Religion, Secularism and Democracy in Duterte’s Philippines

Good afternoon, everyone. Can I convince a couple of
people to move down this way? There’ll be great rewards for those, (audience laughing) I won’t say where, but
there will be great rewards, thank you. So welcome, everyone,
my name is Shaun Casey, I’m the director of the Berkley Center and it’s my great pleasure to introduce our speaker this afternoon, David Buckley, David is an assistant
professor of Political Science and Paul Weber Endowed Chair
in Politics, Science & Religion at the University of Louisville, as we’re going to see, his research focuses on
religion and politics and in particular on the
contentious relationship between religious movements and democracy. His book, Faithful to Secularism: The Religious Politics
of Democracy in Ireland, Senegal and the Philippines,
received the 2018 Religion and International
Relations Book Award from the International Studies Association and his award-winning research has appeared in leading journals of political science and media outlets, including The New York
Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal and then David, in a career-killing move, was a Council on Foreign
Relations International Affairs Fellow in the Office of
Religion in Global Affairs, a very nefarious organization
full of shady characters in the US Department of State. This is also something of a
homecoming, I think for David. David did his PhD work here
at Georgetown University not so many years ago and so we’re delighted
that he can be with us, thank you for coming today. I think after David’s presentation, we’re just gonna spend
the balance of time really in Q&A and dialogue with David, so take your notes, pay attention and we’ll have lots of
good questions for David. Join me in welcoming David today. (audience applauding) Thank you David, okay. – Thanks for that kind
introduction, Shaun. Unlike Professor Casey, I stayed on at the State
Department through late July, so my recovery from the shock is still sort of at an earlier stage, but it’s a pleasure to be here, thanks for all of you for being here, it’s fun to be here and
also fun to see friends and old colleagues around the table. So I’ll try to talk for
about 45 minutes today about the project that
is behind this book, but then also about how the framework that I developed in the book
may or may not be holding up in light of developments
in the Philippines, one of the cases where I’ve spent a good bit of research focus in the book. Just to be clear, as I was doing field
research for this project, President Duterte was simply Mayor Duterte and while he’s mentioned in the book, because I had time to
throw a few sentences in before it went to press, that was not sort of the
main focus of the book and so one of the things
that I hope to do today is to, first of all, sort of set out and there we go, did
it already here, okay, set out sort of the project’s overview on the theoretical side of things, what the book project is about. But then what I really want
to spend most of my time doing and hope to talk with you all about is how that project about the
institutional relationship between religion and democracy is or is not holding up, in light of the past 12 to 18
months in Philippine politics and in particular, this
idea of benevolent seculars and that I try to develop in the book and the framework that I tried to set out about how these
institutions could stabilize the religion-politics relationship, even during periods of
great political instability, is there evidence that that’s happening in the Philippines or not and I, you know, sort of to preview where I’ll go at the end of the talk, I do think that there’s
some evidence, right, that some of the mechanisms through which this benevolent, secular,
institutional relationship should stabilize democratic institutions, some of that is going on and I’ll point to some of that evidence, but I do think that
actually there are questions about really, the future
of religious politics in our sort of global populist moment that the Philippines raises that are kind of outside
the framework of the book and where the book maybe
is already on its way to a second edition, maybe
not to be thrown out entirely. Okay, so before we get to the Philippines, just a little bit of background. So for, I’m sure, those of
you around the table here, it’s not news that religion and democracy can be tense partners, so we certainly have examples ranging from the South Africa transition to the People Power
Revolution in the Philippines, where sort of the iconic
images of democratization and political stability are closely tied to political and religious
elites collaborating together, it’s not news probably to most
of us around the table here and it’s also probably
not news that at times, religion and democracy can make for more tense and contentious bedfellows, whether it’s the rise of religious political
parties in places like Israel or in parts of South Asia or
even close to home, right, so we know that the religion
and democracy relationship cannot always be as rosy
as it’s sometimes depicted in these iconic transitional moments in places like South
Africa and the Philippines. Just to give you all, for
those who may not have a background as comparative
political scientists, sort of a sense for how comparativist, that’s what I am, I’m a
comparative political scientist, try to make sense of
religion and democracy sort of intellectually, historically, I would argue that sort of early on, there were sort of two phases, one was that essentially, this
didn’t need to be studied, (laughs) right, that sort of the future of religion and democratic consolidation was maybe an object of
