Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The political relevance of Pope Francis visit to the Philippines

The visit of Pope Francis comes at a critical juncture in Philippine history when the people of this country will choose their next president. The importance of the next president cannot be overly simplified. Whoever the next one is, he stands to lead the nation towards the next decade. And if we base our analysis with what government plans for the next six years, this period is all about ushering in the next stage in economic development of our country.

Now, let's analyse Pope Francis' visit using our socio-political lenses. For the past decade, the influence of the Catholic church remains in the perceptual level, strong. Basing on the Edelman Trust Index for the Philippines (released by Eon Incorporated), the church is still the most trusted institution in the Philippines. The people repose much trust into it, higher than the media, academe, government and non-governmental institutions.

However, insofar as it being a major political player, the church's role has diminished considerably these past few years. There has been hits and misses, with the misses unfortunately in the arena of major concerns, like the contraceptive law, utilities and human rights.

The church suffered from numerous political setbacks, the biggest is the fight against contraceptives. To even makes matters worst, the Aquino administration formally appointed as Health secretary a person who actually led the Congressional fight for the law to be approved. That appointment implicitly stated, albeit, even overstated-ly, the government's resolve to side with the huge multi-billion dollar contraceptive industry.

The church took a firm stance against the mining industry last year. That led to an impasse with the Executive department intervening and leading to several changes in the Philippine Mining Act of 1995. I heard that this year, there is an expected resurgence in the industry after industry players and the government arrived at a compromise.

This visit is very timely because, as I said, in terms of political influence, the church is slowly losing its grip. It has to regain it especially here since the Philippines is the only remaining country which the Church remains a very strong player in civic affairs. It is time to flex its political muscles once more and show to the world that Catholicism remains firmly rooted in Asia, particularly here.

The first step, which is the correct one, is for the Church to re-impose its influence over the Filipino family. The second step is for them to influence the policies of the state, which it is slowly losing.