramatic conversion. It occurred during a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross. Seeing a statue of the Virgin Mary, she begged for forgiveness and promised to renounce her sinful life if she could enter the church. She was able to do so and turned away from prostitution. She became a desert hermit, fasting, praying and living alone for 47 years. St. Mary is the patron saint against sexual temptations.
  • “There is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future.”– St. Augustine of Hippo
  • [Above excerpts from 5 Catholic Saints With a Sinful Past]

Research the saints and you will find thieves, hedonists, adulterers, prostitutes, greedy people, and all manner of human wickedness . . . and yet they became saints. It was not the quality of their early life that mattered, in the end, but the quality of their faith. And their good works.

And no Filipino demonstrates that quality of faith and good works like Senator De Lima.

She defends the bishops and condemns the President’s nasty threats against them. She prays faithfully. Her strength comes from her faith.

She defends Filipino human rights, the arena in which she made her mark, challenging Mayor Duterte for one, which earned his ire. It is what got her jailed. But she does not change course. She knows right from wrong, and there are no compromises or short cuts for her.

She spends each day caring about Filipinos. And praying for them.

I don’t know why Filipinos make the choices they do. They seem to make the choice to suffer rather than aspire. They make the choice to obey rather than be free.

They seem to need martyrs like Ninoy Aquino to feel that others suffer, too. To generate a self-confirming anguish.

Perhaps that is what the Black Nazarene means, a celebration of the anguish felt by the disenfranchised and forgotten, the woebegotten. Anguish dealt by Filipinos to Filipinos with the goading connivance and incompetence of the rich and powerful. The anguish of not being able to get out of a ruthless cycle that sees privileged Filipinos treat disenfranchised Filipinos like animals.

Senator De Lima preaches compassion and fairness. She preaches faith in one another and in the laws that bind us to civility and fairness.

I wonder what would happen if Filipinos were able to feel the anguish of their freedom being snuffed out? Their integrity and respect being ended? Their heritage insulted? Their faith belittled? Their future given away for gold coins?

I wonder if they could be taught to realize . . . nay, to FEEL  . . . that Senator De Lima has been sacrificed for them. That she is carrying their burdens.

To me, Senator De Lima can easily be considered the nation’s foremost advocate for togetherness and the laws that commit us to decency and fairness TO EACH OTHER.

“Get thee to a carpenter, Will!”

Well, that is just my hypothetical, imaginative mind shouting. I don’t mean it literally. I think we are pretty well committed to the existing path of unending national anguish, poverty, and ruthless incompetence.

Yes, the nation could use a lightning rod for moral decency, the fairness and hope of democracy, and the compassions of human rights.

But I don’t know how to get Filipinos to feel it in their peculiar, vibrant emotional language. A statue, or symbol, is the best I can come up with.

It is sad to watch. Disheartening. Millions of anguished Filipinos celebrate their faith in the streets, free and going nowhere.

As the good Senator sits alone in her cell and writes her heart out.

For them.


57 Responses to “The Philippines needs a wooden statue of Senator De Lima”
  1. The Hawaiians and Maori have the idea of maná, a kind of force or power residing in royalty.

    Filipino faith healers use “galing” (healing power, prowess) in a similar context.

    What Filipinos might want from the Black Nazarene is for his power to rub off on them, just a bit..

    But the same idea applies to powerful politicians, I think, like for Hawaiian or Maori chiefs.

    Filipinos may also “bilib” (be impressed) by the widows of dead leaders, ever since Gabriela Silang.

    Might there is also have been an ancient belief of power passing unto their spouse after death?

    The ONLY one I think close to getting people’s “bilib” for surviving Duterte all the time is Trillanes

    But there are those who believe(d) that Duterte’s sweat would bring “suwerte”, back in 2016…

  2. arlene says:

    Perplexing isn’t it JoeAm? They abide by their faith and yet they believe in a man who does nothing but curses even God and his foul mouth is just too busy with those diatribes . We are a divided lot. Sad really that we have come to this.

    • Fiilipinos “bilib” someone who is malakas and masuwerte. Or sometimes martyrs who gain a status similar to Christ who died and rose again – Rizal and Ninoy would be examples.

      People in trouble? Some Filipino parents will say “huwag kang dumikit sa malas” – don’t hang out with the unlucky or losers. There is a common belief that good and bad luck rubs off, which could also be one reason behind voting those who are believed to be “llamado”.

      • arlene says:

        They never learn from personal experiences. They’d rather follow their own “traditions” than choose those who are more qualified to govern. Nice insight Ireneo, thanks!

      • Trillanes would be similar to what Lapu-Lapu was for Humabon – a challenger.

        In the warrior/magic mindset, winning counts while losing means luck has left you.

