AND THE present pales in comparison to the past.
Carlos Celdran, a well-known tourist guide, made news recently when he walked into the Manila Cathedral in the middle of a Mass and shouted, “Down with Padre Damaso!” in protest of the church’s arrogant blocking of the Reproductive Health Bill.
There were mixed reviews of Celdran’s theatrics. A few said it went overboard, that it was tasteless, even “bastos,” but most were appreciative, thrilled, even blown away by his act. Many felt that Celdran did what they would themselves do if only they can muster the same amount of courage. “His stunt was not only brilliant, it was one of the most classy protest we have seen in many years,” said one fan.
I agree, Celdran did well. Few people know, however, that two and a half decades before the Manila Cathedral incident, something like it happened at the St. William’s Cathedral in Laoag, and it was even more meaningful and classier.
Jesus Pintado Rafales was the longest-serving kapitan of Barangay 7-A, Laoag City. At the helm from 1965 to 1987, a total of 22 years, people knew him as “very frank and candid.” He was looked up to as a principled man. During his time, barangay officials did not receive any honoraria, so we can imagine how much he loved to serve.
In February 1986, after the snap election fought by Ferdinand Marcos against Corazon Aquino, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines issued a statement declaring, in a voice which sounded infallible, that there was massive fraud in the voting exercise. As official results from Comelec showed that Marcos had won, the pastoral letter was read in all Sunday masses around the nation, and yes, including here in Ilocos, Marcos’s home.
Rafales, popularly known as Lakay Susing, took offense that the pastoral letter spoke of massive fraud as matter of fact; nowhere in the text would you find the word “alleged.” The church was taking an anti-Marcos stance, and members of the congregation were squirming in their seats.
And so this act.
When he could no longer stomach what the priest was reading during the homily, Rafales stood up, blew his whistle, which he always carried because peace and order was then a major concern then in his barangay, and then walked out.
Looking back, I say the Rafales walkout was no doubt better than Celdran’s ‘walk in’, primarily because it was a walkout. Rafales did not go to Church to protest, he was there to pray and be blessed. He only stood up and blew his whistle when things went outrageously overboard and downright insensitive.
Secondly, Rafales came to church as himself unlike Celdran who was clad in a Jose Rizal outfit. The latter held a placard, which is really very common and lacks imagination, while the former blew his now-legendary whistle, the same tool he used to stop criminals and evildoers. Although stiff on the façade, Kapitan Rafales, like the ordinary churchgoer, was usually meek, humble, and subservient when in church, the perfect place for a complete surrender to the realm of the divine. But one’s spiritual trance is cut short when Damasos begin to talk about matters not spiritual, those outside their religious mandate.
The Catholic Church may claim moral authority to guide the people even on temporal matters, but this confuses us, not least because of the institution’s glaring inconsistencies. Case in point, the church maintained a deafening silence during the whole nine-year term of Gloria Arroyo, who had been the most evil Philippine president, bar none. But what silence could be more deafening than theirs during World War II when the cries and howls of millions of Jews in the gas chambers were left unheard?
There is one more reason why Manila’s Celdran pales in comparison to our very own. When Rafales blew the whistle and walked out, most people in the congregation followed him. He was not alone. In contrast, Celdran went inside alone, staged his protest alone, was escorted out by security personnel alone, and was handcuffed and incarcerated all by himself. Rafales had a following, and that made the difference. A few people may accuse Celdran of grandstanding, but not our man. When the people are behind your back, it’s not grandstanding, it is leadership in a form most amazing. It was also people power.
I learned about this story from April, a granddaughter of Lakay Susing, during our freewheeling chit-chats while on a long day trip to La Union for a regional debate competition held three years ago. A national winner in public speaking and writing championships, April, one of my debate trainees, talked fondly of her lolo who, in May 2007, went to heaven where, I am sure, he would find no need for walkouts.
This tale came to mind again in light of recent events. How fortunate that I have this avenue to retell good stories to a wider audience. “‘The pen is mightier than the sword,” the cliché goes.
But a whistle speaks louder than words.