historical curiosity, but not something that needed a whole lot of contemporary attention and that then, particularly in sort of a post September 11th world, there was a second phase,
where political scientists started to pay attention
mostly to be worried, right, that sort of religion could
be a significant, actually, factor in introducing
irrationality and fanaticism and fundamentalism into
democratic politics. I think that, happily,
comparativists have started to move past either of
these two options, right, that sort of religion
is necessarily a threat or is sort of irrelevant and in the project, in the book, what I tried to do is sort
of draw on a framework that the recently passed on
political scientist, Al Stepan, one of the great comparativists
of his generation, set out what he called
the twin tolerations between religion and democracy, right, trying to argue that one the one hand, looking, just empirically
looking around the world at the institutional relationship between religion and democracy,
it’s clear that in fact, our potentially sort of
American-driven assumptions about the need to separate
religion and state, in order for democracy
to smoothly function just doesn’t bear up to the
empirical record, right, if we look all around the world
in comparative perspective, it’s obvious that there’s a wide variety of institutional relationships, that are compatible with democracy and so what instead Al tried
to develop in his own work on this topic was this idea
of the twin tolerations, that so long as there is a
basic toleration by religion of the state in policy
formation and implementation and so long as there’s a
basic toleration by the state for religion, both individual
religious freedom in private, but also public
manifestations of religion, that so long as you are meeting
these sort of standards, there were all sorts of different institutional relationships ranging from formal religious establishment
in places like the UK to more sort of plural religious models in places like India, that
would be broadly considered compatible with democracy, right, and you know, I think that
reorienting our thinking on religion and democracy in this way helped political scientists
and comparativists realize that our job was not necessarily to see whether religion and
state were separated or not, but actually sort of the more diverse and contextual institutional relationships between religion and democratic politics and how those institutional relationships may map on to the twin tolerations. I’ll go through this
very quickly actually, because we don’t need too much of the social science theory here, but you know, there were scholars tied to modernization theory, he pointed to the impact
of economic development, scholars tied to rational
choice competition, he pointed to the importance
of religious fragmentation, scholars tied to certain forms of political cultural analysis, who emphasized the importance of moderate religious networks, usually code for moderate
Muslims, although not always and that’s fine, all good in some ways, although an incomplete
scholarship, that’s out there, but what I tried to do in the project, building on research from
others, is to point to, instead, the importance of political institutions. I don’t know how I’m
continuing to do that, it’s that button down there. Turning to political
institutions and the idea that in fact, what might
be really important in stabilizing the twin tolerations is not so much the ideological moderation of key religious actors, but instead the institutional context, that can encourage strong relationships across religious and secular boundaries. Again, sort of existing
research from scholars like Dan Philpott and Ahmet
Kuru sort of set a foundation that was important to build on and I think raised some
important questions, so Kuru’s research in particular
on varieties of secularism really focused on the difference between Turkey and France and the United States and as I was thinking about this project and the cases that make up the project, the sort of pressing question
that came on my plate was well, what about
varieties of secularism, that aren’t either sort of
aggressive and assertive in the French laïque model or passive and sort of libertarian in the idealized American model anyway, where the government is
actually quite involved in intentionally bringing
religion into public life, although without having a form
of religious establishment. A second and sort of distinct question is how can we start to
trace how institutions matter for patterns of social cleavage? So in other words, how
do institutions shape in a religious relationship, relationships between a
religious majority and minority or tensions or alliances between religious and secular actors in society? And then finally, in places where the twin
tolerations sort of emerge, how do they endure challenging periods, when revisionist movements,
whether those are religious, sort of fundamentalists of different kinds or, and it’s important to
remember that this could be an or, secularist challengers of different kinds trying to destabilize
the twin tolerations, how do institutions shape the politics of those kinds of periods
of political instability? And so that’s what led
in then to this project. I’ll just very briefly give a sense of what I tried to do in the project. I’m happy to answer more
detailed questions about this, but I wanna get to the
Philippines pretty quickly. My basic goal in the
project was first of all, to set out this institutional concept, this institutional variety of what I call benevolent secularism in the project, it’s actually a concept
that comes, that term, very much out of a Philippine case, the Philippine Supreme
