• Dear Cardinal Tagle (Cultural crises 2!)


    Something landed in my inbox on Thursday, the day the first “Cultural Crises” was published. It was a wonderfully written letter, endorsing one Jose Elmer B. Francisco to the position of Executive Director at the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).

    Now, I had hesitated to name Mr. Franciso—and anyone else for that matter—in that first column because I had no written proof in my hands. But, oh dear, this letter has his name and the Cardinal’s written all over it.

    Looks official to me
    Lest you think that I have been duped by some false letter, let me describe how official this letter looks. It’s got the letterhead of the The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Manila, and it is addressed to His Excellency President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III. Under the header, it says “Thru: Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa.”

    It is signed “Luis Antonio G. Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila,” with signature. It is dated February 7, 2014. The Office of the President stamped it “Received on February 20, 2014 at 1:00PM.”

    What the letter contains is far more interesting, of course. The Cardinal is putting in a good word for Mr. Francisco, who is Director III at the OES (Office of the Executive Secretary), and who has applied for the post of Executive Director at the NCCA. The Cardinal asserts that Mr. Francisco is “known to him personally,” and that his endorsement is based on Mr. Francisco’s “credentials, performance, integrity, and achievements” and “16 years of supervisory experience in the <sic> government.” The Cardinal further says that he “believes he is capable of fulfilling the responsibilities of the post for which he is applying.”

    The clincher though, at least to me was how this letter from the Cardinal to the President ended: “His appointment to the position desired will be very much appreciated,” so says the leader of the Church in Manila.

    What credentials?
    Now it’s easy to go all crazy over a letter like this one, but also one can first ask the question of whether or not Mr. Francisco has the credentials for this position, extraordinary as this endorsement of his application is.

    Well, what landed as well in my inbox was a copy of Mr. Francisco’s CV, where what one sees is not a career in any cultural or academic institution, but one that is in . . . government. That is, he’s been Director III at the Office of the President’s Strategic Initiatives and Monitoring  Office (SIMO) since 2012. From 2007 to 2010 he was Municipal Administrator, from 1998 to 2007 Municipal Councilor, 1996 to 1998 Executive Assistant to the Mayor, all in Imus, Cavite.

    Oh, also Mr. Francisco was the Secretary General of the Liberal Party, Imus Chapter, from 2007 to 2010.

    His Masters Degree is in Management, Major in Public Administration (2000, Philippine Christian University). For two months in 2012 he did a Spanish Extensive Program with the Instituto Cervantes, and since January of this year he’s been doing an Online Course on Management with a business school in Madrid.

    This CV has government service written all over it really. Not a career and nary a body of work on culture, or the arts. And certainly while his position(s) in local government might have meant doing some work in both these spheres, plus maybe in heritage, given Imus as a historical geographical space, this CV speaks of Mr. Francisco’s life work to be about government service.

    Not exactly what NCCA needs, methinks. Another bureaucrat.

    The Cardinal and the President
    This brings me back to this letter, and more than what it says, what it represents. That last bit about the Cardinal “greatly appreciating” Mr. Francisco’s appointment to the position by the President is most interesting because it speaks of a powerplay between the position of Cardinal and that of President.

    That is, it begs the question: why would the Cardinal’s appreciation be so important to the President? It seems like a card is being played, and it’s one that the President will know to respond to accordingly.

    Too, there is this: what business does the Cardinal Archbishop of Manila have with getting Presidential appointees into key government positions? More importantly, how credible is a recommendation for a position in a cultural institution, coming from a Church leader?

    One might argue that in fact— in fact—one of the more critical problems with local culture has to do with the kind of pseudo-double standard-conservatism that the Pinoy Catholic Church engenders and encourages. In no world would it be okay for this kind of Catholicism, as practiced by this Church, to dip its hands in a national commission for culture and the arts.

    Or am I going all conspiracy theory here? But how else to read this grand display of a Church leader throwing his weight around such a thing as presidential appointments?

    We’ve always known there is no separation between the Church and the State in this country, but reading this letter still left me quite incredulous.

