The “urgent call for national transformation,” unleashed from the National Transformation Council’s groundbreaking assembly in Lipa on Wednesday, has to alter first the quality and conduct of the debate on the common good before it can alter anything else. If it is able to do that, it would be a quantum leap in the effort to set the protest movement against the Aquino regime on a new course.
In the face of the blanket official effort to dismiss as “fake reformers” all those whose idea of change does not advance President B. S. Aquino 3rd’s desire to perpetuate himself in office, there was some risk that some people would simply attack Aquino without showing why radical change was needed. No one walked into this trap.
Everything was conducted on a high plane, even when making the strongest points. Serious charges and condemnations were made, but no personal insults or attempts to ridicule the President, as we often encounter in the media and the Internet.
The proceedings were formal yet festive, interrupted a couple of times by numbers provided by a talented young tenor, which lent the event a refreshing touch of high culture in that most unlikely outdoor setting, the Saint Francis de Sales Seminary covered court.
The Council’s declared objective is system and structural change. Since that is meant to serve the common good, rather than merely some vested interest group, the Council can afford to pursue its objective with Aquino’s cooperation and collaboration if possible, and against his vehement opposition only if necessary.
The key word is peaceful change. Gathered together under the wings of the Council, the leaders of the Catholic Church, the Evangelical churches, and the Islamic community all asked, with one voice, to give revolutionary but non-violent change a chance.
Together with the host prelate, Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa, Archbishop Emeritus of Cebu and former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, led the Catholic Church presence, which included Archbishop Romulo de la Cruz of Zamboanga, Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla of Davao, Bishop Juan Pablo de Dios of Butuan, Auxiliary Bishop Bernardino Cortez of Manila, Bishop Emeritus Salvador Quizon of Batangas, Father Romeo J. Intengan, S. J., from Ateneo, and other priests and men and women religious.
The Evangelicals were led by Protestant Bishop PioTeotica, and Pastor Arthur Corpuz of the United Church of Manila, who explained the Protestants’ position on the issue. But the Muslims contributed the biggest single delegation, 100 out of the 700 or so total participants, who came all the way from Mindanao. This was most heartening amid reports of the Islamic State threatening to infect the most vulnerable parts of our Muslim population with its lethal virus that is spreading murder and genocide within Iraq and Syria and beyond.
Dr. Kamil Unda, a Muslim scholar who spoke for his delegation, reminded his audience that secularism has become the greatest scourge of our age, but that the Lord, as the Qur’an says, will never change the conditions of his people unless they themselves change their own conditions first. How this change is to be achieved is really the “great Jihad” (struggle), not anything else, he said.
Aside from asking Aquino to “step down,” which this paper ran as its banner headline story yesterday, the assembly made several statements, which could easily acquire a life of their own. Aquino “has lost the moral right to lead the nation, and has become a danger to the Philippine democratic and republican state and to the peace, freedom, security and moral and spiritual well-being of the Filipino people,” the Declaration said.
“We have lost all trust and confidence” in the President, the Declaration stressed.
It made two important calls. First, a call on the National Transformation Council, which had until then lived a quiet and unseen existence, to “assume the urgent and necessary task of restoring our damaged political institutions to their original status and form before we begin to consider electing a new government under normal political conditions.”
The members of this Council are not publicly known. Although it has been in existence for the last three years, with senior moral and spiritual leaders from the various faith communities providing it moral and spiritual guidance, the Council has decided to shield its membership from public view until it is time to make the appropriate announcement. But any member is free to disclose his membership, but only his membership.
Having been asked to keynote the Assembly, I felt it my duty to reveal my membership in the Council in the course of my remarks. Pastor Corpuz did the same during his address.
The second call was on the Armed Forces of the Philippines, “as the constitutional ‘protector of the people and the State,’ to extend its protective shield to the Council, and not to allow itself to be used in any manner to undermine the Council’s purely transitional and non-partisan role nor to allow any armed group to sow violence, disorder or discord into its peaceful ranks.”
But in their presentations, Cardinal Vidal and Archbishop Capalla made some very important revelations, which give us reason to hope that despite PNoy’s initial resistance to our proposal, he could yet be persuaded to step down, as Marcos did in 1986, and President Erap Estrada did in 2001. In both instances, the cardinal played a pivotal role.
In 1986, as CBCP president, he issued the statement that provided the moral basis for Marcos stepping down, in the face of widespread complaints about the scandalous conduct of the snap presidential elections. In 2001, as a friend to both Estrada and Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, he called on the President at the height of the crisis to advise him “to avoid bloodshed, and for the sake of the Filipino people, to leave Malacañang.”
In 2005, on the other hand, at the height of GMA’s crisis, according to Archbishop Capalla, the late former President Cory Aquino and five clerics called on the President to ask her to step down. Then Bishop now Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, archbishop of Manila, and then Bishop now Archbishop Soc Villegas, president of the CBCP, were part of the group. Together with Cory, they spoke lengthily about Arroyo’s need to resign.
Arroyo listened, and, after their extended discourse, said, “Thank you, I will think about it, please pray for me.”
Arroyo did not resign. But the fact that both Cardinal Tagle and Archbishop Villegas felt it their duty then to ask Arroyo to resign might encourage them to do the same to PNoy, who reportedly values very deeply what they have to say to him. Will they try talking to Aquino?