Pastor Manny Pacquiao takes center stage, again. Published on March 7, 2017.
Yesterday, in the middle of the afternoon, the following trended on Twitter: #DDSBigReveal, Lascañas, Senate, Manny Pacquiao, Davao Death Squad, and Spiritual Renewal. The six trends were all related to the Senate hearing conducted by the committee on public order to assess retired policeman Arturo Lascañas’ dramatic accusations against President Duterte.
The last, in particular, referred to the witness’ explanation for changing his testimony. Last October, before the Senate committee on justice, he denied the existence of the Davao Death Squad. It was just “media hype,” he said. On Feb. 20, at a news conference in the Senate, and then yesterday, under oath a second time, he said he had been forced to lie the first time because his family’s safety had not yet been secured, but that he really wanted to tell the nation what he knows about Mr. Duterte’s alleged personal liquidation squad because of a “spiritual renewal.”
I can understand why several senators questioned Lascañas’ conversion story. (I use “conversion” here to mean, not a moving from one religion or denomination to another, but rather a turning—that’s the root of the word—from one path to another.) It goes to the issue of motivation. Why change one’s mind, and perjure one’s self? The senators are right in assuming that neither should be taken lightly. Lascañas does have some serious explaining to do.
But I think one reason “spiritual renewal” trended on Twitter yesterday is people reacted to the narrow view some of the senators held about that religious experience.
Sen. Manny Pacquiao’s sanctimonious tone and reductionist view of spiritual renewal, in particular, drew lots of snark online. I will venture to sum up all that sarcasm, in one word. Many people thought Pacquiao was being uncharitable. Pacquiao’s tumultuous personal life has been an open book; indeed, he has turned some of the pages himself, for an avid public. He has pursued women other than his wife, he has gambled heavily, he has been addicted to drugs. Now that he is living the clean life, shouldn’t he welcome another sinner’s spiritual renewal?
His questions about chronology—variations on the same theme, about when Lascañas said he was spiritually renewed—were meant to show that the man who confessed under oath to killing 200-plus people was being inconsistent. Despite his conversion, Lascañas had lied to the Senate the first time, had tried to broker deals, had even issued a threat to a government official. Pacquiao thinks that this makes Lascañas noncredible; anyone who is familiar with the common experience known as backsliding would think the exact opposite. Lascañas is believable in part because he is all too human. Spiritual renewal is difficult, and takes a lifetime.
I borrow Pope Benedict XVI’s words, from 2008, about the conversion story of one of the great sinners-turned-saints: “Augustine’s conversion was not sudden nor fully accomplished at the beginning, but … can be defined rather as a true and proper journey that remains a model for each one of us …. Augustine’s journey of conversion, in fact, humbly continued to the very end of his life, so much so that one can truly say that his various steps—and three can be easily distinguished—are one single great conversion.”
I realize that Pacquiao is no longer Roman Catholic but a born-again Christian, so he may no longer respond to a pope’s reflections. He seems partial, however, to the shock and awe of the Old Testament, which is culled from the faith-testimonies of men (mostly) who had still an unevolved understanding of the Promised One (or, you know, death as penalty). So perhaps, out of many examples, the cautionary figure of David might appeal to Pacquiao: A young man deep-selected to become king of Israel, he was famously filled with God’s spirit. Yet at times, despite being spiritually renewed, he lapsed into serious sin. Surely Pacquiao knows the story of Bathsheba, whom David saw bathing and coveted—eventually sending her husband to certain death in battle so he could claim her for his own. Talk about inconsistency.
And yet God cleansed the remorseful king with hyssop. Is David’s God bigger than Pacquiao’s?