After the widely advertised anti-pork rally in Manila bombed on Monday, when the purported “one million people’s march” turned into an ill-disguised pro-Aquino shindig, we need now to turn and listen more to what Pope Francis calls, “the peripheries.” There is where we could be learning more about the real issues that go beyond President B. S. Aquino 3rd’s “pork”.
From Cebu last Saturday, we heard fresh and stronger drums against the “pork,” which kept on coming back like the cat with nine lives, despite the Supreme Court ruling declaring it null and void. Congratulations to Archbishop Jose Palma for hosting the event, and to all the Cebuanos who supported it.
But in Batangas today, the play goes to a higher plane. We shall be hearing the first unified multi-sectoral and interfaith call not just for the permanent abolition of “pork” but for Aquino’s speedy and gracious retirement. This will be a bold call for change, real change, not just cosmetic or superficial change, but “radical” change.
“Radical” is derived from the Latin word “radix,” which means “root.” “Radical change” then simply means change that goes into the root of things. Not merely regime change, but system change, structural change, cultural change.
It begins with Aquino being asked to step down for his numerous violations of the law and the Constitution and his poor performance in office. But it does not end there: it necessarily entails repairing what has been broken, damaged or destroyed, taking out the rot, and reordering the larger moral and political environment.
This is why we say the need is not to “succeed” PNoy now, but to put in a transition team that would fix the system before we seriously consider electing a new government.
These are brave words, on their face. But with Aquino wholly capable of sinking the nation with his flawed vision of morality, the Constitution, and politics, how is this goal to be accomplished?
This question will be put today in Lipa City. And the assembly, organized by the hitherto unannounced National Transformation Council, will try to answer it. Several highly respected moral and spiritual leaders from the various faith communities will try to contribute to this enterprise. I have been asked to keynote, and I look forward to it.
This is the first time such an assembly under the auspices of the Council is taking place. It is also the first time the Council has decided to make its legal presence felt. For the last three years, the Council, whose membership is purely by invitation, has lived a quiet, unseen existence, self-organizing, and holding private internal meetings to reflect on the rapidly changing moral and political environment after Aquino came to office.
Hosted by the Archbishop of Lipa, the Most Reverend Ramon Arguelles, the assembly will listen to chosen leaders of the Catholic Church, the Protestant sector and Islam on the subject of “national transformation.”
These include Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, Archbishop Emeritus of Cebu, and former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines; Most Reverend Fernando Capalla, Archbishop Emeritus of Davao, and former CBCP president; Archbishop Arguelles; Father Romeo J. Intengan; S. J., Pastor Arthur Corpuz of the United Church of Manila; and Dr. Kamil Unda, a Muslim scholar who will be coming with a 100-strong Bangsamoro delegation from the South.
It is a most interesting mix. Vidal was the CBCP president who issued the document “Vox Populi, Vox Dei” on Feb. 13, 1986, which declared that “if the government does not of itself freely correct the evil it has inflicted on the people, then it is our serious moral obligation as a people to make it do so.” That statement, in my reading then as now, provided the moral basis for the EDSA “revolt” that ousted Marcos.
The cardinal was also believed to have advised the embattled president Joseph Ejercito Estrada in 2001 to avoid a confrontation with the anti-Estrada forces that could result in unnecessary bloodshed. Estrada decided to step down peacefully on Jan. 20, 2001, to pave the way for the takeover by his vice president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who subsequently ruled until 2010.
The cardinal will most likely be asked to share his insights with the assembly on these two incidents involving the stepping down of a sitting president.
Archbishop Capalla, on the other hand, was CBCP president when the late former President Cory Aquino and some bishops called on then President Arroyo on July 5, 2005 to demand that she step down at the height of her perceived “unpopularity.” Capalla was not aware that such meeting was taking place, but as soon as he learned of it, he issued a statement supported by all the bishops, restating the role of the clergy in providing moral guidance to public servants, but acknowledging its limits. He read his statement to the press, but failed to retain a copy for his files.
I am eager to hear him say whether PNoy’s moral obligation at this point is to defend his office or to relinquish it. I am equally eager to see if the host prelate, Archbishop Arguelles, would repeat a statement he had previously made at a press conference, which I had helped to moderate at Club Filipino, saying that the 2016 election offers no possible relief to the nation’s crisis and should be completely avoided.
A spokesman for the Islamic delegation looks at the Lipa assembly as the beginning of a “peaceful revolution.” He says this is the first time his group, led by Muslim leaders Amir Omar Ali, Alim Saranggani, and Kamil Unda, would be participating in an unarmed and non-violent revolution. It could be a watershed.
The word “transformation” seems to have become some kind of “mantra” of late. Even Aquino used the word in his last State of the Nation Address. But so far the Council alone has decided to accept openly the challenge of non-violent revolutionary change. There is need for the rest to catch up.
We need to believe that unless there is a change in men, a change of men would be meaningless; that unless there is a change in the political system, structure and culture, a simple regime change would not yield much fruit.
In Batangas, we could begin something new, something different. Setting aside our own personal ambitions and self-interests, we could begin to think together, reason together, pray together, work together, and in the words of the Prophet Micah, “do right and love goodness and walk humbly with our God.”