        One reason, I think, why Humabon’s people killed the rest of Magellan’s men later on.

        • So Magellan was the first foreign technocrat in the Philippines? Tough crowd.

          But seriously if I’m not mistaken both DU30 and Pacquiao (who’s fighting again this Saturday), and I’m sure others, have tattoos that are magical, no doubt handkerchiefs too with Latin inscriptions, and stones pebbles embedded in skin too.

          • American pop-culture (DC Comics, Vertigo) but relevant to the blog. It’s a great premise, I hope comics over there copy this theme and do a DU30/Jesus (or various Senators and congressman/woman) working together in the Philippines, the possible story lines would be endless IMHO.

            “Witness the return of Jesus Christ, as He is sent on a most holy mission by God to learn what it takes to be the true messiah of mankind by becoming roommates with the world’s favorite savior: the all-powerful super hero Sun-Man, the Last Son of Krispex! But when Christ returns to Earth, he’s shocked to discover what has become of his gospel—and now, he aims to set the record straight.”

            Comics can take the Church’s place altogether.

        • That explains a lot, Irineo. I suppose the procession is a mass exclamation of winning. The definition of that term, of course, remains in the spiritual reaches outside my own grasp.

          • The procession is more on the magical side, like the common belief in amulets that LCPL_X mentioned, hoping it helps to win.

            Katipunan members often wore amulets against bullets. In the late 1960s, Lapiang Malaya marched against Marcos’ PC with amulets only and got shot.

            Sakdals did similar things in the 20s/30s. Aka colorums because they chanted “in saecula saecolorum.” Yes it is a pagan sort of faith.

            • How much better to simply vote smart. But thanks for the explanation which makes sense as I observe the bullet amulet my wife wears when she is feeling unwell. I on the other hand merely moan and curse the person who gave me the ailment.

    • Perplexing that emotions ride high, but things that really affect people don’t matter. Yes. That is the correct word, perplexing.

  3. Oh, Joe, give me a break! She had an affair with her driver! She’s no saint!

    Well, the living can’t be saints, but you are wrong in your conclusion. Saints aren’t perfect. They struggle. That’s what they do.

    Mary of Egypt both revered by Latin Catholics and Greek Orthodox.

  4. edgar lores says:

    1. There’s no St. Leila as yet.

    2. But canonization is posthumous. And Senator De Lima has much more to say and to give.

    3. The Senator has chided the President for his devious efforts to discredit the Church.

    4. She has criticized Cardinal Tagle and the Catholic Church with “Stay silent and you will be irrelevant.” She has asked, “Where is the Catholic Church?”

    More: “I need not ask where God is. He is everywhere. But there are many who are starting to ask, where are those who solemnly pledged to bring God’s light to the people, especially those who need them most? Why is the Church so silent that it seems they have turned their backs, not just to their mission, their people, but also to their own – the priests who have died protecting and guiding their flock.”

    5. I can find no news item of Tagle or a bishop taking up the cudgels for the Senator.

    6. On FB, there are many Catholics who mirror the Senator’s criticism of Tagle and their Church.

    7. Nevertheless, Catholics — the laity and some bishops — remain the staunchest of critics of the regime.

    8. It seems to me that their faith is a strength and a weakness.

    9. I have always believed that civil resistance should be secular — the way that it is in the US. We just don’t have the tradition.

    • Thanks for showing the tension between the Senator and the Church. I wonder if a saint was ever made a saint for telling Church leaders they are not doing enough to bring relief to the people. The Catholic Church is amazingly passive to me. I remember the RH riots, and there was also INC’s shutdown of Manila over a perceived slight by the DOJ (De Lima). My, but religious precepts seem political hereabouts.

      • edgar lores says:

        1. Yes, I agree the Church has been passive. Cardinal Tagle, in comparison to Cardinal Sin, has been a pushover. And a segment of the laity has not only been passive but vocally active in support of the regime.

        2. I would caution though against a militant Church. The country has suffered enough from religious tyranny.

        3. Let me try to articulate my position which is, basically, that the Church should defend herself but not lead the political resistance.

        3.1. I agree with Senator De Lima that the Church should not be silent. She (the Church) should protect herself from the two prongs of the frontal assault of the administration:

        o First prong – the attack on the life of the clergy and the drug-addled parishioners by state elements and state-hired elements

        o Second prong – the attack on her dogmas and doctrines from the uncivil harangues of the President

        3.2. The protection can be in many forms… from denunciations from the pulpit to bishopric messages to the faithful. It should fall short of calling for rebellion. That would be incitement and sedition.

        4. Legally, the President’s invitation to kill rich bishops is an incitement to violence. His blasphemous harangues against Church beliefs are a violation of the Constitution and the Establishment Clause.

