No, this writer had no insider source or a bugging device in the closed-door meeting between Pope Francis and President Benigno Aquino 3rd last Friday. Rather, we glean the Holy Father’s political message for the administration from what he emphasized or excluded in his first public statement after his host’s welcome remarks, which untruthfully criticized clergy critical of the administration
No, this writer had no insider source or a bugging device in the closed-door meeting between Pope Francis and President Benigno Aquino 3rd last Friday. Rather, we glean the Holy Father’s political message for the administration from what he emphasized or excluded in his first public statement after his host’s welcome remarks, which untruthfully criticized clergy critical of the administration (see January 17 column).
The Bishop of Rome stressed five key themes in his 12-minute pronouncement: the overriding pastoral nature of his trip, the evils of corruption, the imperative for peace and interfaith dialogue, family values and the right to life, and compassion and action for the poor, with special concern for the victims of supertyphoon Yolanda.
His trip being primarily pastoral, Francis did not dwell much on political issues. Yet what he said spoke tomes about how the Catholic Church here and in the Holy See viewed Philippine developments and policies, and their impact on national values and the poor.
The undiminished evil of corruption
First, the prominent and lengthy declaration against corruption and the absence of any note on progress or even efforts to fight this national cancer, suggest that the Church believes sleaze isn’t impressed with four and a half years of Aquino’s purported Tuwid na Daan anti-graft campaign.
This perspective would have been vetted not only by the Papal Nuncio, the Vatican’s ambassador to the country, Archbishop Giuseppe Pinto, but also leading Filipino clergy. The latter include Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle and Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines president and Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas.
Aquino cited Tagle and his family’s spiritual adviser, Jesuit theologian Fr. Catalino Arevalo, as being in tune with the government, while Villegas also has longstanding ties with the President’s family. Notably, in his Friday afternoon media briefing at the Diamond Hotel, Tagle said the Aquino government was fond of blaming the past administration for national problems.
The Vatican isn’t echoing the European Union’s view, made just days before the papal visit. The EU lauded governance gains, despite undeniable data on trebled pork barrel and smuggling since 2010, as well as Aquino’s shielding of anomalous allies, including those behind a $30 million bribe demand from the Inekon company of the Union’s very own Czech Republic.
For peace, principles and inalienable rights
Pope Francis was more positive about peace efforts, especially in Mindanao. Indeed, he highlighted the Philippines’ role in promoting understanding among nations and cultures.
Filipinos do this not just through diplomacy, but also Christian-Muslim dialogue, as well as the global diaspora of overseas Filipinos, who cannot but convey through life and work in foreign lands our people’s caring, assimilating and peaceful character.
The Holy Father lauded Mindanao peace-building, but his statement was far more nuanced than the usual broad-stroked praises by foreign allies. Francis called for “just solutions in accord with the nation’s founding principles and respectful of the inalienable rights of all, including the indigenous peoples and religious minorities.”
“Founding principles” sounds like diplomatese for the Constitution, which parts of the Mindanao peace pact are said to violate. And the line on indigenous and minority rights seemingly echoed concerns that the agreement may compromise certain rights of non-Muslim indigenous communities and pockets of Christians in Muslim Mindanao, like the prerogative to decide whether to be included in the envisioned Bangsamoro entity.
The family and life under threat
Those who like this writer thought that Francis would not speak against the Reproductive Health Law, had another thing coming.
The Pope lamented “how difficult it is for our democracies today to preserve and defend such basic human values as respect for the inviolable dignity of each human person, respect for the rights of conscience and religious freedom, and respect for the inalienable right to life, beginning with that of the unborn and extending to that of the elderly and infirm.”
In its ruling on the RH Law, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional provisions requiring health workers barred by faith from providing artificial contraception services, to refer people to entities that would — in effect, forcing believers to assist in activities objectionable to their beliefs.
The High Court also struck down provisions in the implementing rules and regulations that would have allowed the promotion and provision of contraceptives which could cause abortion, even though the law itself banned these abortifacient devices.
Thank you, Holy Father, for speaking up for the unborn and conscientious objectors adversely affected by the RH Law.
Year of the Poor
The Pope necessarily mentioned the Yolanda disaster, which advanced his Philippine visit from the reported plan to go here for the International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu next January. Like its anti-graft efforts, the government’s disaster response and recovery was not mentioned. Instead, Francis lauded the resilience and solidarity of ordinary people and youth, including those across the globe.
The Holy Father also underscored the need to provide more resources for the poor by ending corruption. Even more essential, he pointed out, “is the moral imperative of ensuring social justice and respect for human dignity. … hear the voice of the poor. It bids us break the bonds of injustice and oppression which give rise to glaring, and indeed scandalous, social inequalities. Reforming the social structures which perpetuate poverty and the exclusion of the poor first requires a conversion of mind and heart.”
Hence, Francis noted, “the Bishops of the Philippines have asked that this year be set aside as the ‘Year of the Poor’.” Yet again, no mention of government efforts to alleviate poverty, not even the vaunted P40-billion-a-year conditional cash transfer.
Plainly, for a leader who promised to fight corruption and poverty, the Pope’s silence on what he purportedly has done about both, is a subtle criticism and a wake-up call.