THE dominant themes of Pope Francis homilies and statements during his visit here were in sync with his previous statements on social and economic justice for the poor and the vulnerable. Called “ communist” by American right-wring zealots for his defense of the defenseless, Pope Francis has drawn from the bedrock Church doctrines of love and compassion, from the Sermon on the Mount’s focus on the weak, the meek and the persecuted.
Inequality was another recurrent theme. His was not a superficial, routine mention of the great divide, the vast economic chasm that separates the one percent from the 99 percent. In other forums and in his writings, he had specifically debunked trickle-down economics, which holds that growth, when achieved, spreads the gains from top to bottom and that fairness is a natural consequence of growth .
There is no empirical evidence to back up “trickle-down economics,” according to Pope Francis and the “excluded are waiting.”
This is a pope like no other.
No pope in contemporary history has taken a stand against a particular pro-rich, pro-capital economic doctrine. His predecessors had been content to condemn the great divide in more general terms so as not to rock the economic status quo. The bobitas and the bobitos in the local media had harped on the pope’s supposed “rock star” status. But he is not that kind of pope. He is a Sermon on the Mount pastor, who probably read Marx in his youth and reads Piketty now. And whose big and caring heart bleeds for the weak and the vulnerable. He is, basically, for the reordering of the economic structures to give succor to the weak and those in suffering.
Ok, let us now take a look at Mr. Aquino’s record on easing poverty and human suffering, which remains the dominant story of our country despite the preponderance of leaders, the hyperventilating braggarts of boom, who speak as if we are in a virtual paradise .
Try a Google Search of Mr. Aquino public statements and speeches, and you can’t find the word “inequality.” Searching for the words “poor” or “vulnerable” or the “underclass” would either yield zero or very limited hits. I have written this line a hundred times: President Aquino’s keyboards do not have the word “inequality.”
The favorite words of Pope Francis do not exist in the universe of Mr. Aquino and are not part of his governing philosophy .
Mr. Aquino has a version of the great divide that sounds like a technocratic soundtrack, oceans apart from Pope Francis’s genuine concern for the poor and the vulnerable. He says his government strives for “inclusive growth” through strategic investments. He says that his government’s “bottoms-up” budgetary philosophy draws the projects and programs that it would fund from the needs of the grassroots.
In words sufficiently tortured to push George Orwell out of his grave and do a 21st century rewrite of his classic book “Politics and the English Language,” here is how Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras phrased his invitation to a professional group to join the fight to reduce poverty.
“ We invite you to be a part of the spatial and dimensional facet of poverty reduction.”
What did he mean by that? From what wonderland did he learn that poverty reduction goes by routes “spatial” and “dimensional.” That was not a TED talk, man, nor a Davos gig . You were talking about wasted, hopeless lives who would not think twice about selling body organs or going into prostitution just to put food on the table.
No wonder President Aquino’s version of ushering in “inclusive growth” is rooted on the theme that strategic investments are adequate to solve much of the unbridled, deeply-rooted poverty that has dehumanized much of our country. And it is just a cruel iteration of Almendras’ meme.
Bad policy is usually spoken in bad language and Almendras’s take on how to ease poverty is a classic on how tortured and inadequate the anti-poverty policies of the Aquino government are.
The question of the moment should be asked. Will Mr. Aquino’s hollow and superficial pro-poor, pro-vulnerable programs change after Pope Francis’ straightforward and candid take on the poor, the vulnerable and the curse of inequality.
The most plausible answer? No.
Mr. Aquino is addicted to his growth-at-all-cost doctrine. He does not care about the weak and the vulnerable. What he wants are robust GDP figures, credit upgrades, the puff pieces from foreign journalists that hail him as a technocratic reformer bent on purging official corruption.
He will probably undertake some token programs to show that he heard Pope Francis and he got his messages. My feeling is that it would be a charade.
I have this uneasy feeling that Mr. Aquino, because he does not like the messages of Pope Francis, put on figurative earplugs during the entire duration of the papal visit.