Court has actually referred to the institutional relationship between religion and state there as being one of benevolent secularism in a very important
Supreme Court case there and then after developing
what I mean by that concept, which I’ll talk about on the next slide, trying to trace the
ways causally, I think, that institutions matter, that they matter for changing the preferences of key actors over the place of religion and politics and in particular, that they matter for building social
ties and social cohesion between religious and secular actors, who are dedicated to maintaining the twin tolerations in public life and thus, that when periods
of instability threaten, for whatever reason, the institutions form a set of social relationships,
that can be very important to stabilizing religious politics during those threatening periods. Just to briefly run through what I mean by benevolent secularism, it’s a sort of a three-part
institutional package, right, at a basic level, it’s
a institutional variety, where the state actively encourages public religious involvement, but with three very sort of
neutrally essential conditions. First of all, there is
a basic differentiation between religious and state institution, so there’s no state
churches, no state mosque. Second, that there’s institutionalized religion-state cooperation,
sometimes this is funding, for instance, funding
of religious schools, sometimes it’s policy input,
for instance, consultations and development of public health policy, more disaster response policy, a wide range of issues that could come up and then finally, and
this is an important one, that there’s a certain principal
distance that’s maintained, this is the term that
comes out of the work of Rajeev Bhargava, a scholar of religion in Indian public life, the idea that this can’t just be code for, the religion-state
cooperation in particular can’t be code for privileging
one group over another, that there needs to be a
kind of even handedness, an equality of opportunity,
I think it’s fair to say, rather than an equality of outcome, so in other words, if you’re in a country, where one religious tradition
is much more involved in public health infrastructure, they are gonna be more involved in that cooperation at
the second level, right, but that in theory,
there’s no sort of barrier to that kind of involvement extending to other religious communities, if the opportunity is appropriate, right. The point is that this is a variety of religion-state relationship, I think, that’s not New York or Paris, right, that is certainly not the kind of anti-clerical laïque tradition, that has at times characterized France and at times characterized Turkey, but that it’s also not
a sort of hands off, kind of state libertarian
model, that we at least idealize about ourselves
here in the States, although whether we live up to that ideal (laughs) at times is questionable, that there’s actually sort
of active state involvement in religious affairs in these countries, that doesn’t fit with either the passive or the assertive models that
other scholars had pointed to, that isn’t explicitly sort of positive or at least aspiration for engagement. Okay, so how does this matter then for stabilizing the twin tolerations? Well, I try to argue in the book, is that there is actually
a series of mechanisms, through which I think this operates, on the one hand, because
these institutions encourage public
collaboration and cooperation between state and religious elites, religious elites become
committed to the positions, that they adopt in public life, in other words, it’s one
thing for a religious leader to say to another religious
leader in private, “Oh yeah, we would never
threaten your community,” or, “Oh yeah, we will
always respect your rights,” but when it’s done in
public on a regular basis, institutionalized, those
commitments become more credible, I mean across religious bounds, I think it builds a set
of both material interests and a sort of normative
consensus among elites from different slices of
the religious landscape, material interest is what I
mean, what do I mean by that? Well, frequently for
instance, funding streams, that are going to health clinics, or going to schools, promote a set of religious actors across religious boundaries,
who actually share a preference for having that institutional model sort of continue itself over time, so there is a rational side to it, but I also, in my experience and I try to document this
in the cases in the book, think it extends beyond rational interest, that it extends to sort
of normative consensus, that emerges in many of
these, in many of these cases. And then finally, and this I think becomes especially important, during moments of crisis or instability, these institutions that
encourage regular interaction between state and religious authorities form networks of communication
in elite relationships that are easy to mobilize,
that are well institutionalized and that can be activated in moments of potential political crisis, so in other words,
because there are strong, pre-existing elite ties and
also state religious ties at moments of political instability or potential breakdown
in religious politics, these elites know each other,
their staff know each other, their organizations have a
history of working together and that kind of networked
connectivity can matter a lot in moments of political instability, okay. And so in the end, these kinds of institutions
of benevolent secularism, I try to argue in the book,
have been very important to stabilizing the twin tolerations in a pretty diverse set of cases, I’m gonna talk just about the Philippines for the most part today, I look
at Ireland more historically and then at Senegal, so a fascinating Muslim majority democracy in West Africa as well in the book project and try to argue that in
