Adyos, Cardinal Sin

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Via Manuel L. Quezon III, I learned of the passing of Jaime Cardinal Sin, the retired Archbishop of Manila, who died early Tuesday morning.

Cardinal Sin was the de facto leader of the opposition in the Philippines during the autocratic rule of Ferdinand Marcos, who declared martial law in 1973 and remained in power until forced from office and the country in 1986. Under Sin's leadership, the Catholic Church in the Philippines was a safe haven for those working for democracy and in opposition to human rights abuses.

Following [Benigno] Aquino's assassination [in August 1983], Cardinal Jaime Sin, archbishop of Manila and a leader of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, gradually shifted the hierarchy's stance from one of "critical collaboration" to one of open opposition [to the Marcos regime].

A prominent Catholic layman, Josť Concepcion, played a major role in reviving the National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) with church support in 1983 in order to monitor the 1984 National Assembly elections. Both in the 1984 balloting and the February 7, 1986, presidential election, NAMFREL played a major role in preventing, or at least reporting, regime-instigated irregularities. The backbone of its organization was formed by parish priests and nuns in virtually every part of the country.

That's an excerpt from a web article called "From Aquino's Assassination to People's Power." The article goes on to mention Sin's behind-the-scenes role in uniting the opposition to fight Marcos's February 1986 "snap election":

Cardinal Sin, an astute negotiator described by one diplomat as "one of the best politicians in the Philippines," arranged a political alliance of convenience between Corazon Aquino and Salvador Laurel, who had announced his own candidacy but agreed to run as Aquino's vice-presidential candidate. Aquino had immense popular support and Laurel brought his superior organizational skills to the campaign. Their agreement to run together was arranged just in time for the deadline for submission of candidacies in early December. The church hierarchy gave its moral support to the opposition ticket. Cardinal Sin, realizing that poor people would not refuse money offered for votes and that the ethic of utang na loob would oblige them to vote for the briber, admonished the voters that an immoral contract was not binding and that they should vote according to their consciences.

After massive voter fraud was uncovered, pressure mounted for Marcos to step aside. When Marcos's Minister of Defense and the head of the national police force called for his resignation and garrisoned themselves near Manila, Cardinal Sin used a Catholic-run radio station to call on Filipinos to support the rebel officers and obstruct any effort by Marcos to attack them. Within a few days, the Marcoses had left the country, and Corazon Aquino took her rightful place as president.

Sin's leadership illustrates a key difference between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. In an authoritarian country like the Philippines under Marcos, strong, independent institutions are still permitted to exist and to operate with a free hand. Under totalitarian rule, such institutions are decimated and brought under control of the regime if not abolished outright. Under the right kind of leadership, an independent institution can provide protection for dissidents and can engage in some degree of direct criticism. Jaime Cardinal Sin was the right kind of leader.

During my summer in the Philippines (1983), the archbishop's name was fodder for many bad puns, and it didn't help that the hit movie of the summer was a locally-produced "bold" film called "Mortal Sin." (The Cardinal's brother, perhaps?) Through his leadership in the People Power Revolution of 1986, his name became associated in my mind with courage rather than comedy.

Some may criticize the Cardinal for using his position of spiritual leadership to wield political influence, but he used it sparingly and wisely to defeat injustice and oppression. I imagine he saw that God had placed him, like Esther, in that position "for such a time as this," to help his people, despite the risk -- how could he refuse to act?

Ave atque vale.

UPDATE: MLQ3 has links to coverage of Sin's death in the Philippine press.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on June 21, 2005 11:04 PM.

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