After one long month of trying to ignore the multisectoral call on President B. S. Aquino 3rd to step down, Malacañang and its propagandists last week finally began to do some “damage control.”
This came after the Times ran my last column on the Oct. 1 Cebu assembly (“An alternative government”?) as its Oct. 3 banner story; after former Vice President Noli de Castro discussed it on ABS-CBN; and after an avalanche of commentaries followed in the social media and several independent radio stations.
Their first move was to try to create the impression that it was only in Cebu where the assembly convened by the National Transformation Council had asked that Aquino step down, but that Cardinal Ricardo Vidal, the Archbishop Emeritus of Cebu, whom they assumed was the source of this call, has denied asking Aquino “to resign.”
It was a clever attempt to manipulate the facts. But it failed to attain its objective, and has not blunted the call for Aquino’s stepping down.
The ouster call—for that is what it really is—was first made through the Lipa Declaration on August 27, 2014. The Declaration, issued at the end of a one-day assembly hosted by Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, contained some of the most powerful words ever uttered by any citizens group against the administration. It went viral online. But it was totally ignored by the conscript media, which routinely suppress anything adverse or unpalatable to Malacañang.
This is part of what it said:
“Unbridled and unpunished corruption and widespread misuse of political and economic power in all layers of society have not only destroyed our common conception of right and wrong, good and bad, just and unjust, legal and illegal, but also put our people, especially the poor, at the mercy of those who have the power to dictate the course and conduct of our development for their own selfish ends;
“Far from preserving and defending the Constitution, as he swore to do when he assumed office, the incumbent President Benigno Simeon Aquino 3rd has subverted and violated it by corrupting the Congress, intimidating the Judiciary, taking over the Treasury, manipulating the automated voting system, and perverting the constitutional impeachment process;
“President Benigno Simeon Aquino 3rd has also damaged the moral fabric of Philippine society by bribing members of Congress not only to impeach and remove a sitting Supreme Court Chief Justice but also to enact a law which disrespects the right of human beings at the earliest and most vulnerable stages of their lives, in defiance not only of the Constitution but above all of the moral law, the customs, culture and consciences of Filipinos.
“Therefore, faithful to the objective moral law and the universally honored constitutional principle that sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them, we declare that President Aquino has lost the moral right to lead the nation, and has become a danger to the Philippine democratic and republican state and to the peace, freedom, security and moral and spiritual wellbeing of the Filipino people.
“We further declare that we have lost all trust and confidence in President Benigno Simeon Aquino 3rd, and we call upon him to immediately relinquish his position.”
The Cebu assembly enlarged upon this call. It called upon the Council “to pursue all necessary and available lawful means to compel President Aquino to step down at the soonest possible time,” and “to immediately organize an alternative government, consisting of men and women of integrity and proven worth, in order to assure the nation and the international community that Aquino’s removal and the prosecution and imprisonment of every culpable member of the government for corruption will not create a political vacuum.”
To the assembly, an “alternative government” had become necessary because of so many grave issues which have remained unattended to by the Aquino regime.
• The exacerbated tension in Mindanao arising from the government’s failure to consult adequately with the various communities on the peace effort, and from the threat of Islamic extremism from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria;
• The total failure, if not downright refusal, of the Aquino regime to comply with a direct order of the Supreme Court to file criminal charges against all the lawmakers and members of the Executive Department and the Commission on Audit who were involved in the grave misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund and the Disbursement Acceleration Program, both of which the Court had declared unconstitutional;
• The total absence of any official effort to reform the automated election system which was thoroughly corrupted and debased by the Commission on Elections in the 2010 and 2013 elections, but which the administration is once again preparing to use in the projected 2016 elections, without restoring the safety features and accuracy mechanisms which the Comelec had illegally removed in the previous two elections;
• The arbitrary imposition of unreasonable taxes on the poor, including the smallest sari-sari store owners and sidewalk vendors, on the various professions and on all religious institutions, without any public hearing or subsequent accounting, ostensibly for the purpose of raising revenue to support government operations, but in effect feeding the politicians’ insatiable appetite for corruption;
• The unresolved electric power crisis which has brought about the most expensive electricity rates in the world amid extended power outages that threaten to throw the country back into a literally new Dark Age, and for which the only solution imagined by Aquino is the grant of emergency powers by Congress to him;
• The unresolved corruption scandal in the leadership of the Philippine National Police, which has affected the morale of the entire organization and public confidence in the law enforcers.