very different environments, we can trace these institutions
having a political effect and again, so just to put it visually for those who like seeing things, so the idea is that from
an institutional challenge, one might have sort of benevolent, secular institutions in place, yes or no, that these institutions have effects where you have them present, you have these public commitments, you have shared interests, you have communication networks
and they’ve been in the end, that leads to these
stronger, social alliances, that stabilize the twin
tolerations over time, that’s the basic idea. Okay, this has been
pretty abstract so far. Before we actually get to the Philippines, I can’t avoid talking
about Senegal for a moment just to illustrate this,
because I think this helps maybe to concretize this. So as some of you may know, Senegal is a sort of
democratic overachiever, according to a number of
socio-economic characteristics, it’s a place that’s been an imperfect, but slowly consolidating democracy from independence from French
rule, through the present and one that’s characterized by laïcité, because of the French legacy, but it’s a laïcité, that
has always been understood, I would argue, much closer to
the benevolent secular model, but there’s an active role
for religious leaders, mostly Muslim, but also
Catholic in public life and it is something that is a sort of shared normative consensus between religious elites and state elites. Well, in the sort of
early 2000s, in the 00s, laïcité in Senegal came
under real challenge and the twin tolerations and Senegal came under a real challenge, broadly speaking the Wade administration was elected with great fanfare, right, it was a alteration of political power from one party to the other,
which was very important, but very quickly it became clear, that the implications
for religious politics could be troubling and Wade
circulated a draft constitution, which removed language related to laïcité from that constitution
and broadly speaking, there was a sense that he was intending and trying to privilege
his own Sufi order, this is Wade on the right here prostrating himself on state television before the leader of the
Mouride Sufi Brotherhood, one of the Sufi brotherhoods in Senegal and there was a sense that Wade was breaking down this principle distance, that he was seeking to build
particularly strong ties with the Mourides, who were his own people to the exclusion both
of other Sufi orders, but also potentially to the
Catholic minority, right. This all came to a sort of a head around the contentious final
election of Wade’s career, well, at that time, final
election, he may be coming back, and the thing that was
interesting for the theory, right, was that in this moment of a
sort of contentious election, that involved religious politics being put under some strain, these mechanisms sort of
snapped into operation, a network of religious and
secular NGOs in civil society, both Muslim and Catholic and sort of not particularly religious organized itself under the heading of what was known as
the Assises Nationales and issued a platform, a charter
on democratic governance, that covered a lot of ground, it was not just about
religion, but included a… no, there it is, maybe, maybe not, and that included a platform plank on laïcité, on restoring
laïcité in public life and in fact, during the
closing days of the campaign, when Wade made a bid to
try to get an endorsement, a formal political endorsement
from the Mouride Khalife, the sort of Mouride
leadership stepped back, they didn’t of course direct their people not to vote for him, but
they wouldn’t give him the endorsement that he was looking for in the closing days of the campaign and what I tried to trace in the book is that the reason that
this response, right, to this instability in
Senegal was so effective from religious and civil society was because of these
pre-existing relationships tied to the religion-state
relationship in Senegal over the course of the
past sort of 50 years or so preceding this, right,
that’s just one illustration. Let’s talk about the Philippines now and first how this framework
maps on to just kind of the background of religion
in Philippine democracy and then to the current moment there. As many of you may know, it’s
sort of commonly remarked that the Philippines is the
only Catholic country in Asia, this is both with Timor-Leste’s
independence inaccurate, and also sort of incomplete, right, it’s not even the most Catholic
country in Asia anymore, it’s roughly 80% Catholic,
probably a touch above, significant other Christian minorities, some of those are sort of mainline, what we would think of as mainline Protestant’s
domination tied to colonialism, some of them are more recent, Charismatic and Pentecostal
and Evangelical churches, that have spread in the
past 20 years or so. It’s worth noting that that percentage has not grown nearly as rapidly as for instance, in
parts of Latin America, so sometimes it’s remarked that Philippine political development looks
a lot like Latin America’s and it does in some ways, but you haven’t seen the
explosion of Pentecostalism, for instance in the Philippines, that you have in parts of Latin America, the Catholic church has maintained pretty clear demographic predominance and of course, the
Muslim minority probably a little bit north of
5% of the population, demographics are contentious,
because that population is concentrated on the island of Mindanao, which is itself an active conflict zone and so our demographics aren’t great, but that’s probably roughly
where the landscape is. As I opened up the talk
actually mentioning in some ways, the Philippines is a sort of ideal
