During the 1980s, I thought it was funny, and sadly appropriate, for the head of the Catholic Church in the Philippines to be a man called Cardinal Sin.
Certainly, the crimes committed against the Filipino people at that time was a sin. Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos had been ruling the Philippines for 20 years, and they greedily plundered the economy and lived lavishly while much of the economy was mired in poverty. I remember reading news about the Philippines at that time with a certain sense of dread. Benigno Aquino got shot and killed. The Marcos government was cracking down and seemed to have friends in the Reagan administration that would let them get away with murder. The opposition turned to Aquino’s widow, a housewife with no political experience and no desire to lead a country. And the church stood by for 20 years as Marcos terrorized the country. I didn’t have high hopes for the Philippines as Marcos called snap elections in 1986. I didn’t see how things could wind up as anything except tragic.
The events that unfolded that year astounded me. Election officials fighting to make sure ballot boxes were not tampered with. Masses of rich and poor pouring out on the streets with yellow shirts and rosaries, standing in front of tanks with prayers and appeals to their compassion. Cory Aquino, the housewife leader, turned out to have real leadership qualities, as she calmly went about her business with a confidence in God. And Archbishop Cardinal Sin used the power of the Church to insure that the unfolding revolution stay nonviolent and democratic.
I was wrong about a lot of things. I kept the March 10, 1986 issue of Time magazine, that chronicled the People Power Revolution, and learned about how important Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin was in influencing the change in the year 1986. The archbishop encouraged opposition political leaders and quietly aided in Cory Aquino’s run for the Presidency. When opposition military factions broke with Marcos, Cardinal Sin called on the Filipino people to go out to the streets to support them. Radio Veritas, the Catholic radio station, broadcast instructions to the crowds to insure that marches stayed peaceful. I had a stereotype of the higher Catholic officials who supported the rich and the powerful, and were Marx’s opiate of the masses. Cardinal Sin showed me that year that the higher clergy could be on the right side of history, that Marx could be wrong.
The events that year made me very proud of my heritage. I grew up in military bases, so I grew up more American than Filipino and with little first hand knowledge of my Filipino culture. The people who went to the streets and risked their lives to stand in front of tanks armed with only rosaries and flowers really impressed me. So that year I took a course in Asian American history and began reading Carlos Bulosan and “America is in the Heart” and began asking my parents about their lives and the lives of my grandparents.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, so many astounding things happened. The People Power Revolution in the Philippines. The freeing of Nelson Mandela and the peaceful fall of Apartheid. The fall of the Eastern bloc and the dissolving of the Soviet Union. I’m sure there were times that activists in those countries were discouraged, that it seemed like things wouldn’t change and horrible governments would have impunity to oppress their peoples. They didn’t give up, and their activism bore fruit. Evil systems fell. And though each country has had its struggles since then, at least the people have a say on their own destiny.