Power Dynamics Beyond Collusion and Resistance – J.M.C. Francisco

4. Allied Powers of Social and Digital Networks

Filipino Catholicism’s symbolic and institutional powers interact with other sources of power in civil society, and thus vary in reach and strength. Unlike contexts like Malaysia where Christian membership, Chinese ethnicity and higher economic status coalesce for greater power, such clear links do not mark Filipino Catholicism.

For example, traditional religions, Islam and Christianity interact across Mindanao, and though some indigenous communities are Moslem or Christian, their “lived religion” is hybrid with elements from these traditions, resulting in either integral development or tension and conflict.

Christian-Buddhist interaction also exemplifies this alliance and hybrid practice. Though local Chinese are traditionally Buddhist, Christians among them continue Buddhist practices. Given Buddhism’s non-restrictive borders, such hybridity does not produce inner tension and even promotes cooperation between Christian and Buddhist groups for social engagement. In typhoon Haiyan’s aftermath in November 2015, Tzi Chi Foundation, a Taiwan-based Buddhist charity, worked with Catholics and Moslems, even building churches and mosques.[12]

Alliances with other powers on social and digital networks are facilitated by both personal relations and compatibility of visions. Personal relations in Philippine society open doors to influence. Catholic school and parish leaders provide access, albeit informal, to government or civil society power centers. Though these do not necessarily bring support for Catholic social engagement, significant instances show such relations amplifying the Catholic voice.

For example, during the Marcos regime, civil society leaders of FLAG (Free Legal Assistance Group) and NAMFREL (National Movement for Free Election) collaborated with church leaders. In the 1986 presidential election between Marcos and Corazon Aquino, NAMFREL volunteers from Catholic institutions fought massive government fraud; nuns called NAMFREL Marines literally sat on ballot boxes.[13]

Alliances with other Christians and Moslems depend on similarity of social views. The People’s Choice Movement, convened in 2015 by Catholic, Protestant and Evangelical laity, protects elections from “guns, goons and gold” and chooses candidates with Christian values.

During the 1990s Mindanao conflict with Moslem factions, Catholic and Protestant bishops and Ulama League of the Philippines members promoted peace through a roving caravan and a million-signature campaign.[14]

With current digital communications, alliances extend into digital space. Catholic groups and individuals create websites and blogs describing their history, vision-mission and activities. But digital alliances wielded greater power in the recent controversy over reproductive health legislation. Lay voices from Catholic schools waged an online campaign criticizing bishops’ pastoral letters and galvanizing wider Catholic support for the legislation’s passage. Because traditional church communications have been “top-down” from official pronouncements to the pews, digital connectivity has provided a platform for open discussion among Catholics.[15]

This online interaction has currently intensified between supporters and critics of President Duterte’s anti-programs like the war on drugs and his anti-Catholic statements. Both sides weaponize digital space through posts and hacking. Duterte’s high approval ratings pose a challenge to critical Catholic leaders and laity, and raise questions about Catholicism’s symbolic and institutional powers.

[12] A. C. Dy, Chinese Buddhism in Catholic Philippines: Syncretism as Identity, Mandaluyong City: Anvil Publishing, 2015, pp. 196-207.

[13] A F. Moreno, Church, State, and Civil Society in Postauthoritarian Philippines: Narratives of Engaged Citizenship, Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2006, 31-68.

[14] Ibid., 110-111.

[15] E. M. O. Genilo, “The Catholic Church and the Reproductive Health Bill Debate: The Philippine Experience,” Heythrop Journal 55 (2014) no. 6, pp. 1052-1065.

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