If the Aquino government truly understands what Pope Francis stands for, or the things he deeply believes in, it will surely impose a moratorium on the following during the duration of the papal visit.
• Boasting about impressive growth rates
• Boasting about the improved credit ratings from Standard & Poor and company
• Boasting about good governance
• Boasting about the stock market
• Boasting about monetary stability
Those things are peripheral issues to Pope Francis. First and foremost, he is for true economic justice. He lives and breathes to make lives better for the dispossessed, the hungry, those who suffer, the ones referred to in the Sermon on the Mount. While all the five things mentioned above—Mr. Aquino’s favorite spiels—are music to the ears of the Davos crowd, the five mean nothing to Pope Francis. Given the depressing numbers of Filipino families who live in abject poverty and given the high unemployment and underemployment rates, the Pope will be terribly saddened by a president boasting of growth rates and improved credit ratings amid so much poverty.
Choose your words carefully during the papal visit, Mr. President. You might get the now iconic stare that Pope Francis—during his years in Buenos Aires —directed at visiting dignitaries from Vatican who thrived on bling and pageantry.
If you still do not know this, I will repeat it a thousand times. Pope Francis is not like the last pope who visited us—the late Pope John Paul 11—who will not be out of place in a Reagan/Thatcher policy environment. Pope Francis is different and he is often called the “Pope of the Slums.” He abhors economic policies that place a primacy on market forces and—at every opportunity—he says so boldly and candidly. And even the minutest slip from President Aquino about the freedom of the markets here will get a stinging rebuke from the Pope. Good if the Pope can keep the disdain to himself.
What are the two things about national economies that are truly despised by Pope Francis?
Frist, is trickle-down economics which believes that growth at the top translates into benefits and gains across the board, down into the most depressed economic strata. Pope Francis says that trickle-down is bunk. The rich gets richer on the backs of the wage-earning masses or on the underserved income from capital and assets.
A rising tide lifts the yachts and sink all the rickety boats, the same rickety boats of small fishermen that often drown at sea during bad weather.
Second is the supreme faith in market forces. Markets are often manipulated to the advantage of the capitalist class, according to Pope Francis. The call of Pope Francis for a reordering of economic orthodoxies is rooted on his abhorrence of market forces.
The Pope’s statement on inequality and market forces has to be repeated in case All the President’s Men have skipped reading it. Here it goes:
“Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.
“Meanwhile, the excluded are waiting.”
And here, in our specific economic context, President Aquino has been the Number One cheerleader for market forces. His keyboards, as we often said, cannot not even type the word “ inequality.” Is he even aware that his most cherished social justice program, the CCT, goes to gin bulag and tong-its and not for health care and education support? He often speaks of “ inclusive growth “ but in the usual terminology of leaders paying lip service to empowering the neediest and the most helpless.
The President has this supreme faith that six years of sustained growth rates will spread gains all around and it would lift all lives—including those of the dregs. Wrong. This will never happen. There is a taboo word that should be placed at the front and center of economic policies and that word is Redistribution.
But what is taking place is upward redistribution. The main driver of modernization and growth, the PPP-anchored infrastructure build-up, will precisely drive what Pope Francis loathes. If, during his visit, Pope Francis will make an inquiry into what undergirds the growth and modernization program of the administration, he will be terribly disappointed.
The PPP, just like trickledown, is part of the economic orthodoxies that Pope Francis does not believe in.
OK, one more important thing related to the papal visit.
Mr. Aquino should also be aware of the fact that Pope Francis was a joyful bus rider during his days as Archbishop of Buenos Aires. He took joy in riding the bus and mingling with the Everyman. He shunned flashy cars as he shunned fancy livings arrangements. As Pope, he won’t even take the Pope mobile.
In this context, Mr. Aquino should never, never include MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino in the ad hoc committee that would prepare for the papal visit. Mr. Tolentino, under the guise of effective traffic management, has made it his mission to make the life tough for bus commuters. The optics of pregnant women, senior citizens, persons with disability and young children suffering from the anti-commuters policies of Mr. Tolentino will bring extreme sadness to Pope Francis. Mr. Tolentino is the anti-thesis of Pope Francis.
The daily bludgeoning by Mr. Tolentino of bus commuters will have to be tackled in a full column.