typification of this model, benevolent secularism
and one of the key cases from the third wave of democratization, where religious actors are
really seen as really central to stabilizing democratic politics, right, so in other words, why does
the People Power Revolution go so relatively smoothly in 1986? Well, one of the answers
that you frequently hear is because Cardinal Sin
in the church stabilized what could have been a
very violent confrontation between the regime and the military, right and I think there’s some
truth to that historically and I talk about some of that in the book, it’s an incomplete story, right, the revolution did not just
happen, because of the church, but the church was a very
important contributor to not just the Catholic church actually, also different Protestant communities were very important contributors
to that stable transition. It is also the case that
that postcard version of religion and politics
in the Philippines, that the church, especially
the Catholic church sometimes likes to tell about itself has always allowed for more
conflict under the surface, especially recently
actually, so I’m gonna talk about tensions between President Duterte and different religious leaders, especially the institutional
Catholic church, but under the previous administration of the son of the legendary Cora Aquino, there was a significant conflict between the institutional
church especially and Aquino’s Liberal party over a piece of reproductive health legislation, that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference was very much opposed to and so there’s always been some contention built into the relationship,
but I would argue actually and this, I do talk
about a lot in the book, even during the RH law debates,
the Reproductive Health law, known as the RH law, even
during those debates, while it’s true that the Catholic
church didn’t get its way, the trademarks of benevolent secularism were very much visible, so in other words, you had consultations between
the institutional church and political elites, you had different
churches being brought in and the Muslim community being brought in, this wasn’t just about Catholicism, it was about a kind of
principle distance between the government and its
different religious communities and that those consultations actually mattered to the legislation, that there were substantive changes made in this legislation, especially around how
it would be rolled out through religious hospitals and schools, that actually showed the endurance
of benevolent secularism, even during that controversy, right. I think that it’s that
pattern of cooperation, that has come under some question in the past 12 to 18
months in the Philippines, many of you, I’m sure are
basically familiar with this, so I won’t labor it in too much detail, but in May 2016, President
Duterte is clearly elected, although with a minority
of the popular vote, because of a fragmented
political landscape, but he clearly wins out over the more sort of conventional,
mainstream, national politicians, Mar Roxas coming out the Aquino
sort of political machine and other rivals, Grace Poe and Binay. When he’s elected,
(laughs) when he’s elected, he’s mostly known in so far
as he’s known internationally as a long time Mayor of Davao City, one of the largest
cities in the Philippines outside of the metro Manila area, right, the largest city on the island of Mindanao and so this kind of persona and political career as a Manila outsider is very important to his political rise, but also important to his political rise is a kind of contentious public agenda, and an unapologetically so,
contentious public agenda, he runs promising to bring his
get-tough-on-crime approach to the War on Drugs to the national level, he runs promising constitutional reform, especially designed to decrease the power of what’s sometimes called Imperial Manila in Philippine politics and increased federal
decentralization of power and on a few issues, he
actually runs on issues, that give some hope to sort of progressives in the Philippines, I’m including within the
Philippine religious landscape, he’s seen as somebody who has credibility to push forward peace negotiations both with Muslim rebels
and also with the left, the sort of enduring leftist
insurgency in the Philippines and he’s also seen as someone, who is no friend of mining companies, which is a major environmental
issue in the Philippines, so this is the agenda that
he brings into office. In terms of his relationship to religion, it’s fair to say that even
before he becomes president, it’s a contentious one, right, some of you may have
heard about this quote in light of Pope
Francis’s visit to Manila, the church, they used a
popular and vulgar term to refer to the Pope,
he really was referring to the traffic that the Pope caused, but which is in fairness, probably a reasonable enough
thing to be irritated about, but still the path to
the Philippine presidency has not tended to
involve using a vulgarity to refer to the Bishop of Rome, so there was sort of a tense,
pre-existing personal history, it’s also important to
note that it is personal also in the sense that he alleges having been the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of a Jesuit priest,
an American Jesuit priest actually in his adolescent years, right, so it is very, it is, I think it is a, there are personal sort of tensions there, it’s not just about the policy agenda. Before the election, the
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, the CBCP was clearly quite concerned
about his likely election, they did not explicitly name him in their pre-election statement, but they also clearly set
