Memo for the CBCP Plenary


First of Two Parts

As many voices in your nation have pointed out, it is now, more than ever, necessary that political leaders be outstanding for honesty, integrity and commitment to the common good. … The Bishops of the Philippines have asked that this year be set aside as the “Year of the Poor.” I hope that this prophetic summons will challenge everyone, at all levels of society, to reject every form of corruption which diverts resources from the poor, and to make concerted efforts to ensure the inclusion of every man and woman and child in the life of the community.
— Pope Francis’s statement at Malacañang, January 16, 2015

When the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines holds its plenary meeting on July 3-6, it is respectfully but urgently suggested that it consider doing more to advance integrity, justice, and the upliftment of the poor than just issuing pastoral letters. There is need for the CBCP to lead a national movement for good governance.

Despite widespread public revulsion against corruption, there is, in fact, no nationwide organization or campaign to effectively fight it. In August 2013, the pork barrel scandal sparked demonstrations in key cities. But that anti-graft protest has turned out to be ningas kugon, fading after a flashy start.

As CBCP President and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas lamented recently, the country remains in the grip of corrupt politicians, who look set to mobilize resources, connections, and manpower for election victory in 2016 and more misgovernance and sleaze in years to come.

Filipinos are again looking for Mr. or Ms. Upright to back for the presidency. But if there is any lesson to be learned in the rule of purportedly honest reformer President Benigno Aquino 3rd, it is the futility of expecting politicians to clean up their ranks and their act.

This article presents the argument for religious leaders to take the lead in reforming governance, and in the second part, outlines three integrity initiatives set out in past columns for the people to undertake with the guidance and support of major religions and other key sectors.

Politicians will not clean up their ranks
Aquino’s rule amply demonstrates how even a leader with a squeeky-clean image can horribly fail. Under him, corruption is worse than ever.

Smuggling leapt five-fold to $19 billion a year and, by Aquino’s own count, lost P200 billion in revenues and allowed guns and drugs to gush into the country. Pork barrel trebled to over P20 billion a year, with allied legislators spared from the selective prosecution jailing political rivals.

Congress has repeatedly been bribed to impeach Palace targets and to vote for its pet legislation, including the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law. And legislators readily yielded their power of the purse in the P150-billion Disbursement Acceleration Program, the biggest malversation scheme in our history.

In the avalanche of dirty money, the people are being crushed. Dubious contracts have put Metro Rail Transit commuters at daily risk and great inconvenience, and made car owners pay for license plates with less than the stipulated features.

Even soldiers and police risking their lives for the country are not spared from unsavory deals, with a billion-peso military helicopter purchase gone bad, and the overpriced bidding for police rifles, which Aquino himself ordered investigated, swept under the rug.

Now, the administration camp is seeking a winning standard bearer, ostensibly to carry on their claimed reforms, but in truth, to continue shielding them from probes and charges for their excesses. And give them uninterrupted access to state resources, now at unprecedented levels, including a national budget topping P3 trillion for 2016.

Even if the Palace “presidentiable” loses next year, many of the corrupt would simply switch sides to the winning camp, as they had done in past transfers of power. And having seen what an audacious Chief Executive with little regard for law has done with Congress and media backing, his successor may well do the same or worse.

The bishops must lead the people
Plainly, if the nation is to have any chance of reforming governance, the people themselves must mobilize and organize to support the forces of integrity and expose and fight sleaze. And only the CBCP has the nationwide reach, clout and credibility to lead this campaign.

In past nationwide movements for change, the Catholic Church was crucial. The late Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin led the two People Power uprisings. Year after year, Filipinos look to the CBCP for guidance on national issues. Even in the Philippine Revolution against Spain, Filipino clergy helped lead and shape the people’s struggle.

In the Philippine Trust Index surveys, religious leaders enjoy the highest rating among other public figures, with three out of every four Filipinos trusting them. Plus: most voters would heed the candidate endorsements made by their local clergy.

Besides wide public trust and support, the Catholic Church is also perhaps the only national organization able to resist government and political pressure. It did so under martial law, when other entities were cowed, co-opted or crushed, including media.

In pondering this proposal for the Church to lead a national reform movement, not a few in the hierarchy, the clergy and the laity would rightly worry that direct involvement in political issues may distract from spiritual activities.

There is also legitimate concern that the Church’s moral authority may suffer from the messiness of political action. Cardinal Sin lost stature when he endorsed losing presidential candidates and opposed winning ones in 1992 and 1998.

