The President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has issued a statement mildly critical of the ongoing Congress inquiry into the massacre of 44 Philippine National Police Special Action Force (SAF) commandos by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Bansamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Mamasapano, Maguindanaoon Jan. 25. The statement tries to be even-handed, but it could yet provoke a minor storm if Malacanang uses it to deflect the call on President B. S. Aquino 3rd to step down and cast in a negative lightsome bishops who support such call.
To prevent such a storm, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop and CBCP President Socrates Villegas may have to reassure his brother bishops that such is not the intention nor meaning of some of the words he uses in his statement. Will he do it? The CBCP cannot afford to be divided over Aquino, who has already divided the nation on moral and constitutional issues.
Should Aquino ‘resign?’
In an earlier statement, dated Feb 4 and titled, “Should the President resign?”, Villegas noted that some “members of the Philippine Catholic hierarchy” support the call for Aquino’s “resignation”—(a word the bishops concerned have never used, in place of “stepping down”) —but that the CBCP had not arrived at a collective position. “Whether or not the President should resign and yield the powers of his high office to a lawful successor is a judgment that he must make, after prayerful discernment, and in all humility and judiciousness,” the statement said.
Villegas expressed support for the creation of a “credible Truth Commission or a Fact-Finding Body,” rather than a police Board of Inquiry, whose members would be “appointed by the President and endorsed and accepted by the public” on the basis of their “probity, truthfulness, and boldness,” to investigate the tragedy. This looked like a particularly labored effort to find merit in asking the principal suspect in a murder case to supply his own investigator. But the proposed Truth Commission has not taken off, and we now have the Congress hearings instead.
Congress hearings criticized
In his new statement, “Seeking Truth and Justice, Pursuing Peace,” Villegas chided Congress for simultaneously holding two separate hearings instead of just one. This could have allowed a more expeditious investigation and obviated the possibility of findings at loggerheads with each other, he said. In response to this well-put criticism, the hearings in the House of Representatives will no longer continue. This looks like instant success for the good Archbishop, but there is no guarantee that there will be an explosion of truth in the Senate, or that the lies will be far more sparing or at least less obvious and revolting.
The Archbishop’s new statement had more to say to the MILF than to the President, who might have needed a little bit more. It repeated at least two of the demands made earlier by certain quarters, namely, that the MILF “surrender the culprits” for criminal prosecution by the government; and that the MILF return the arms and ammunition captured from the SAF and from other government agents. There was no mention of the BIFF, which had joined forces with the MILF to finish off the SAF commandos, despite earlier reports of an “acoustics battle” being staged between the MILF and the BIFF to show the Philippine authorities that they are antagonists rather than allies.
Both demands are legitimate ingredients for a just reconciliation. But the first demand sounds a bit unreal. Assuming the MILF is more willing to surrender its own followers for criminal prosecution than it was willing to surrender the two international terrorists (Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and Abdulbasit Usman), whose $6 million bounty they could even claim, the government has no way of getting the MILF to surrender all or even just most of them, unless it knows first of all exactly who they are, apart from those whose faces had been captured on video while executing their victims at close range. Unless it knows their identities, it will never know how many of those involved are being surrendered for criminal prosecution. Is the demand then not naivete of the first kind?
Buying back our own weapons
As for the second demand, this seems to be entirely doable, especially if the MILF wants to make a sincere gesture. They could just return the weapons, no questions asked. However, there are disturbing reports that the individual holders want to be paid for the weapons, at a premium, and that some of those involved in the shattered “peace process” are already paying. Thus, the PNP could end up getting back the weapons it owns only because it has paid (again) for them.
This cannot be, and should not be. In fact, the government should try to recover not only the weapons captured from our dead SAF commandos, but also the whole inventory of high-powered weapons that were originally imported by the PNP for its own use, but which had ended in the hands of the MILF and the BIFF, and possibly the Abu Sayyaf too, not to mention the New People’s Army, because of the illegal arms traffic.
Possible cause of misunderstanding
Up to this point, the CBCP president’s statement provokes no controversy. But it begins to do so, ironically, when in its “appeal for true patriotism” it says:
“This is not the time for political opportunism. This is not the time for adventurism or grandstanding. 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. The CBCP cannot lend its support to any movement that may bring greater suffering for our people. We would do well to join in the debate spiritedly, to be zealous in ferreting out the facts and to be unyielding in demanding accountability. But it is also our moral duty to be law-abiding citizens, animated at all times by the Gospel that insists that we love even those who we may find difficult to love!”
Secular media’s misinterpretation
The above words, when parsed, say nothing offensive or derogatory to anyone who is not a political opportunist, an adventurist, or a grandstander. There are quite a few them, political opportunists and grandstanders out in the open, and possibly some adventurists lurking in the shadows somewhere. But the secular media were quick to interpret these words, erroneously, as referring to a group of bishops who were pictured flanking Cardinal Ricardo Vidal, the Archbishop Emeritus of Cebu, in his private residence last week as he read a statement restating the right and duty of the Church “to teach her doctrine and to pass moral judgment in those matters which regard the common good and fundamental rights and freedoms.”
“The Church and her pastors must never abandon their duty to denounce evil and to guide men, women and children in their active search for the truth and the good. Moral evil must be removed from the political and social system. This task, the Church and the political community cannot just leave in the hands of politicians, no matter how virtuous the might be,” the Cardinal said, in support of the call on PNoy to step down. The bishops, who are identified with the National Transformation Council, want Aquino out because he has violated the Constitution, broken our laws, tried to destroy the Filipino family and the Church, and assumed office through an illegitimate and fraudulent election, which he wants to stage again in 2016.
Arguelles at CBCP
Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa tried to explain all this to the CBCP during its last plenary assembly in January, a few days after Aquino had attacked the Church and some unnamed members of the Catholic hierarchy in his “welcome” message to Pope Francis in Malacanang. However, no one engaged him in any dialogue after his “privilege speech,” and although he was promised his text would be circulated to all the bishops and their dioceses later, this has not happened until now.
How Aquino step-down campaign began
Now, the demand for Aquino’s stepping down did not begin with Mamasapano. It began after he had bribed Congress to force the enactment of the morally and constitutionally obnoxious Reproductive Health Law and to impeach and remove Chief Justice Renato Corona as punishment for the Supreme Court ruling against Aquino’s family interests in Hacienda Luisita, and after he seized control of the three branches of government. This totally destroyed the Constitution.
It intensified after he siphoned off hundreds of billions of pesos from existing appropriations in the General Appropriations Act into his own unlegislated spending program (the Disbursement Acceleration Program), which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional, and when he refused to prosecute those involved in the abuse and manipulation of the DAP and PDAF funds, despite the express directive of the High Court to prosecute all.
Mamasapano: the last straw
Aquino’s apparent psychological meltdown as he monitored the fighting in Mamasapano from Zamboanga City, which led to the “stand-down” order to the troops poised to reinforce the SAF commandos, was simply the last straw. The rest of the country just could not take it anymore. They had reached the point of no return. Aquino must go now.
In any civilized country, Aquino would have offered his own head with the most profound sorrow and apology, without having to be asked by anyone to vacate, as a matter of personal honor and self- sacrifice. As of now, he has owned the responsibility for the tragedy, but expects others to assume its consequences.
This compounds our tragedy. But the tragedy is twice compounded when our high moral authorities fail to see what even the blind man of Jericho must see very clearly.