The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on Friday dared President Benigno Aquino 3rd to get rid of all the corrupt members of his administration if he is really true to the “straight path” mantra of his leadership.
The challenge was made by CBCP President Socrates Villegas a few days after the Supreme Court (SC) ruled that a controversial initiative of the President was unconstitutional.
Villegas, who is also the Lingayen-Dagupan archbishop, at the same time demanded an explanation from the Commission on Audit (COA) and the Office of the Ombudsman on how the government spent billions under the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), the brainchild of the President and Budget Secretary, Florencio “Butch” Abad.
In a letter, “Our Moral Response to the Unconstitutionality of DAP,” Villegas called on COA and the Ombudsman to tell the nation where the DAP funds were spent.
“We must nevertheless know how these monies were used, for where there was illegal and immoral application of funds, there must be restitution,” he said.
Villegas clarified that “indeed, in many cases, it would be impractical, unhelpful even, to undo every project funded by what the High Court has ruled to be unconstitutional means.”
On Tuesday, the tribunal said certain acts of the DAP violated the Constitution, including the cross-border transfer of the savings of the executive department to augment the budget of some offices in other branches.
Villegas said the bishops seek a probe of anomalies behind the controversial distribution of billions of pesos under the DAP, saying the investigation must be impartial.
“We reiterate our position that investigation and inquest cannot and must not be selective, for public perception that some are shielded while others are persecuted detracts from the confidence people must repose in their institutions,” he added.
The archbishop took a swipe at Aquino, saying the President should be willing to let go of all crooked officials during his watch, including his allies, if he is true to the “straight path” principle on which he has anchored his governance.
“A government that professes to tread the straight path must remain true to that profession and must be willing to let go of the corrupt in its own ranks! We in the Church will do the same,” Villegas said.
Earlier, some high ranking Catholic bishops said the President and Abad should be held liable for the implementation of the DAP.
Villegas said the “entire Church in the Philippines” is also concerned with the “issue of social justice” in the country.
“The just distribution of the resources of the nation in accordance with the prescriptions of law and the tenets of morality is an issue of social justice. It is therefore a concern of the CBCP and of the entire Church in the Philippines as well,” he said.
According to Villegas, the Church would not remain silent on the issue since both the DAP and Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) involve enormous sums of money, which the government said it gave directly to the public.
“There are serious allegations that we cannot summarily dismiss and ignore,” he said of accusations that funds under the acceleration program and PDAF or pork barrel of lawmakers had been misused or, worse, stolen.
Villegas renewed the CBCP’s call for national conversion not only through individuals but entire institutions s well, believing that it is the “ceaseless call” of Jesus Christ to “turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel.”
“We must pray together for the grace of conversion, because the prosecution and punishment of a few will not rid the nation of the propensity to corruption that is found in us all!” he said.
The archbishop said there is no reason for the people to direct their ire at only the three senators—Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. and Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile—who are accused of plunder in connection with the pork barrel scam.
“We must humbly recognize that the propensity to make use of what is not ours to better the lives of our families or to gain access to luxuries that would otherwise be beyond us will be found in all of us,” he said.