Neither in Lipa nor in Cebu did the assembly ask Aquino “to resign.” The assembly merely used the word “relinquish” his position or “step down.” The choice of words was deliberate. Those who framed the language believed Aquino was the product of an illegitimate electoral process—one conducted by Smartmatic, a Venezuelan firm, rather than by the Commission on Elections, using precinct count optical scan voting machines that had been divested of all their safety features and accuracy mechanisms, in violation of law. The assembly looked at Aquino as a de facto president.
In both Lipa and Cebu, it was the assembly, through the outcome document, that called upon Aquino to step down. It was not Cardinal Vidal at all. So they were asking him the wrong question when they asked him whether he was the one who had asked Aquino “to resign.” Not even Archbishop Arguelles, who described Aquino as “anti-God, anti-Filipino, anti-Constitution, anti-family and anti-life,” and gave the strongest statement in both assemblies, asked Aquino “to resign.” He simply asked him “to go,” to “fade away from a position he has not deserved.”
Malacañang seems to believe it has much to gain from exploiting Vidal’s statement that he has not asked Aquino “to resign.” It has nothing to gain. Vidal has not disowned the act of the assembly, which is supported by the Catholic, Protestant, and Islamic spiritual and moral leaders of the National Transformation Council. And that is the most important thing.
But Malacanang’s effort to ‘neutralize’ Vidal’s presence in the NTC-initiated assemblies and in the Council itself is understandable. For although now an emeritus, the cardinal remains the most senior, and probably still the most influential, churchman in the Philippine Catholic Church. He also has the most extensive experience in regime change, having played a distinct role in two regime changes during the last 28 years.
In 1986, he was president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines when Cory Aquino ran against Marcos in that year’s snap presidential election. So much cheating was reported during that election that the CBCP was compelled to issue a statement saying Marcos had lost his moral ascendancy because of the reported fraudulence. That statement served to provide the moral basis for the EDSA uprising, which ousted Marcos and paved the way for Cory’s assumption as “revolutionary president.”
In 2001, at the height of the ouster move against then President Joseph Ejercito Estrada, following his botched Senate impeachment trial, the cardinal advised “Erap” to peacefully vacate Malacanang in order to avoid bloodshed, for the sake of the people. This paved the way for then-Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s nonviolent takeover.
In July of 2005, Vidal accompanied the late former president Cory Aquino and several other bishops in calling on the embattled president Arroyo in Malacanang. Unbeknownst to Vidal, Cory had gone there to ask for GMA’s resignation. According to a GMA Cabinet member present in that meeting, a couple of bishops— Luis Antonio Tagle, now cardinal and Archbishop of Manila, and Socrates Villegas, now Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan and president of the CBCP—pressed for her resignation, but Vidal excused himself, saying he had come to Malacañang only to accompany Cory, without knowing what she would be discussing with the president.
In the end, the CBCP, under the leadership of Davao Archbishop (now emeritus) Fernando R. Capalla, decided in plenary that they could not ask GMA to resign, but neither could they prevent others from asking her to do so. “Restoring Trust: A Plea for Moral Values in Philippine Politics,” a CBCP statement dated July 10, 2005, explains this in full.
Last week in Cebu, Vidal spelled out the moral principles governing the Church’s involvement in politics. Citing the social teachings of the Church, Gaudium et Spes in particular, he said that although priests and pastors should not get involved in politics, they must launch into the deep and help resolve the moral crisis and all its political manifestations and consequences.
Apparently, Malacañang saw that Vidal retained a lot of clout among the Catholic faithful, and so much deference and respect from the other confessions. Aquino also probably saw the clear prospect of an intense Philippine Catholic revival taking place upon Pope Francis’s pastoral visit next January, Cebu’s hosting of the International Eucharistic Congress in 2016, and the nationwide celebration of the 500th year anniversary of the arrival of Christianity in the Philippines in 2021.
All this could have figured in the plot to try to neutralize the cardinal. But across the country, there is a growing convergence among Catholic, Protestant and Muslim leaders in the effort to transform the nation through the National Transformation Council. The wicked plot can only fail.