    I was also really embarrassed. For the President, who is being put in his place by this endorsement, who in this letter is being told that the Cardinal’s appreciation is one that he needs. For Mr. Francisco who certainly must deserve the position he is already in (yes?), and who certainly must know that there is nothing better than to get a job because he deserves it, and not because the high and mighty in the Catholic Church endorses his application.

    But, oh, dear Cardinal Tagle, this letter also makes me wonder what’s in this for you (and the Pinoy Church you are one of the leaders of). Does this have anything to do at all with Pope Francis coming to visit the post-Haiyan devastated areas next year? What would having a Cardinal-Tagle-recommended Executive Director in the NCCA have to do with that?

    The Pope is coming!
    Well, I don’t know. But there is the hardly transparent and always questioned business of reconstructing and renovating heritage churches as done by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), which the NCCA puts out money for (that’s what the law forces it to do).

    There is also the grapevine burning my ears about how the NCCA, trying to do its job better (because we all know how it really doesn’t do right by the rest of us non-establishment writers and artists, haha!), has demanded of the NHCP proposals for these renovations beforehand, and accounting of expenses after. This should be the right process by which funds are to be disbursed, yes? But apparently the NCCA has to demand it of NHCP, because the latter—under its presidential appointee of a chairperson (who is a sociologist, not a historian—I apologize to all historians)—feels it can ignore that matuwid-na-daan process.

    Now connect that to the fact that after eight months, the renovation of the Bohol Heritage Churches is still at the point of  “pagkokolekta, pagle-label, ng bato”—to quote an auntie of mine who was there recently. This is what’s called “documentation,” as per March 2014 NHCP press releases. This is eight months since the Bohol earthquake.

    Imagine the state of the churches devastated by Typhoon Haiyan in the Visayas. A week ago I traveled to Tacloban in Leyte, Quindaponan, Balangiga and Lawaan in Eastern Samar, and certainly it didn’t seem like any of those churches had gotten any conservation or renovation help. Imagine the number of neglected churches the Pope might see!
    Certainly having an Executive Director who owes Cardinal Tagle his presidential appointment will have a way to get those funds from the NCCA and into the hands of whoever’s in charge of Pope Francis’s Visayas itinerary?

    Because in a country where a cardinal archbishop of the Catholic Church can write a letter of endorsement for someone who is unqualified for a cultural position, anything is possible.


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    1. The use of the term “will be greatly appreciated” seems to be the heart of the issue that bothers the author. Well, that is because she read the phrase with prejudice, to say this doesn’t mean i agree with the Cardinal’s action. Going to the sense of the phrase, I do not think that it directly suggest the idea that if the request was granted or given consideration, the author would be bound to return the favour. We have been sending diplomatic letters with that phrase, but no embassy, international organization or government would immediately interpret it as something reciprocal, but rather understood in its simple and literal meaning, otherwise another word with the import of giving back the favour must follow it. In law school we were taught also, that when the words are clear there is no need for interpretations, especially extended interpretations, but rather the words must be understood according to their plain and simple meaning. Now, the author, seems to sell her suggested interpretation.
      Going to the act of endorsing a person to man a public office, while it may not be always good, I guess would not be evil per se to do so, even if it is done by a clergy. If done under the honest belief that a person being endorsed would carry out the mandate of the office to the best of his ability would not be improper, isn’t it the duty of every Christian to assure that an office should go to the hands of a rightful one (again, I am not defending directly the act of Cardinal Tagle, since only him, under the guidance of his conscience could tell if he did this under his honest belief.)
      Finally, to connect this to the coming visit of the Pope is a sky high speculation. Even if the person endorsed would get the position, no sane clergy would believe that he can fast tract the renovation of the destroyed churches in Leyte and Bohol, in fact the office funds may not even be enough. The reconstruction of the churches in bohol is being done by the government in its own accord having identified these churches as something with historical value. The other churches can be rebuilt but the church on its own.
      To some up, to zero in that Tagle is doing this for the benefit of the “powerful” Catholic Church is a misplaced conclusion, and to suggest that the favour will be returned is even a weak conclusion since the Catholic Church unlike other churches decide on political matters not as a block but on their free will.