Certainly, in leading a national reform movement, the Church must exercise extreme care. But if it declines to lead, then it would allow the politicians to again take control and perpetuate their past ways.

To do so in the Year of the Poor would betray not just the needy and powerless most hurt by misgovernance. It would also run counter to the Holy Father’s exhortation opening this article.

We pray that our bishops would not let that happen.

(The last part on Thursday will present reform initiatives for the CBCP to consider.)


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  1. Amado Aguila on

    Legally, the church should not be able to officially endorse a candidate without risking its tax-exempt or preferred status. The church could also leave itself open not only to political corruption but also question the integrity of its prophetic and biblical message.

    The church is at its best when spreading the good news; helping the poor and telling the story of God’s love to His people. Sharing the human side of Jesus, the greatest leader of all time, may enlighten our people to choose the right candidate.

    Jesus as a leader inspired His disciples. He asked all eleven of them to go to all nations, and evangelize the rest of the world. There are now over 2 billion Christian members. He challenged them not only to love God with all their heart and soul but also with their mind.
    He did not want them to be blind believers but instead search the words of God. Thousand years later, only the words of God stood the test of time.

    Jesus enjoyed having fun with his friends. His first miracle was to turn water into wine, and even partied with sinners and tax collectors. It was the sick that needed His help the most, and wanted to heal them, even though He received indignations from the Religious leaders at the time. He was courageous to shake the status quo and tell the intellectuals they were wrong. He performed miracles not to show off His powers, but to demonstrate His love. He was compassionate but firm, gently telling the sinners to repent.

    Jesus was so humble; he did not mind getting His hands dirtied. He washed all His disciples feet, including Judas, who eventually betrayed Him. Although He created all things and own everything, He left with nothing. He had to borrow a tomb, so he had a place to store His body for three days. He cared and loved so much, that even during His agonies, He would only think the welfare of the people around Him. He would pray for those that harmed Him and made sure His mother Mary is taken care of.

    Yet even with all His power, one of His best leadership qualities is His obedience. He had 12 legions of angels ready to rescue Him just waiting for His command. One hundred forty four thousands armies of angel with even just one of them able to destroy an entire city: He obeyed His Father’s command instead. “For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Disobedience started the downfall of human race from the garden. One simple rule, yet Adam and Eve could not obey it. For some of us, the only thing separating us from the love of God is our disobedient. Jesus did the rest, all we just have to do is accept His grace, and start living as the salt and light of this world.

    Jesus died for all of us. Ten of the original disciples died as martyrs. Since then, another 70 million Christians paid the ultimate price so we may have a chance to hear the good news; more than all military members from WW1 and WW2 combined that lost their lives. And another 100,000 Christians will give their lives every year just because they profess to follow Jesus.

    God the Father endorsed Jesus at least three times, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well please.” If the church needs to make an endorsement, it might as well someone with Jesus’ leadership qualities. We’ve been looking for answers in the wrong places. The government was never the answer nor our politicians. It’s always been Jesus. JEsusSavedUS.

  2. i hope cardinal tagle and archbishop villegas will wake up and condemn the corruption of boy sisi’s regime and its use of the hocus pcos machine to perpetuate its hold on to power. this hold on the magical hocus pcos machines is the most important of boy sisi’s tools. even biNOY wanted boy sisi’s endorsement and so with boy pickup and little ms. poe-pet

  3. To maintain its credibility the church and its leaders must not lend their reputation and unquestionable influence over their constituents. We have seen how some one’s reputation has been used and caused what appeared to be incipient division in church hierarchy. I agree that the church continues to be the only group which the people look up to for guidance and direction and it must not be eroded. Others may not agree, but the church has no history of partisanship up to now and it must keep it that way.

  4. P.Akialamiro on

    By all means, the Catholic Church should also be proactive and aggressive in its campaign to have better and right candidates elected in the coming elections. This is along its social obligation toi protect the rights of the poor. The people needs a constant reminder of their civic duty to elect the right persons without naming the candidates. This will be a great service to the people.

    Otherwise, monied candidates with questionable records such as ‘corruption’, having a dynasty, and even those convicted of plunder, etc.. will always find a way to be elected. I hope the church will always do its role. Problems confronting the country now are the result of the ‘flaws’ of the system with the root cause of having unscrupulous candidates being elected and perpetuating corruption.