2014 was a bad year for the poor. And the year before that. And the hundred years or so before that. Now, inspired largely by Pope Francis’s apostolic visit this month, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has declared 2015 the Year of the Poor. What can we possibly hope for?
Message to priests
CBCP president and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas has called on the clergy to lead by example. Simplify your priestly lifestyle, he says. Don’t fall in love with either a woman (or another man) or money. Avoid unnecessary foreign travels and recreation in expensive places. Don’t own or use expensive cars. Give alms to the needy. Wear your clerical attire always as a symbol of poverty. Be absolutely honest in reporting the financial condition of your parish or school to the appropriate Church authorities. The shepherd must not smell differently from the sheep.
Nothing here is alien to the Gospel. It is what the Church has always taught. And no parish priest should mind being reminded about it by the Pope, his bishop, his brethren, his spiritual director or even his parishioners. The Church has always been the Church of the Poor; even priests who have not taken the vow of poverty are generally poor. Some in more affluent parishes may own a few more things, but in most parishes, material poverty is the first thing they share with their parishioners. In any case, every priest, every serious Christian for that matter, is expected to live the spirit of poverty.
Good and bad examples. Within the Church, among the clergy, the women and men religious and laity, we witness heroic examples of living that spirit. The not so good examples we usually find outside the Church. In government, business and industry, civil society, etc. Indeed, certain problems affecting some priests have arisen in the area of sexual morality, and they have been sensationalized by the secular media sometimes beyond measure. But even these have been exposed mostly by the Church authorities themselves, in their effort to correct internal abuses and mistakes.
The poor’s most daunting challenge. This still comes from our political, economic and social system, and material poverty continues to top any list. Even in the most affluent societies the most dehumanizing inequality continues to grow, despite rising levels of prosperity. From this the Church alone cannot save the poor, without the active support and collaboration of the State and the other sectors. This requires a vigorous partnership between Church and State and civil society. But how do we make it happen?
Regrettably, we see no visible effort on the part of the Aquino administration to make it happen. Consider the evidence.
The MRT-3 horror show. Faced with the horror of an ill-run Metro (Manila) Rail Transit 3, which is plagued by all sorts of maintenance problems, and is unable to assure the riding public of the barest minimum standard of safety and availability of trains, the graft-ridden Department of Transportation and Communications has authorized a 50-percent fare increase, without a public hearing, and without any improvement in the service or availability of the trains, in defiance of rising public protest from commuters.
These are mostly daily wage earners, whose wages have remained frozen at subsistence levels, and many of whom regularly lose their jobs before completing every six months, because their employers do not want to give them the status of permanent employees.
Long before the fare increase, the DOTC secretary told those who were complaining about their long wait, “to take the bus instead,” if they couldn’t afford to waste half of the morning or afternoon waiting for a ride. Shades of Marie Antoinette telling the hungry French crowd, before they stormed the Bastille, “to eat cake” instead of asking for bread.
Not enough protesters? To the extremely insensitive fare increase, Malacañang has now added the much more insensitive statement that only a few are protesting the increase, so the government could simply ignore it. Obviously, the suggestion is that unless there was an EDSA-size crowd, the Aquino regime could not be moved.
Will this “Year of the Poor” compel Malacañang to take a more humane view of the wretched condition of the train-riding public, and order the DOTC to provide cheaper, safer and more trains at the soonest possible time?
A wicked pattern. The fare increase seems to follow a wicked pattern of public service. As the service deteriorates or declines, the price the public pays inexplicably shoots up. This is what has happened to all our public utilities. With the shortage of electric power, the rates increased. As the shortage of water threatened, the rates increased. With the total absence of competence in government, official corruption and plunder increased beyond all telling. The last factor to be considered in the calculation is always the consumer’s interest and wellbeing.
The neglected typhoon victims. In the face of so much suffering inflicted by natural and man-made calamities, our beloved president is seen partying, while his countrymen wait in vain for comfort and consolation from government. For over a year now, the typhoon victims of Yolanda/Haiyan in Tacloban have been waiting–in vain–for the financial assistance which foreign governments, international institutions and other donors have coursed through the Aquino government.
What happened to all the money, Mr. President? Will this “Year of the Poor” bring faster assistance to the homeless and jobless, whose numbers have risen after the latest calamities?