out a set of policy concerns about both personal morality, which was meant to refer
to his sort of comments about women and actions
toward women at times, but also the War on Drugs, that were designed to
express their grave concern, it didn’t matter, right, in the end, he wins the election anyway, is worth noting that some of his sort of longterm partners in governance, around Mindanao, especially in Davao, including within the Catholic church were quite supportive of him early on and really thought that, “No, no, no, “you guys are getting him wrong, “right, he’s gonna present an opportunity, “especially on environmental politics “and peace negotiations,” so Father Joel Tabora is
the president of Ateneo, not Manila University, but
the Ateneo University in Davao and he was an enthusiastic supporter of the president early on, especially for his appointments
to the administration regarding the environment, so there was potentially some optimism. But very quickly tensions between not just the Catholic church, although primarily the Catholic church and the administration grew
and they particularly grew, because of the very rapid rollout of a sort of militarized approach to anti-narcotics operations
by the administration, without getting into
too much of the details, already Human Rights Watch estimates that at least 13,000 individuals have been killed in these operations, the majority of these are not killed in official police operations, the majority of these are killed in shadowy, vigilante killings, which many assume are tied in
some way to the police force, but are not documented to be so, although with the recently
launched ICC investigation we’ll see what sort of becomes documented. There’s no doubt that
this is the main source of tension between, in terms of policy, between Duterte and the CBCP. It’s also fair to say that the sort of declaration of Martial Law across Mindanao in response to the ISIS takeover, or the ISIS-affiliated group
takeover of Marawi City has raised some concern, that word, Martial Law
carries a serious legacy in Philippine political circles and religious circles and while I think most
were quite supportive of the need to respond to
the invasion of Marawi, Martial Law has been renewed many times, it’s enforced not just in
that part of the island, but extended across the island and there are concerns about
its potential extension across the rest of the country and then also some of those issues tied to environment
and peace negotiations, I won’t go into too much depth of this, but have really stalled, right, so after some optimism
on both those fronts, things have really, really
actually slowed to a crawl, as the administration has essentially prioritized these first
two sets of issues, especially the War on Drugs,
but also the military response to the situation in Mindanao and I think largely have been ineffective and distracting at pushing through its, I think probably sincere
desire to make some progress on environmental issues
and peace negotiations. So this tension has been brewing, what I would argue is that actually this is not just a tension
that’s about politics and the War on Drugs, but it’s actually started to bleed over into the institutional
sort of relationship between religion and state, so for instance, a series of witnesses to police involved shootings
tied to the drug wars have started to seek sanctuary
with sympathetic clerics, right, this has led to high ranking Justice Department
officials in the Philippines threatening to prosecute clerics, who are involved in harboring witnesses, this hasn’t been followed
through on, right, but this also isn’t just
anyone making this threat, this is a Cabinet-level
official saying this. There have been threats
toward religious broadcasters, so the Catholic church’s
radio network, Radio Veritas is a very important
piece of infrastructure, that the Catholic church has, it played a role in the People
Power Revolution in 1986, it’s how Cardinal Sin broadcasted his call for people to come into the streets, the House of Representatives, which is controlled by Duterte
and his political allies has not revoked the license to operate, but has so far failed to
renew the license to operate for Radio Veritas, we’ll
see what comes of that, it’s part of a broader set of threatened anti-media freedom actions, that have been percolating
over the last few months and then finally there have been a few very high profile cases of
grassroots religious activists, not just Catholic, but Catholic and tied to Protestant communities, who have been killed by local power elites in, probably in sort of punishment
for their local activism challenging local
enforced power structures and this has frustrated a number of people within the national level
of religious leadership, right, so in other words, I wouldn’t say that this has deteriorated
to a full blown crisis for the twin tolerations yet,
but it’s not just rhetoric, there are sort of concrete,
institutional pieces, that are starting to
shift in the Philippines. Okay, well, my framework says, or the idea that I tried
to develop in the book, says that there should
be some responses here, we should see these coalition actors, both Catholic, but not just Catholic, responding to this breakdown
in the twin tolerations. We have seen some of this, so over the course of
his year plus in office, the church is not just
the Catholic church, also members of minority
Christian churches have become much more vocal and not just rhetorical,
but also action-oriented in some of their protests
to anti-narcotic operations, there have been a series of rallies both involving the Catholic church and also involving different
Christian minority churches, there’s been institutionalized
bell ringings, or ringing of the bells of
