THE Vatican Insider is a secular project of the Turin-based Italian newspaper La Stampa, which is published by the Fiat Group.
More than two years ago, Vatican Insider ran an exclusive interview by Gerald O’Connell.
It began with the memorably painful quote—”Corrupton is like a dagger pointed at our hearts”—from Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle. That was soon after he took over the Manila archdiocese from Archbishop Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales.
One of the first questions O’Connell asked was: “Corruption is widespread in the Philippines, as you mentioned earlier. The former President is under arrest in hospital for alleged electoral sabotage, and the Chief Justice is being impeached for corruption and other offences. How is it that there is all this corruption in the most Catholic country in Asia?”
Archbisho—then not yet Cardinal—Tagle answered: “It is a question that we ask ourselves too, and it causes us a lot of discomfort, to say the least. It is like a dagger pointed at our hearts, our Catholic hearts. How come this lifestyle of corruption seems to be widespread and also accepted?
“We [the Philippine Church]seek to contribute to address this problem. The government is doing its share, and we trust this present administration is serious about pursuing accountability and justice, but we just hope that it will not be only directed at people of the past administration, that it will really become some sort of a culture in government, that integrity be the ideal. And there we—as Church and Church leaders – really need to contribute from the spiritual, the moral perspective.
“So we in the Church are also undergoing a lot of soul-searching. Where did we fail? What is happening to our catechesis? What is happening to Catholic education? Are we able to form consciences? How come that many of them are products of Catholic schools but when they get into the political system, and government service, service disappears and becomes self-serving? What has happened to the formation of conscience?”
Last week, the Vatican Insider again run a Philippine story in its Spanish edition. It is by Paolo Affatato. I read only the Spanish version of the article, courtesy of our being a partner-paper of the McClatchy-Tribune (MCT) Information Services.
Here is my most inadequate reporting to you of what the Spanish original titled “Filipinas: La Iglesia desafia a la corrupcion” [“Philippines: The Church combats the ugliness of corruption.” (Some would just say “ “combats” or “defies” corruption. But “desafear” means “to remove or diminish ugliness.”) The author is Paolo Affatato.
The article has a subhead: “Por un mega-fraude contra el estado por 10 mil millones de pesos, incluso el presidente Aquino podría ser acusado. Tagle: ‘Queremos la verdad’”
[For a P10-billion mega-fraud against the state, even President Aquino could be charged. Tagle: ‘We want the truth.”]
It starts with “Whenever President Benigno Aquino Jr. falters , the Philippine Church does not defer taking morality-directed action and firmly denounces the corruption that prevails in politics and in government administration. “Out with the truth,” writes Affato, proclaims the last issue of the Philippine bishops’ paper, which published a text of Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila and who could be considered the bishops’ lead man.
[Actually, the headline of the CBCP Monitor says: “Tagle to Napoles: Tell the whole truth.”]
The story by Affatato tells of how the awful “mega-fraud” involving the PDAF “as revealed by the Philippine press” involves so many high officials. And that when the accomplices and masterminds are named, President Aquino could in fact be one of them. This would, says Affatato, shake the foundations of the nation.
Affatato then recalls that the Philippine Church has always denounced corruption as the “cancer in the country.” And that Cardinal Tagle had defined it as “A dagger pointed at our hearts.”
Affatato then tells readers that the Catholic bishops have been issuing different messages against corruption, the most recent being that of the president of the Philippine Episcopal conference, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, who called on the Filipino population to live according to the ethical norms prescribed by the Gospels. And he also called on people, specially officials, to be men of truth and integrity.
The Vatican Insider article tells of the latest Transparency International report that has placed the Philippines at number 105 on the list of corrupt countries (with the worst of all in rank number 176). Financial scandals, abuse of public money and corruption have involved the last two presidents of the nation: Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Affato then tells how Benigno Aquino Jr . , son of national hero Benigno Sr and Corazon Cojuangco Aquino (heroine of the peaceful Edsa Revolt, that freed the country from the dictatorship), had taken the fight against corruption as part of his campaign and government program. But he seems now to have turned his back on his campaign vows.
Now, fraud, organized through a series of non-existent NGOs and development programs, consists of releasing public funds to officials. The article tells in general what we Filipinos all know about. Affatato recalls that in 2013, the Church was one of the principal protagonists that campaigned across the country for transparency in government transactions and to abolish the PDAF-pork barrel.
Affatato writes that the campaign became a vigorous protest movement against the government when Benigno Aquino refused to abolish the PDAF pork barrel fund. After an impressive demonstration was held in Manila in late August 2013, with the bishops in the front row, bells rang in all the dioceses of the Philippines. With these symbolic actions the bishops reminded the President and the government of their moral responsibility.
The article continues that the Church of the Philippines has said that Aquino disappointed the people by refusing to intervene in the “pork barrel.”
The article quotes His Grace the Bishop of Sorsogon, Arturo Bastes, speaking over Radio Veritas. He said that the development plans and programs should be the task of a specialized government agency competent in this work and the local government units. It should not be the outcome of agreements promoted by congressmen, who should limit their work to drafting and passing laws. Bishop Bastes urged that this malpractice should be abolished for good.
Affatato then summarizes our system of corrupt mechanisms that includes patronage, dynasties, cronyism, and graft-ridden deals between national government officials and local officials. He particularly pointed out that parliamentarians in the Philippines can actually decide to whom, how and where to deposit amounts of money. He says this system induces shady deals and obligations to be repaid come election time.
Affatato concludes that in the war against corruption the Church becomes a protagonist–after her defeat in the birth control law that is misnamed the Reproductive Health Law–in a season of political battles that could trigger a real institutional cataclysm.