What Filipino Catholics want to hear in the SONA

July 18, 2013 9:40 pm
Ricardo Saludo

Ricardo Saludo

It’s not a presidential directive deferring implementation of the Reproductive Health bill, though no doubt, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), if not the Vatican, would applaud such a statement in the State of the Nation Address on Monday. After all, the Supreme Court has put off the RH rollout while hearing petitions against the law. Besides, President Benigno Aquino 3rd isn’t known to back down, especially in matters of public confrontation, so best for the faithful to pray for other issues.

Foremost among them has to be further advances in the peace process with both the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Communist Party of the Philippines and its New People’s Army (CPP-NPA). All peace-loving Filipinos, especially war-weary Mindanaoans, can take heart with the recent shaking of hands in Kuala Lumpur between MILF and government negotiators on the parameters for sharing of revenues from resource exploitation.

Now, President Aquino should tell the peace panel to explain the wealth sharing to broaden support and address questions possibly holding back acceptance. Part of this information process is listening and responding to sincere objections from affected parties and communities. Sweeping them aside just to get a deal, any deal, would merely sow the seeds of future dissent, if not conflict.

As for the CPP-NPA, there is reason to encourage reported efforts by some local military commanders to explore peace efforts at the provincial or regional level. No doubt this will provoke objections from the rebel leadership, especially those abroad. But the absence of progress and often, on the part of the insurgents, good faith calls for alternative ways to silence the guns.

Bishops, priests, and lay groups would be keen to help to support talks with local rebels willing to jointly resolve issues and forge local peace accords. These moves may in turn put pressure on the CPP-NPA bosses to be more forthcoming in their own talks.

One more Christian plea on behalf of peace: President Aquino must do something about the unbridled smuggling under his watch, which is six times the levels in the Estrada and Arroyo administrations, based on direction of trade data from the International Monetary Fund. PNoy has never investigated the disappearance of 2,000-5,000 containers in transit from Manila to Batangas port — the largest inflow of contraband in Philippine history.

Never mind the billions of pesos in taxes and duties lost, plus the job and income losses for farmers and factory workers due to untaxed imports. The life-threatening problem with smuggling is the entry of guns and drugs. If firearms and narcotics were inside even just 1% of those thousands of vanished 10-, 20- or 40-foot containers, the toll on Filipino lives snuffed out by shootings and overdose or ruined by addiction, constitutes among the gravest sins against the Fifth Commandment in the country.

Besides life, Christ also stood for truth and justice: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” Perhaps the biggest sin against truth this year are the computerized anomalies in the automated election system. Even before the May polls, AES irregularities have been emerging in intermittent but hugely disturbing reports: the wholesale disregard on legally mandated safeguards in the automated election system, the weeks-long delay in transmitting results from a mammoth one-fourth of vote counting machines, and the illegal proclamation of winners based on incomplete results.

On the widespread malfunctions of precinct count optical system machines, Aquino’s appointee and former election lawyer, Commission on Elections Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr., admitted that he deliberately kept the PCOS problems from public disclosure. And this month came more disturbing Comelec moves.

Without any announcement, the Commission’s website reduced official vote counts for all 33 senatorial candidates by as many as 4 million votes, or one-fifth of topnotcher Grace Poe’s 20.3 million official tally promulgated by the Comelec on June 5. Also raising hackles is Pasay City’s count, in which votes cast exceeded registered voters.

Unless he doesn’t mind being blamed for abetting, if not conspiring with PCOS anomalies, President Aquino should advance the cause of truth and democracy by urging the Comelec to work with pollwatch groups in getting to the bottom of AES mess.

The law bars any reversal of election outcomes without the usual protest process. But far more important than correcting election irregularities in 2013 is avoiding them in future voting, especially on constitutional amendments, which Aquino secretly supports.

Election reforms should include junking PCOS, as urged by the Comelec’s own technical panel after the May 2010 polls, and adopting a new system that not only prevents cheating, but also enables ordinary Filipinos, not just computer experts, to see clearly how the citizenry’s votes are being counted, canvassed, communicated and compiled. This present system is, frankly, an utter black box that is able to hide fraud.

Will the President call for AES reform and stand up for truth, democracy and the people’s sovereign will as expressed in their correctly tabulated votes? We pray he will even as we don’t hold our breath.

A third priority for Filipino Christians is the welfare of “the least of My brethren”, tThe preferential option for the poor. Development experts, including those in government, rightly lament the decades-old failure of economic gains to make a dent in poverty. Unfortunately, despite its pronouncements and policies on inclusive growth, the Aquino administration has achieved minimal improvement in poverty, jobs and hunger.

Indeed, despite last year’s and the past quarter’s Asia-leading growth in gross domestic product, unemployment worsened to 7.5 percent in April from 6.9 percent a year ago, the reverse of the January 2010 improvement despite near-recession in 2009 (see June 17 column). Hunger incidence as surveyed by Social Weather Stations averaged 19.9 percent, higher than 19.1 percent in 2009. And SWS self-rated poverty hit a mean of 52 percent last year, against 49 percent in 2009. All that despite surging growth and some P50 billion in conditional cash transfers for millions of poor families under Aquino.

On the day the above data was published in this paper, President Aquino called a Cabinet meeting to review economic policies and programs. More than two months after that meeting, it’s time to tell nearly 25 million poor Filipinos and the Christians and other compatriots who care for them what exactly will be done to reduce unemployment, hunger and poverty, with clear action plans, targets, timetables and tasking.

So, peace, PCOS and poverty—let’s hear how President Aquino and his administration will address those issues and advance peace, truth, justice and charity in our land.