churches around the country, they actually just today
announced a new set of protests in two weeks, that I think is gonna be more explicitly tied
just to Catholic actors, so there’s been more
protest and importantly, not just religious actors,
but also religious actors cooperating with secular portions of civil society in all this, right, so working with human
rights advocacy groups, that would not think of themselves as religious organizations, but share interest in this space. There’s been close cooperation between the institutional church and
the Commission on Human Rights, which is a semi-governmental
organization in the Philippines written into the
post-revolutionary constitution to monitor human rights and there’s been cooperation between that Commission
and religious actors, which became particularly important when the House of
Representatives threatened to defund the Commission on Human Rights, so Duterte’s allies in the House
initially floated a budget, that zeroed out the
funding for the Commission on Human Rights, or nearly zeroed it out and religious actors
rallied to its defense, so again, these kind of
coalitional alliances are operating to an extent and around now, the question of constitutional
revision, so the revisions to the post-People Power
constitution of 1987, which Duterte’s administration seems to be really pushing now, that’s a sort of main public priority right now into the New Year. You’ve seen sort of engagement
between religious actors and the good governance organizations, that you would expect to be very concerned with technicalities of how do
you reform the constitution, what does it mean for term limits, what does it mean for federal
structures and all of that? So I would argue that all of this is actually broadly consistent
with what we might expect and importantly, all of
these involve partnerships, that pre-exist to the
Duterte administration, because the Philippine
religion-state relationship encourages these partnerships
on a regular basis, so in other words, most
of the folks leading these organizations have worked
with each other for decades, many of them stretching back actually even to the Revolution
in ’86, they have those strong, pre-existing
networks of communication, they have a set of, I think,
sincere normative preferences, that have a lot of overlap
and that has made them able to respond in this
unstable environment, so that’s part of the story
that I think holds up okay, but I think that the
other part of this story that has to be told is that it’s not clear if these responses are
gonna matter (laughs) right now in the Philippines, I mean, in Philippine politics, the future is very uncertain right now. On the one hand, there
have been some assurances from the President’s Office, for instance, the constitutional revision will not mean extending
his term in office, so in other words, there have been, now again who knows if
he will stick by this, although I tend to think he will, so there have been some
attempts to assure the bishops and other religious groups, “No, no, no, “we’re just going to introduce
a form of federalism, “we’re not going to destabilize “the stability of democratic institutions “in the broader
religion-state relationship,” some of this is going on, a lot of this is actually through informal
channels of communication, which are very symptomatic
of benevolent secularism, so many of, three in particular of Duterte’s sort of senior allies, including the Secretary of
his Cabinet, Jun Evasco, are either clerics or were in
seminary at some point in time and have strong, personal ties
to the institutional church, but there’s no doubt
that there’s real tension between religious actors
and the executive branch over the War on Drugs in particular, there’s no real evidence
that that’s doing anything to his overall popularity rating now, survey research in this
kind of an environment has its limitations, I actually do a good
bit of survey research, I’m happy to talk more about this, but after a little bit of a drop in the third or fourth
round of survey work, that social weather stations did, his approval rating has
bounced right back up and he appears to have
really robust public support from most of these policies and it’s not clear, I
think it’s also not clear to the bishops in the Philippines and to the other religious
actors, who are concerned, whether they can swing public opinion on this issue, to be honest or not. (laughs) This is the sort of news from actually just the
past couple of weeks, so the newest revision in
the policy and who knows, is this sort of a good
thing or a bad thing, I tend to think it’s very cynical, the announcement was that police officers involved in these operations,
the Tokhang operations, should be carrying bibles
and rosaries with them, as they go about their
business to assure the people, that actually they come
with the best of intentions and aren’t there to just execute
them in cold blood, right, you know, is this benevolent
secularism in action? I actually tend to think
not, I tend to think (laughs) this is a fairly cynical
move by the administration and I think, just to sort of step back out to the general level
for our last slide here, that what this points to is a few things in the overall framework that
I tried to argue in the book, that probably need to be revisited or at least thought more about, what is it that even in
highly religious societies like the Philippines, the fact is that demand
for religious influence in politics is not automatic and just because a population
is highly religiously devout doesn’t mean they care
what the bishop says, now of course, the
bishops know this, right, but sometimes this is news
to political scientists, I mean, sometimes