    2. D. Canastra on

      Cardinal Tagle should not have written that letter–especially with the “will be greatly appreciated” line.
      This column by Katrina Stuart Santago is proof that the description “powerful” that Filipino reporters and editors love to put before the term “Catholic Church” is baloney. Neither Cardinal Tagle nor any single Catholic bishop nor the Apostolic Nuncio nor the Pope himself is powerful in this country. Politicians and people who come to power as presidents or cabinet members or senators or sub-cabinet officials, like this man Jose Francisco of Imus, Cavite, all try to use the Catholic Church and her bishops. And some of them, like the Archbishop Cardinal of Manila, foolishly allow themselves to be used. But they are not able to get these corrupt government officials and lawmakers to help promote the good moral and religious teachings of the Church.
      Why? Because these officials and lawmakers are not true believers in God and are even Satanic! They are only for their own political and financial interests and pleasures.
      The Christian and moral politicians are alert to the moves of the Catholic bishops to promote morality and goodness. They are always on the Church’s side. But they are so few. That’s why the evil Reproductive Health Law has been enacted–even if it goes against the Constitution, which prohibits population control and the prevention of births.

    3. I agree. The endorsement of Cardinal Tagle is really in poor taste and uncalled for. He should not be writing letters of recommendations for unqualified people AT ALL. This really tarnishes his image.

    4. Gloria M. Kuizon on

      Poor Cardinal Tagle. All he was doing must have been to oblige a fellow Caviteno who asked him to write a letter of endorsement of his application to be appointed head of the NCCA.
      He should have, should hire, a better letterwriter because it is really imprudent of him to use that “will be appreciated” phrase. One wonders if he really wanted it to mean, as it does when used by people who wield power and can bestow favors, that he would be willing to repay President Aquino with a similarly BIG favor if he (Aquino) made Francisco of Imus the NCCA executive director.
      But maybe, like a lot of priests and bishops, Cardinal Tagle is like the little children who do not think words and phrases should be weighed and not written or spoken casually. If so, then His Eminence literally just meant that he would “appreciate”–i.e. like and value highly but without any promise to repay–Francisco’s appointment, just as one appreciates a good book or a tenor’s rendition of Rossini’s Stabat Mater aria.
      I don’t think Cardinal Archbishop Tagle meant by “will be greatly appreciated” that he would — if Francisco got the NCCA Executive Directorship–TELL militant Catholics like the professors at UA&AP, Kit and Mrs. Fenny Tatad. Atty. Alan Paguia, Eric Manalang of Pro-Life Philippines, the Imbong family, the Opus Dei members who worry together with Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz that Philippine society is being made as amoral and Godless as most of the societies in American and European cities are, TO STOP being more popish than Pope Francis. I don’t think Cardinal Tagle will order them to drop their pro-Life stand and stop being loyal to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church as advocated by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, St. John XXIII, St. John Paul II the Great, St. Josemaria Escriva, St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Francis of Assisi, St. John Vianney, Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta, St. Faustina of Divine Mercy and many other saints.
      But I could be wrong. Maybe Cardinal Archbishop Tagle is really a kind of Richelleu.
      It’s ironic that Ateneo professor Katrina Stuart Santiago is exposing Cardinal Archbishop Tagle who admires her university and the 200 or so Ateneo professors who, following Fr. Bernas, were against the CBCP’s conservative doctrinal stand against the Reproductive Health Bill.
      I think Katrina Stuart Santiago, by doing her usual secular-liberal duty to denigrate a Cardinal of the Catholic Church, has weakened the Catholic prelate who seems to be an ideological ally of her feminist, pro-choice, pro-gay marriage and pro-Left admirers.

      • ^ LOL

        Do you really think that the prelate and his clergy do not know the value of sociolinguistic power, even in the form of a letter, a memorandum, or a recommendation for this matter? May I remind you that the Catholic Church has its share of political power play and these priests know the ins and outs of influence in written, spoken and acted language.