Hijacking the tripartite system. Amidst the most persistent claims of moral probity and rectitude, our beloved president gravely abused the Priority Development Assistance Fund and the Disbursement Acceleration Program, which the Supreme Court subsequently declared unconstitutional, to corrupt the members of Congress in order to force the enactment of the anti-poor and anti-Catholic Reproductive Health Law and to impeach and remove Chief Justice Renato Corona, for personal and political reasons, from the Supreme Court. This has resulted in his effective control of the three branches of government and all the monies of government, in violation of the Constitution, without being impeached.
Will this “Year of the Poor” allow our people, especially the poor, to have some access to the democratic process, consistent with the Constitution which says, “The Philippines is a democratic and republican state. Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them”?
Continued violation of basic human dignity through the RH law. In violation of the moral law, the Constitution, the culture and consciences of Filipinos, the RH Law has put the sanctity of human life and the family under the supervision and control of the State, even though the Constitution expressly mandates the State to be the protector of conception rather than the preventer thereof. Now the unjust law is being further perverted by its implementing arm to ensure that abortifacients, which the law prohibits, are passed on as “safe contraceptives,” and those supplied by the US AID, UN agencies and similar sources are exempted from the usual mandatory examination by the local Food and Drug authorities.
In this “Year of the Poor,” will the poor have a chance of regaining their basic dignity from these institutionalized abuses?
Robbing the poor twice. In the face of hundreds of billions of pesos siphoned off by our beloved president for questionable purposes through the PDAF and the DAP, the Supreme Court has not only declared the entire pork barrel system unconstitutional but also directed that all those involved in the misuse and manipulation of the PDAF and the DAP be prosecuted with dispatch. But instead of complying with the directive, our beloved president, working hand-in-glove with Congress, simply reinstituted all the discretionary lump sums that had been outlawed by the Court in his P2.6 trillion 2015 budget; redefined “savings” to allow himself to play around with any appropriation anytime he would like to; and further enacted a P22.3 billion 2014 “supplemental budget” to fund the illegal projects that had been “defunded” after the High Court declared the DAP void. This is robbing the poor blind, not once, but twice.
In this “Year of the Poor,” is there any chance the thieving class will suddenly develop some qualms of conscience, and use those discretionary lump sums not solely to line their pockets but also to help rebuild lives?
Insisting upon a rotten Smartmatic and Comelec. Notwithstanding the intense buildup of evidence and public opinion against the questionable role of Smartmatic, the Venezuelan private company, and the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines in the 2010 and 2013 national elections, and their proposed use (again) in the projected 2016 elections, the graft-ridden and totally discredited Commission on Elections has decided to award a P1.2 billion contract to Smartmatic for the continued use of the PCOS machines in the next round.
In the last two elections, the voters were effectively disenfranchised without their knowing it through the infamous “hocus PCOS.” Philippine democracy became a farce when our beloved PNoy claimed 14 million votes as a “machine-elected president.” Now, the thieving class wants the process repeated, without regard to the vast evidence of fraud that has piled up and the numerous cases that have been filed against the rotten eggs at the Comelec, which are gathering dust in the Ombudsman’s office.
Will this “Year of the Poor” finally compel our people to say, “Enough is enough,” and demand an end to the continuing conspiracy of the ruling party, Smartmatic and the Comelec to turn this country into a banana republic?
A rogue state. Finally, our dictatorship of incompetence has succeeded in reducing our beloved Philippines into a rogue state. While 10 million Filipino Overseas Workers suffer every hardship to raise $26 billion for the economy every year, our beloved president has allowed the country to fall under the control of drug and crime lords. At the Bilibid Prisons, they are in control, protected and supported by government forces. Just as we have not seen before a president personally corrupting Congress, at no time have we seen a president allowing crime to take over the forces of government.
Will the “Year of the Poor” finally allow the poor to imagine that a real distinction exists between a government and a criminal syndicate?
Naming the evil and its source. Despite the Church’s efforts to transform the moral and spiritual life of the nation, according to the Gospel, it still must contend with the moral evil coming from outside the Church. To resist this evil, the faithful will have to rely on the moral and spiritual guidance of the Church. But it may not be enough for the Church to simply name the evil to be resisted without naming its source. Are all the bishops prepared at this time to exercise their power of prophetic denunciation and name that source?
In this “Year of the Poor,” many of the faithful expect nothing less.