Our protests should not just emanate from the bad feeling that we have been personally or communally transgressed, violated or duped. It should come rather from the realization that God has been offended and we have become less holy as a people because of this. … Therefore, our first response to the pork barrel issue must be not protest but contrition. We are not just victims of a corrupt system. We have all, in one way or another, contributed to this worsening social cancer—through our indifferent silence or through our cooperation when we were benefiting from the sweet cake of graft and corruption.
— Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines
Pastoral Statement on the Pork Barrel
The pastoral statement of Catholic bishops on the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or “pork barrel” scandal spells out the moral imperatives for Catholics who wish to stay in the good graces of their religion and their God.
For those in state authority, the CBCP admonishes: “Every government official from the rank and file to the highest executive must prove themselves worthy of the title ‘Honorable’.”
For those in power who wish to continue the PDAF system, they would be perpetuating sin. For as the bishops make clear, “the present pork barrel practice in government is fertile ground for graft and corruption. Promoting the politics of patronage, it is contrary to the principles of stewardship, transparency and accountability. It is immoral to continue this practice.”
For those who stained their souls with pork barrel graft, the CBCP wants swift due process: “The wheels of law and justice must roll swiftly so that we can immediately punish the errant, restore what has been stolen and return to moral conduct. ‘Hate evil and love good and let justice prevail…’ (Amos 5:15)”
That call for justice should sweep in not just politicians and operators named in the Commission on Audit report based on less than a third of the PDAF releases from 2007 to 2009, but also those who misused the remaining P21 billion. Their papers were hidden by Budget Secretary Florencio Abad’s agency, which should promptly release them, along with records covering between P20 billion and P25 billion a year in PDAF under President Benigno Aquino 3rd—triple the allotment under his predecessor.
Let all these releases and projects be audited and made public, most especially the yet-undisclosed pork barrel documents of then Senator Aquino.
For lay Catholics, who make up four-fifths of the citizenry, the prelates said: “We call on our pastors of souls to educate our people in their political duties as good citizens. We cannot be good Christians if we are not good citizens, and good citizenship in a democracy calls for participation and vigilance . . . It is but right that citizens demand accountability and transparency.”
May one make a suggestion to the clergy: to get citizens clamoring for good governance, bishops and priests would do well to lead the way by demanding from officials with corrupt reputations the full accounting of their state-funded activities. No matter that the Governor’s family paid for the new cathedral tabernacle or the mayor sends food to catechism classes.
If leading officials are known to be skimming off projects and programs, let clergy and laity press for a truthful reckoning. If men of the cloth won’t do it—or worse, if they are on backslapping terms with grafters—then neither would lay people. Let such “indifferent silence” toward the corrupt, if not acquiescence and collusion, end—starting with the ranking clergy who hobnob with the powerful.
And while they’re at it with public officials, diocesan and parish leaders should also make clear to wealthy businessmen and professionals that they lie, cheat and steal if they file false declarations and bribe revenue or customs agents to evade taxes and duties. Along with repeated admonitions against state sleaze, let homilies and prayers of the faithful include constant calls for honest reporting of income and payment of taxes—now almost entirely unmentioned at masses.
The fifth call to action in the CBCP statement highlighted public concern for governance issues as “manifested in our assiduous search for the truth in the spirit of prayer and solidarity. Prayer will make us humble and open; solidarity will make us strong.”
Let this rightful emphasis on prayer and solidarity in the search for truth lead Catholics to join hands and march shoulder to shoulder with other religions and denominations, from Iglesia Ni Cristo to Muslim communities, as well as non-sectarian entities like the National Citizens Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), whose mandate actually includes pressing for good governance between elections. Also important partners are independent media and non-partisan civil society; they need Church support to resist political blandishments.
Plainly, it is a widely practiced and highly potent political strategy to co-opt citizens’ groups and media outfits, at least silencing them, if not bringing them on the side of vested interests masquerading as righteous leadership. The Church should not leave these segments of society easy prey for self-serving politicians and subversives.
The CBCP urged: “We call on all Filipinos of goodwill, especially among our Catholic faithful, not to stand idly by in this moment of truth.” Let’s make sure that the Church does reach out to all people of goodwill, to which the Gloria extends peace every Sunday mass. Such solidarity in struggle and truth is essential to national reform and triumph.
The last and probably most important tenet from the bishops is stewardship. They lament: “Stewardship is greatly wanting in our country. Positions in the country are public trusts for the service of the common good. As stewards of the people, leaders should be transparent to them and should be open to be held accountable.”
Sadly, starting with the encomienda system instituted by Spanish colonizers over four centuries ago, public authority has long been exploited for private gain with little moral or social qualms. This power as personal and family privilege continues to this day, buttressed even by elite Catholic families educated in Catholic schools who see their wealth and power as gifts from heaven for them to use as they wish for their own benefit and nothing else.
That unstewardlike perspective is seen not just in the legislator, governor or mayor who raids the public coffers and flaunts connections and influence as signs of respectability and success. It also marks wealthy tycoons who expect recipients of their largesse to publicly applaud their ventures and advocacies, and not point out morally suspect aspects.
Most pernicious is the belief that working honestly for one’s bank balance confers the right to do with it as one pleases, with no thought of how big spending would expend resources that could have changed the lives of many needy. Or that the quest for big-ticket consumption spawns the materialistic values which drive the likes of Janet Lim-Napoles to aspire for similar heights of spending money. More than indifferent silence, this self-centered materialism is the great sin of nearly everyone, affirming the unrelenting drive for personal gain which feeds graft.
In the Gospel of St. Luke last Sunday, our Lord set the standard for Christians: “ . . . anyone of you who does not renounce his possessions cannot be my disciple.” If the Filipino nation and the Catholic Church are to make a dent in the enormity of corruption, we must stop thinking of what we have, whether wealth, talent, position or renown, as our possessions. They all come from God, not to be selfishly abused, but returned to Him through the least of our brethren. Amen.