MANILA, Philippines -- In a move that might have altered the course of the Edsa II ?people power? revolt, the Vatican had told the late Jaime Cardinal Sin that it did not want the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines to get involved in the upheaval.
The ?order from Rome? was received by the late Manila archbishop on Jan. 18, 2001 -- or two days before Joseph Estrada quit Malacańang and then Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was sworn in as the new President, a highly-placed source privy to the little-known sidelight to the four-day uprising told the Philippine Daily Inquirer at the weekend.
Sin, who was about to repeat the crucial role he played in the historic 1986 ?People Power? Revolution, was told to ?withdraw the Catholic Church?s participation? in the anti-Estrada uprising triggered by Estrada?s aborted impeachment trial at the Senate for plunder.
Sin?s response was categorical.
If forced to withdraw, he would resign as head of the Archdiocese of Manila, according to the source, who professed to have first-hand knowledge of the backroom negotiations.
The source asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter -- which was never made public, not even after Sin?s death on July 21, 2005.
Another source reached by the Inquirer Sunday night confirmed there was a Vatican directive for Sin and the rest of the Philippine clergy ?not to be partisan? at the height of Edsa II.
?At the time, the Vatican was really frowning on the participation (of the Church),? the second source said.
The order, ?a sensitive matter,? was coursed through what served as the Philippine desk at the Vatican, the source recalled.
Asked where the order had come from, the source said: ?It must have been higher (than the Philippine desk) but I don?t think it was the Pope.?
The Vatican was said to have been displeased over the involvement of the Sin-led Philippine clergy in the new uprising because of its implications on the Catholic Church?s missions in China, Russia and Vietnam.
?The Church was worried about its apostolic mission in Russia, China and Vietnam. It (the intervention of the Church in political events in the Philippines) might create apprehensions that it?s risky to let the Catholic Church come in because it might meddle,? the first source explained.
?Ang order from Rome was for him to withdraw because ayaw na ng Rome na makikialam ang simbahan (The order from Rome was for him to withdraw because Rome didn?t want the Church to meddle),? said the source.
But Sin would have none of it. ?He said he would rather resign,? the source disclosed.
The standoff was resolved after negotiations were held with Vatican representatives. Supreme Court Justice Artemio Panganiban acted as mediator.
Panganiban, who would later become Chief Justice, was then a member of the Vatican-based Pontifical Council for the Laity, an exclusive advisory body to the Pope.
Sin?s position was explained to the Vatican, which apparently no longer pressed the matter.
The rest is history.
When the Vatican?s ?order? for Sin to withdraw came, people had already been holding a vigil at the Edsa Shrine for two days calling for Estrada?s resignation.
The vigil was spurred by a move by Estrada?s 11 allies in the Senate trial to vote against the opening of a sealed envelope suspected to contain documents related to his supposed P3.3-billion bank account.
It was the enormously influential Sin who called for people power, just as he did in 1986.
Soon after the impeachment trial was aborted on Jan. 16, Sin, Arroyo and former President Corazon Aquino, the widow who was swept to power in 1986, joined thousands of people at the Edsa Shrine in Mandaluyong City.
On Jan. 17, the second night of the vigil, Sin exhorted the people in his homily in a Mass at the Edsa Shrine to ?stay here until evil is conquered by good.?
He said there was ?only one immoral President and 11 shameless senators? while there were ?millions and millions of people who will safeguard the truth and, if necessary, die for the truth.?
Before and after his ouster, Estrada said he was a victim of a grand conspiracy between the elite and the Church.
On Jan. 20, Arroyo was sworn in as President by Chief Justice Hilario Davide.
The first source said the Vatican?s order might have changed the outcome of the anti-Estrada uprising.
?Edsa II could have failed, or it could have become bloody,? said the source.
Church without Sin
The source also mentioned the Vatican effort to dissuade the Church from involvement in Edsa II during a recent forum. One of those present said the source did talk about it at that forum.
Sin?s role had been seen by political analysts as crucial in both Edsa I and II because of his perceived moral leadership, which enabled him to command the support of throngs of faithful, forcing the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and Estrada to vacate Malacańang.
In his column ?With Due Respect? in the Inquirer on Dec. 2 last year, Panganiban cited the absence of Sin as one of the reasons the ?people power? called by military rebel-turned-senator Antonio Trillanes IV against corruption in the Arroyo administration on Nov. 29, 2007 failed.
Panganiban said that without Sin, there was ?no one with clout, daring and stature? who would lead a nonviolent revolution. He said the present leaders of the Church had ?different priorities.?
Explaining how Sin did it in the two people power revolts, Panganiban noted that during the cardinal?s colorful incumbency, the Archdiocese of Manila was composed of more than 300 parishes and 70 parochial schools, which were directly under his command.
Archdiocese ?chopped up?
?At his call, each of these parishes and schools could easily produce 500 warm bodies, or a total of nearly 200,000, who could stay in rallies indefinitely without much logistical problems (they bought their own provisions), and who were so organized they marched to the beat of a single drummer. Indeed, he produced the critical mass, who were joined by many, many others,? Panganiban wrote in his column.
Indeed, in his homily at a thanksgiving Mass after Estrada?s downfall, Sin expressed amazement that food never ran out for the throngs at Edsa. He remarked then that ?people power was also food power.?
Panganiban noted in his column that the archdiocese was ?chopped up into six groups? after Sin?s death. He did not say whether the chopping up was deliberately done to undermine a Sin-like hold on the archdiocese.
Panganiban was a member of the Supreme Court which, in March 2001, unanimously ruled that Ms Arroyo was the country?s legitimate President. This was after Estrada had petitioned the court to declare him the lawful President.
Davide and Panganiban inhibited themselves from the court decision. With reports from Nikko Dizon and Cyril L. Bonabente, Inquirer Research