        4.1. The first part of the Clause prohibits the establishment of a state religion. The second part prohibits the preference of one religion over another. By attacking the Catholic Church, the President is expressing a preference for any other church. Perhaps, Quiboloy’s Kingdom of Jesus Christ or the Iglesia ni Rodrigo.

        4.2. In a nation of lawyers, there has been no legal outcry.

        5. If the Church has been silent and passive, the Senate has been more so.

        • I don’t think militancy is needed. Spine is, and a crystal clear understanding of what Jesus stood for. I don’t think the Church should defend herself. She should defend decency. In the face of the President’s obscene threats, how can such a proud and meaningful institution simply turn the other cheek. They are teaching the lesson of willing subservience. And maybe they like the people like that.

          The legal profession in the Philippines reminds me a lot of a nest of snake-oil salesmen. Like, when Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark ended up in a snake pit, only it was lawyers.

          • edgar lores says:

            “I don’t think the Church should defend herself. She should defend decency.”

            That’s a thought. I wonder how Filipino Catholics understand the thought.

            Beyond any interpretation of what Jesus stands for, there is an existential threat to the Catholic Church. In many countries, many believers are abandoning her. In the Philippines, she largely seems to provide pro forma rituality, including the Black Nazarene procession, and Duterte is attacking her institutionality. In China, the state is demolishing her churches.

            • Her ‘management’ structure is weak with the missionary side separate from the administrative side, and all trying to abide by Rome’s current dictates, sort of. Politics, cover-ups of abuse, different politics among the priests depending on local connections. Total disarray.

              • edgar lores says:

                From an external viewpoint, the sad part about it is that Catholics identify with the brick-and-mortar messenger perhaps more than the message.

  5. ylbnoel says:

    thanks for posting this Joe. it was both touching and inspiring. Justice grinds slow but exceedingly well.

    • Thank you, ylbnoel. I was touched in writing it, the roaring million faithful focused on a wooden idol, and a solitary faithful woman, real and decent, completely out of their thoughts. Were she Jesus, the crowd would have completely missed the moment.

  6. Micha says:

    Devotion to religious images and devotion to Duterte is made of the same madness.

    I love how Duterte cuts through establishment Catholic Church and its princes like butter. Effortless attack on an organization that is increasingly becoming irrelevant because really, there’s nothing in there but pomp and pageantry.

    Rob and kill the bishops? If it were said by somebody else, he would have been ostracized and condemned to high heavens already.

    • NHerrera says:


      • NHerrera says:

        Testing the limits. And found that there are no limits?

        • Micha says:

          Public confessions about having killed someone or sexually molesting their maid or having mistresses have taken out the shock factor or sense of outrage at his transgressions.

          Suggesting that bishops be killed is just another day in a land where people have pretty much accepted or tolerated the summary executions of drug users.

    • Duterte has the magic of ‘swagger’. Marlon Brando had swagger. Mar Roxas has a smidge. Alan Cayetano scores a negative swagger score. Bong Go is also devoid of swagger but has access to lots of money from people trying to buy him some. Panelo has no swagger. Enrile has stagger these days, but he used to have a little. Can you imagine a Senate committee with Go, Sotto, Enrile, Imee Marcos, Pacquiao, and Bato representing Filipinos. Coming soon!


    • chemrock says:

      “Effortless attack on an organization that is increasingly becoming irrelevant because really, there’s nothing in there but pomp and pageantry.”

      Naïve realism is the human tendency to believe that we see the world around us objectively, and that people who disagree with us must be uninformed, irrational, or biased.

      Oscar Wilde the great atheist asked for and accepted the last rites in his final moments. Amen.

      • Naive realism. Nice definition. I have concluded that we actually are caught up in a matrix kind of world where there is no truth, just fantasies that rip by at such relentless speed that we never get any of them properly unwound. Do you realize how much bullshit is shoveled at us daily by government officials and shallow sensationalist media and erroneous history books and blog commenters shoveling fiction as truth. There is absolutely nothing to hold on to except skillful rapid-fire deductions that lead us through the maze with some fulfillment and joy now and then. Every human is delusional, some more than others, and some way way far out.

        • chemrock says:

          Joe, indeed we exist in a daily maze and we get bombarded rapid-fire we hardly have time for reality checks. Nowadays whenever I get a shared post from friends I simply send a one word response — SOURCE?.

          Those of us like NHerrera with old slide-rules to run to are lucky. As for me, I’m searching for my old security blanket.

      • edgar lores says:

        A friend calls it DDD — Discernment Deficiency Disorder.

        Like Joe Am, I agree we all suffer from it.

