Sin, Jaime

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Jaime Sin

Born Jaime Lachica Sin, August 3, 1928, in New Washington, the Philippines; died of multiple organ failure, June 21, 2005, in the Philippines. Cardinal. Cardinal Jaime Sin helped his country, the Philippines, become a true democracy by supporting its "People Power" protests of 1986. When dictator Ferdinand Marcos claimed he had won a rigged presidential election, Sin asked Filipinos to take to the streets of Manila, the country's capital, to protect two top military officials who defied Marcos. One million people answered Sin's call, pressuring Marcos to resign. In his almost 30 years as archbishop of Manila, Sin served as his nation's moral and political conscience. He led the protests that caused a second president to resign in 2001 amid corruption charges.

Sin was born in the central Philippines to a Chinese merchant and his Filipino wife. He was their 14th child in a family of 16. He became a priest in 1954, when he was 26, and was ordained a bishop in 1967 and an archbishop in the provincial archdiocese of Jaro in 1972. He was made archbishop of Manila in 1974 and a cardinal in 1976. He became a leading voice of conscience to Catholics throughout Southeast Asia, especially the heavily Catholic Philippines, on issues from poverty to government corruption and human-rights violations.

Marcos, the Philippines' longtime president, instituted martial law around the time Sin became archbishop of Manila. Eventually Marcos replaced martial law with his direct personal rule. So Sin became, in the words of the Times of London, Marcos' "most saintly critic." At first, Sin's policy toward the Marcos government was known as critical collaboration. Sin would criticize the regime but not encourage extreme confrontation or revolt. A conservative at heart, Sin feared that sudden social upheaval could become a revolution that would also hurt the church. He feared following the path of South Vietnam, where Buddhist monks had weakened the ruling regime by confrontational protest, making it easier for Communists to seize power. "I must be a minister of reconciliation as well as a prophet of denunciation," he once said, according to the Times.

However, Sin became a more aggressive critic of Marcos after opposition leader Benigno Aquino was assassinated in 1983. He encouraged Filipinos to challenge the government to reform. When Aquino's widow, Corazon Aquino, challenged Ferdinand Marcos in a presidential election in 1986, Sin warned Marcos that keeping power through electoral fraud would be "unforgivable," according to the Washington Post. When Marcos rigged the election in February of 1986 and claimed to have narrowly beaten Aquino, Sin and other Catholic bishops encouraged the "people power" movement that supported Aquino by calling the Marcos regime illegitimate and suggesting that Filipinos use "peaceful and non-violent means," according to the Times, to pressure Marcos to leave office. At one point, Sin even led his congregation in a chant of Corazon Aquino's name during a Mass.

When Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Fidel Ramos, vice chief of staff of the military, decided to break with Marcos, they called Sin and said they would support Aquino's claim to the presidency. So Sin went on the radio and asked Filipinos to go into the streets to protect Enrile and Ramos from being attacked by Marcos loyalists. A million people joined the protests. Soon after, the United States government, until then a Marcos ally, withdrew its support, and Marcos went into exile. After Aquino became president, Sin announced that he was in critical solidarity with the government, instead of critical collaboration.

Sin continued to speak out against government corruption, which had flourished under Marcos but did not end when he left. "We got rid of Ali Baba, but the 40 thieves remained," Sin once said, according to the Chicago Tribune. In 1999, the cardinal criticized the new president, Joseph Estrada, an infamous womanizer and gambler of whom the church disapproved, for limiting press freedom and making secret deals with "cronies of the Marcos dictatorship," according to the Times. When allegations surfaced in 2000 that Estrada had taken millions of dollars in gifts from illegal gambling, Sin called on him to resign. The Filipino House of Representatives impeached Estrada, but the impeachment trial broke down when the prosecutors resigned after the Senate refused to unseal some evidence. Sin spoke to a huge crowd at a religious shrine, declaring, "We know in our hearts that the president is guilty," according to the Times, and praying for him to resign. Soon, Estrada did.

A few months later, poor people who had supported Estrada because of his efforts to fight poverty rioted and stormed into the presidential palace. Sin responded by apologizing that the Catholic Church in the Philippines had often neglected the poor. In 2003, just before soldiers attempted a coup against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Sin urged Filipinos to guard against those who would try to overthrow the country's democratic government. The coup failed.

Sin always supported democracy, but his conservative stances on social issues (which fit with those of his church) led to disagreements with the government, especially when Ramos became president in the 1990s and promoted birth control. Sin was also known as a strong opponent of abortion. The Catholic leadership in the Vatican, meanwhile, was reportedly uncomfortable at times with Sin's close involvement in politics. It also disapproved of his attempts to establish a dialogue with communist China. But Sin was motivated by an interest in the Catholic Church in China, and his visits to the country in the 1980s allowed him to report to Pope John Paul II about his first-hand encounters with Chinese Catholics. Sin also opposed the United States' decision to go to war with Iraq in 2003 and criticized the Philippine government for supporting the invasion.

"Sin was an engaging man of great personal warmth, with a keen, dry sense of humor," the Times noted after he died. The cardinal often showed his humor by contrasting his name and his work. He would greet visitors to his residence by saying, "Welcome to the House of Sin," and when he was briefly mentioned as a potential successor to Pope John Paul II, he said it would not happen because "my name is bad," according to the Washington Post.

Sin retired from the post of archbishop of Manila in November of 2003 when he reached the church's mandatory retirement age of 75. "I have given my very best to God and country," Sin said, according to the Washington Post. "I beg pardon from those I might have led astray or hurt. Please remember me kindly." In April of 2005, when Pope John Paul II died and Catholic cardinals worldwide were called to Rome to choose the next pope, Sin's poor health, including kidney and heart problems, kept him from attending.

Sin died of multiple organ failure on June 21, 2005, a few days after coming down with a fever. He was 76. After his death, Arroyo remarked that she was often guided by Sin's "wisdom and profound love for the poor and oppressed," according to the New York Times. "A great liberator of the Filipino people and a champion of God passed away," Arroyo said. Sources: Chicago Tribune, June 21, 2005, sec. 2, p. 12; Los Angeles Times, June 21, 2005, p. B10; New York Times, June 21, 2005, p. A21; Times (London), June 22, 2005, p. 57; Washington Post, June 21, 2005, p. B6.