Bishop Ramon Villena of the Diocese of Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya, strongly criticized President Benigno Aquino 3rd for his “reckless” accusations against the Church during Pope Francis’ courtesy call in Malacañang.
“What was supposed to have been an occasion filled with grace and truth turned out to be an embarrassing and a distressing affair, because President Aquino imprudently seized the opportunity to vent his disappointment that the Catholic hierarchy has not sided with him—in the presence of the Holy Father and of the highest ranking ecclesiastics in the country,” Villena said.
The bishop noted that he issued a public statement because Aquino’s “accusations cannot be made to pass without refutation and rebuttal.”
“He complains principally, that the clergy have been silent in the face of what he characterizes as the misdeeds, the malfeasance and the misfeasance the previous administration —referring of course to the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo,” Villena said.
“But that is exactly the trouble with Mr. Aquino: his lack of regard for judicial processes and his blatant disrespect of the judicial system,” he added.
“How can bishops and priests join in the condemnation of what has not been proved or established with certainty? We are not disposed to follow the lead of the President’s precipitousness in condemning his predecessor. She (Arroyo)is still being tried and, quite interestingly, so many cases against her have already been dismissed,” the bishop said.
He stressed that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) was not at all silent during the Arroyo administration.
“In the wake of different allegations, the CBCP was not remiss in its exhortations. Repeatedly, the leadership of the CBCP and the CBCP in plenum released different statements that were widely anticipated by the media,” Villena said.
“But as soon as charges were filed against Mrs. Arroyo, we deemed it proper to leave her guilt or innocence to be determined by the courts.What is wrong with that, morally and legally? Is it not that they who flaunt their disregard for the law and for the courts who should rather apologize to the nation?” the bishop asked.
He said Aquino “is apparently exasperated that we have not been on his side.”
“The CBCP will use the very same riposte of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno who answered: ‘I do not serve presidents.’ Similarly, the CBCP does not serve presidents.
We will address ourselves to moral issues and doctrinal concerns. On political, social and economic matters that raise moral questions, we will not be silent, and it will matter little to us whether we are on the side of government or not. Otherwise, we will not be Church, but an instrumentality of the present administration,” Villena explained.
“This is the reason that we have been so firm against the passage of the Reproductive Health Law that Mr. Aquino himself actively peddled–and that the Supreme Court found to transgress the Constitution in so many ways,” he said.
“We also condemned the misuse of funds by legislators through the Priority Development Assistance Fund, and the President’s own deliberate violation of the Constitution through the Disbursement Acceleration Program. So, what is Mr. Aquino whining about?” the bishop asked.
Villena reminded the President that “a mature leader welcomes criticism, and grows because of admonition and counsel.”
“lt is the worst curse ever to befall anyone in high office to trust only in the counsel of sycophants for it is these who should least be trusted,” he said.
“For our part, we shall continue preaching in season and out of season, siding not with the powerful and the mighty—even if they may have the power to send their enemies to the slammer or to visit every kind of vicissitude on them —but the poor and the lowly, the defenseless and those who are oppressed. But in all things we shall heed the admonition of Pope Francis: Mercy and compassion!”