In an interview in England with ABS-CBN early this week, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle raised questions and concerns about the National Transformation Council’s call for President Benigno Aquino 3rd to resign over what it saw as grave misgovernance.
The NTC includes several Catholic prelates, along with other religious leaders, civil society, government, and other sectoral figures. Last month, Cebu Archbishop Emeritus Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, with several bishops standing behind him in his office, read to media a council statement reiterating its call for Aquino to step down. Over the past year NTC has convened meetings in several cities nationwide to disseminate its views and build public support.
Rather than bringing down structures, Tagle urged, “We need to mobilize and strengthen our institutions. We cannot be changing and changing things just like that.” He added: “Elections are close anyway, so let the process proceed and the people decide. He [Aquino] is not running for re-election.”
The popular and widely respected Cardinal also questioned the NTC’s proposed non-partisan transition council to replace Aquino and institute reforms if he steps down: “Who are these people, and who will comprise this [transition body]? Who will establish it when there is also doubt about some institutions?”
A hierarchy divided
With Tagle’s statement, the Catholic Church leadership has become even more divided on whether or not to call for Aquino’s resignation. Soon after Cardinal Vidal issued the NTC statement after this 84th birthday celebration in Cebu, his Archdiocese said the archbishop emeritus merely read the document, but did not support it.
Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma also denied backing the resignation call, stressing that he was at the event just to celebrate Vidal’s birthday. Palma also argued: “The Church is not in the position to issue such political statements, for it is beyond her competence.”
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines has not taken a collective stand on Aquino. Said its president, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, early last month: “Before we have all the facts, the CBCP cannot morally join in the calls for [Aquino’s] resignation, leaving this decision to his humble and prayerful discernment of his capacity to lead and the support he has not only from officials of government but from members of Philippine society.”
Days later Villegas said on behalf of the bishops: “While resolute action is necessary on the part of all, precipitous action and recourse to extra-constitutional measures will only visit more harm and misery on our people.”
On the quest for truth and accountability in the Mamasapano massacre of 44 police commandos, Villegas added: “The President and his advisers must give a full and satisfactory accounting of their actions in respect to this tragic loss. The targets of the SAF operations were characterized as ‘high value targets’. If the police went after them, it can only be because they were ordered to do so. … The decision was made on the highest levels.”
For all their apparent dissonance, every one of the prelates have reasonable points.
As Cardinal Tagle noted, elections are near and national institutions should be strengthened, not torn down. And he echoes legitimate concerns about the entity taking over if Aquino steps down — a question regime changers must satisfactorily answer.
The NTC also wants to strengthen democratic institutions through reform, starting with the electoral system. But it argues with good reason that Aquino must go for deep and true reform to happen, because it is his rule that has weakened institutions by bribing Congress, browbeating the Judiciary, and manipulating automated elections, with no sign of mending its ways.
Archbishop Palma rightly points out, as papal encyclicals had stressed, that the Church hierarchy’s competence lies in moral issues, not political analysis and action, which are best left to the laity.
The CBCP statements, however, correctly raised crucial political questions regarding Aquino’s ability to lead, the support he enjoys from state officials and the citizenry, his and his advisers’ accountability for Mamasapano, and the right and wrong measures for political change, eschewing extra-constitutional ones.
Hard questions for Church and State
With the President evading blame for the January 25 debacle, Catholic bishops must again review their individual and collective positions on the moral standing of national leaders and their rule. Among the burning questions facing bishops and their flocks:
Should the nation and the faithful accept Aquino’s insistence that he did nothing wrong in the Mamasapano operation, other than perhaps switching off his cellphone?
Can democratic institutions be reformed and strengthened under a regime that uses pork barrel to bribe legislators, has practiced what the CBCP called “selective prosecution” of anomalies, and is gearing up for the third round of automated election sleaze?
Should the nation face formidable security challenges in coming months — including rebel and terrorist threats, international meetings leading up to the APEC Summit in November, and the usual election violence — under a Commander-in-Chief in which soldiers and police have significantly impaired confidence (see “Do the troops trust Aquino?”, published January 17)?
Of course, all those questions would be academic if Aquino quits or falls. Significant segments of the uniformed services are well aware of what their Commander-in-Chief did before, during and after the Mamasapano carnage.
No whitewash can hide from the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police the commands Aquino issued at the urging of his peace adviser, which those in the know have been sharing with others. And every soldier or law enforcer, along with the whole nation, is now witnessing how leadership responsibility is shirked, truth and honor are violated, and those obeying orders are made scapegoats.
If these undeniable truths lead to regime change, the big question then might be: Should the Church and the people accept and support a new government that heeds the bishops’ call for reform?