        Unlike Joe Am, my DDD extends across two subjective levels.

        o The material level consists of subjective fabrications of what is out there. This is largely automatic but also internally guided by mindful attention.
        o The non-material level consists of subjective truths that guide how I conduct myself at the material level.

        The tests for the trueness of subjective truths are generally whether they increase the level of awareness, do no harm, and whether they uplift.

      • Micha says:

        Naive realism as opposed to naive fantasies and belief in some magical being hoisted from the same fantasies about fairies and unicorns and flying celestial spaghetti.

        Chempo knows there’s something out there that empiricists just couldn’t see. What exactly is it is not entirely clear nor does he have an iota of evidence to offer. It’s just from the gut, manufactured from who knows what or where.

    • Micha says:

      “I can totally appreciate DU30’s big part in taking down the Church a notch or two, a little deflation for good measure. I think no Filipino leader has done so with such positive results since maybe Rizal when he wrote his novels.”

      “Whether you like DU30 or not, you have to give credit where credit is due.”

      “So long as it doesn’t turn physical, DU30’s attack on the Catholic Church is OK in my book. Look at it as a continuation of Rizal.”

      Yup, the man is not totally devoid of useful virtue afterall.

      • edgar lores says:


        Duterte’s impulse to kill is the same as his impulse to attack the Church.

        The impulse is to destroy what [other] men hold sacred. It is an impulse devoid of kindness, respect, and humanity.

        How can one denounce the first impulse and admire the second impulse?

      • LCX swarmed the blog with 13 posts overnight, topical in the main but pushing my boundaries of decency and not exercising the restraint I requested. I find his contributions no longer appropriate for the kind of blog I wish to publish. I do not want to evaluate each post on merit and have therefore removed them all. There is relief in such simplicity.

        • edgar lores says:

          Add to that, my views have been misrepresented with this line:

          “2. Basis of impunity (edgar).

          I demand an apology.

          • He will not be able to apologize. I do apologize for letting the gameplaying and nonsense persist as long as it did.

            • Edgar Lores says:

              Thank you.

              Just to clarify, this may be the basis of his claim:

              Me: “In a way, as has been discussed before with @Andrew Lim, Christianity encourages impunity.”

              Encouraging impunity is not the same as being the “basis for impunity.”

  7. karlgarcia says:

    Why does Duterte still get high trust ratings. Maybe the results were rigged, the respondents were scared, intimidated?
    Poon Duterte, Lord Duterte as if he is worshipped.

    Even if the Catholics are thaught that saints can only be venerated, they are instead worshipped.
    I don’t like Delina to be worshipped, I want her to be heard, (including legally) and be freed.

  8. sonny says:

    If I read the thrust of these words right and on to the rest of article, the questions are demanding enlightenment, at the very least, as to why a million devotees are behaving in this manner and also telling them they should be doing something else. By doing so, I think this devotional act is then REDUCED to answers that is much narrower than the truth and reality of the action of the devotees themselves: a) they are not doing magic but rather externalizing a belief of their dependence on a Supreme Being, a supplication, not an act of extortion for their need that nobody else seems to understand and can address; b) and this is done transcending logic and human respect; c) and this being the case, God’s own agents are not in a position to intervene nor frustrate;

    • sonny says:

      “… Around a million Filipinos hit the streets to profess their faith in . . . in . . . in . . .

      I am not sure what, in miracles? In Mary? In Jesus? In God? In resilience? In the holy spirit of being one in worship? Or there is no need to define what? In all of the above?”

      • edgar lores says:

        It seems to me that the faith is in the image of the Black Nazarene itself.

        And it seems to me that the faith is in the miraculous power of the image to affect the life of the devotee in a beneficial and salvific way.

        I have been studying the photos of the traslacion. I thought it was all men but, no, there are women. The expressions on the faces of the devotees vary from a vacancy of self-awareness to a rictus of agony, to stupefaction.

        The procession is a mass phenomenon. Its modern equivalent, it seems to me, would be a rock concert by Queen with Freddie performing “We Will Rock You.”

        (Somehow, it also brings to mind a caucus of the American Republican Party presided over by Trump.)

        In the crowd, the atom of individual egos dissolve, merge, and amalgamate into a frenzy of mass consciousness.

        The experience seems to be an attempt at transcendence of self to union with the Godhead.

        • sonny says:

          “… The procession is a mass phenomenon. Its modern equivalent, it seems to me, would be a rock concert … (following)

          Even as we recognize similarities across these various phenomena of gathering, the deep differences are also there for discernment: a rock concert, political convention or a sports event can be matched (number for number and “facial expressions”) by religious events like Lourdes, Fatima, Guadalupe, Baclaran, Manaoag, et al.

    • Nicely said, sonny. You have set the record straight.

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