Three decades ago, amid the national crisis following the 1983 assassination of opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr., the present president’s father, the Philippine Church heeded the call of then-Pope John Paul II to declare 1985 a year dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
As Jesuit theologian and Aquino family spiritual adviser Fr. Catalino Arevalo recalls, the country was alone in obeying the future St. John Paul. In December 1985, the month after the Marian year ended, then-autocrat Ferdinand Marcos called snap elections in February to finally put to rest escalating challenges to his rule. But widespread cheating further exacerbated protests, leading to his downfall in the People Power Revolution.
Fast-forward to June 8, 2013: as Catholic bishops decreed five months before, “all Dioceses, Parishes, Schools, Institutions, Families [offered]solemnly a joint public act of entrustment to the Blessed Mother, Mother of our people and our country.” Thus, the prelates led “a Simultaneous National Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
Will that second consecration to the Mother of God herald another upheaval? So far, since June 2013, the administration of President Benigno Aquino 3rd certainly has seen one debacle after another.
Timeline of turmoil
That very consecration month, the Inekon extortion scandal emerged. Apparently, the extortion planners tried to implicate presidential sister Ballsy and her husband to keep themselves from the spotlight. The alleged attempt to extort $30 million from the Czech trainmaker led to the ouster of Metro Rail Transit manager Al Vitangcol, now seen as a scapegoat for higher-ups.
The weeks before Aquino’s State of the Nation Address last July, the pork barrel scam expose erupted, based on disgruntled operator Bernard Luy’s accusations. The controversy shifted public attention from Inekon to Luy’s estranged boss Janet Lim Napoles and some of her alleged clients, including opposition Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Bong Revilla.
Public outrage, however, blazed beyond targeted personalities and consumed pork barrel itself. Palace and Congress eventually had to torch the Priority Development Assistance Fund, after 100,000 massed at Rizal Park on August 27, National Heroes Day, to denounce PDAF–the largest rally under Aquino.
Publicly accused of graft, Estrada and Revilla hit back with privilege speeches exposing Malacañang’s pork inducements to oust then-Chief Justice Renato Corona. That brought to light an even bigger slush fund, the P170-billion Disbursement Acceleration Program. Opponents promptly took DAP and PDAF to the Supreme Court, which would eventually declare them unconstitutional.
Chastisement from above?
Believers looking for God’s hand in national events may see divine retribution in the demise of congressional and presidential pork. For the funds had greased the way for pet Palace bills, from the annual budget to the Reproductive Health Law.
In RH, Aquino backtracked on his promised “conscience vote” and used PDAF and probably DAP largesse to herd legislators behind the Church-opposed measure in December 2012. Thus, this writer lamented in the article “Aquino’s troubles and the wages of sin” last November: “To battle divine promptings in lawmakers’ consciences, and on top of that, to employ this corrupting tactic for a measure that threatens the unborn, heaps sin upon unconscionable sin.”
Today, the instruments of that ungodly inducement are scrapped by the High Court. Brought low too is the architect who trebled PDAF under Aquino and concocted the even bigger DAP. Budget Secretary Florencio Abad has seen his reputation as a Harvard-educated technocrat and lawmaker greatly tarnished for having undermined the budget process, the separation of powers, and the integrity of the elected.
If he eventually leaves office in disgrace, Abad’s fate would seem to mirror that of resigned Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office Chairperson Margaret Juico. She left PCSO last month, supposedly because top Aquino ally Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas resented sanctions imposed by a leisure club headed by her husband.
But devout Catholics may also point to Juico’s sacrilegious and patently false claims in June 2011 — three years before her departure from PCSO — that seven bishops got luxury sports utility vehicles from the lottery during the Arroyo administration. In fact, the prelates used aid funds to buy pickups, vans and other transport, some second-hand, for use in charity missions.
Looks like the Lord metes out justice to those who muzzle His voice in men’s hearts, and malign His vicars in our eyes.
Conflict, quake and killer storm
What about President Aquino, who abetted Juico’s untruths and used Abad’s pork to bring Congress to heel? Besides the biggest street protests, Aquino also saw the worst national calamities so far during his term in the second half of last year: the month-long Zamboanga City siege by Moro National Liberation Front fighters in September, the Bohol earthquake in October, and the Yolanda supertyphoon in November.
The Zamboanga and Yolanda events highlighted administration failings. The MNLF siege was widely seen as provoked by Malacañang’s decision to push aside autonomy arrangements with the Front, in pursuing the Bangsamoro deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, an MNLF splinter group and now the main Muslim force. Feeling disregarded in the creation of a new autonomous region, the MNLF attacked.
The Yolanda catastrophe meanwhile cast grave doubts on the government’s disaster response machinery. Two days before the supertyphoon hit Eastern Visayas on November 9, President Aquino himself told the nation that 32 aircraft, 20 naval vessels, and tons of relief goods were in place for rescue and relief. Yet days passed before help reached devastated Tacloban.
Today, just over a year since the Philippines was consecrated to Mary, the typhoon season has begun, and food prices are skyrocketing. The PDAF-DAP controversy rages more than ever, with mounting calls for Abad to go, and two impeachment complaints already filed against Aquino.
Meanwhile, the internationally celebrated MILF pact looks precarious after Palace lawyers, wary over PDAF and DAP rulings, heavily revised the draft Bangsamoro legislation, sending peace negotiators back to the table. For its part, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation reiterated its call for the MNLF and MILF accords to be linked, noting that the latter is “opposed by all factions of Moro National Liberation Front, and . . . do not mention or build explicitly on Tripoli and Jakarta Agreements of 1976 and 1997.”
The last time a memorandum with the rebels was scrapped in 2008, MILF renegades rampaged in Mindanao. After top-level exertions over the new deal, with Aquino and MILF Chairman Ebrahim Murad meeting twice in Tokyo, and joining Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak at two Manila signings, there could be even worse violence if the Bangsamoro agreement fails.
O Blessed Virgin Mary, Holy Mother of God, we pray to your Immaculate Heart for our troubled nation. Amen.