political scientists think that religious people are
sort of Pavlov’s Holy Dogs and sort of when the religious authority rings the bell, they respond, well, the fact is that survey
research in the Philippines, for instance shows that
even weekly attenders even among just Catholics are actually quite
reluctant to express support for religious leader influence
over government decisions, they’re sort of 19%
only of weekly attenders will say that they, it’s
a weird question wording, they’ll say they disagree with the idea that religious leaders should not influence government, right and weekly attenders are
no more likely to disagree, than those who attend
less than weekly, right, there’s an equal gap, so the idea there’s some sort
of pious Catholic majority, that’s just latently
waiting for the bishops to, you know, to sort of exert leadership and they’ll automatically
respond, you know, I think this is the reality
is more complex than that and like at a theoretical level, but links between elites
and average citizens is something that I think has scholars, but also as policy practitioners, we need to pay more attention to, right, the idea that the lived
reality of religion in politics is much more complex
than what elite bodies may put out as their statements. Second, this is, I don’t exactly know how this fits into the framework, but it’s a phenomenon that’s going on and not just in the Philippines, but it’s been interesting to track there, so the influence of this era of fake news and social media trolling and manufactured reality,
that we all inhabit has on religious authority, so President Duterte has
very effectively assembled a sort of online apparatus to engage in the kinds of questionable news propagation, that we’ve seen in a lot
of context recently, right and this has involved also sort
of aggressive attacks online on any or all opponents, right, sort of discrediting etc., etc., but religious leaders have gotten very much caught up in
this in the Philippines, so there was one set of
allegations made against a bishop, that were not actually new rumors, as far as I understand,
the rumors had been around, but they sort of moved into
this online environment in a very aggressive way and I think that just, I don’t know, as I was thinking about this talk or these questions about
the future effectiveness of religious elites in this
kind of current environment, that we, information
environment that we inhabit and then finally, you know, the sort of, whether you wanna call it a populist moment or a nationalist moment or some combination of those two things, that is going on in the
Philippines right now and also going on in Turkey and Russia, here at home and in Western Europe and Central Europe, I think that it is, I know I
haven’t thought this through, but it’s a different set of questions about the relationship between
religion and democracy, than we had maybe 10 years ago, the question isn’t will
the religious majority try to take over the
state institutions, right? In most of these cases, the
cases I’ve just mentioned, that’s just not the
relevant question anymore, it seems to me the
relevant question actually is will secular state elites totally co-opt the religious landscape, in order to build up their
own populist movement? We’ve seen moves in this
direction in Russia, in Turkey, analytically I would argue
in the United States. Duterte joked actually once that he’s just gonna found
the Church of Duterte, right, “So I don’t care
what the bishops say, “I’m founding the Church of Duterte “and you all should just
come believe in me,” he was joking, right, he’s
actually a pretty funny guy, but I think he gets at
something of this broader trend towards religious elites,
secular political elites, very effectively in some context instrumentalizing religious leaders to support their populist movements, that is just a different
analytic question, that I think most comparative
political scientists were asking even 10 years ago, right, the question isn’t, is
a traditional religious elite going to take over state institutions? I think it’s much more, will
these populist movements so thoroughly co-opt religious actors and even promote their own
preferred religious actors, that they become indistinguishable
from the regime in power and I think there’s a lot of room for thinking about that going forward, so I will leave it at that for now, thank you all, yeah, cheers and, (laughs) (audience laughing) couldn’t resist, I couldn’t resist although I do again, I think this isn’t just a
sort of Philippine question, I think it’s a broader question and it’s also a question about how these local religious dynamics, even in periods of kind of optimism, like the People Power
Revolution were always tied up in a broader geo-strategic environment that is just changing
very rapidly too, right, I mean, there’s no doubt
that there’s been a change in American rhetoric towards
the administration in Manila, since our own political transition and the broader sort of
regional-international power dynamics need to be
factored in here as well. Okay, I’ll hush up and take a seat, I look forward to the talk. – Thank you very much.

Maurice Vega

3 Responses

  1. Philippine is a democratic country if not then American Protestant religion will not be allowed to exist in the Philippines period. So stop making useless talk on regards to Philippines Catholic Faith and Belief.

  2. Protestant denomination exist due to self or personal interpretation of the Bible look how so-called Christian religion exist since 15th century to present and some to the extent became a cult like Branch Davidians in Texas and the Jonestown colony in the late 70s or 90s.

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