In his Philippine visit early next year, Pope Francis will have to focus on spiritual and moral issues exclusively. The only Catholic nation in Asia will not disappoint the pontiff. Despite the RH Law, which is timid as timid can be, the Philippines has not strayed so much from the fundamental- and sacred doctrines – of the Catholic church. Pope Francis will love that.
Changes have been upending the Catholic Church and other mainline Christian churches elsewhere. Just look at the recent decisions of the Presbyterian church. Malta, which proclaims itself as a Catholic country, has a divorce law. While churches have been buffeted by the gales of change, most Filipinos have been steadfast in their adherence to bedrock Catholic doctrines.
A word of caution, though.
He should stay out of the so-called Aquinomics, or the economic policies of President Aquino. He will not like what he will learn and see. On this temporal but critical issue of economic policies, Pope Francis and President Aquino have clashing views. And here, Pope Francis is the more progressive, humane one. President Aquino is essentially of the University of Chicago / Republican Party school: markets in everything.
The Pope have said all of these things:
• Inequality is the root of social evil
• Thou shall not to an economy of exclusion
• A forceful condemnation of “ trickle-down” economics, the Reagan-era doctrine which holds that growth at the top cascades down into the lumpens below
• A strong distrust of markets
There is a paragraph worth quoting from his Evangelii Gaudium. It says:
“As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, any problem.”
What are the deeply-held governing policies of President Aquino? For one, nowhere to be found in his legislative priorities is an anti-trust bill. In fact, his priority is for business to consolidate so that the fittest will reign supreme.
As this corner wrote earlier (even at the risk of sounding like a broken record), President Aquino’s keyboards cannot even type the word “ inequality.” Four years and counting, there has not been a single presidential declaration that this problem exists. What Pope Francis called the “root of social evil” is not even acknowledged as a problem by the President. How can he help bridge the divide if inequality does not exist in this president’s universe?
Ours, remember, is a country with dollar billionaires that own much of the capital and income. This is the 0.1 percent, a special class of people who are also separated by a huge wealth and income gap from the rest in the Top 10 percent. The middle class is a hollowed-out group, and truly, “the center cannot hold.”
Below is a teeming mass that live in unbridled, impossible poverty.
President Aquino has been talking about the need to usher in “inclusive growth.” The problem, however, is his core belief that a rising tide lifts all boats, or that impressive growth rates spread the gains all around. Empower the very rich and the rich and let them do their thing. Create the environment so that investments would flourish.
That kind of core belief has been denounced as bunk by Pope Francis. He said:
“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 but naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are waiting.”
President Aquino has placed his supreme faith on market forces. He will not say publicly that Pope Francis is wrong or misinformed. But nothing can distract him from his obsession with growth and credit worthiness upgrades.
The shorter version of their clashing views : The primacy of the markets versus the primacy of the underdog.
Even on small gestures and symbolism, Pope Francis has a marked divergence from President Aquino. In Buenos Aires, he was known as the Bishop of the Slums. President Aquino want his photo-ops with billionaires, captains of industry and achievers. The newspapers almost always carry photos of Mr. Aquino beaming in front of sparkling office towers, new BPO sites, new assembly sites, newly built toll roads and highways. And with the oligarchy.
He is allergic to poverty and tragedy, almost disdainful of the scarred countryside and blighted slum colonies that ironically, represents much of his country.
On mass transport, Pope Francis has a fondness for the mass transport system. In Buenos Aires, he rode the bus and shunned cars and private transport.
Here, PNoy’s transport czar, Francis Tolentino, has favored Porches over the buses. Damn the smelly and sweat-soaked bus commuters.
Given an audience with Pope Francis, President Aquino should be advised not to talk about his favorite spiels: graft-busting, improved governance, amazing growth rates.
Pope Francis will react with a blank face and show disinterest. Probably, he will give him a new book that has forced the world to deeply re-examine its conventional thinking on wealth and inequality: Thomas Pikkety’s Capital in the Twenty First Century.