Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bishops despair

Last Tuesday, five of our bishops led by the Archbishop of Jaro in Iloilo who also happens to be the president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, held a press conference in Intramuros.

Clearly, they explained that they were there in their individual capacities – Archbishops Angel Lagdameo of Iloilo and Oscar Cruz of Lingayen-Dagupan, likewise once head of the CBCP. As well as the young Bishop Socrates Villegas of Balanga in Bataan, once Cardinal Jaime Sin’s most trusted understudy and aide, and equally young Bishop Joel Baylon of poverty-stricken Masbate. And they were joined by Archbishop Emeritus Jose Sorra of Legazpi in Albay, retired yet still deeply disturbed by the corruption he has seen to worsen in his lifetime. I learned that Archbishop Vicente Navarra of Bacolod was likewise part of the "communal discernment", but could not fly to Manila because he was taken ill in his archdiocese.

The Association of Major Religious Superiors (AMRSP) wrote to Lagdameo on October 17, deeply concerned about the deteriorating state of public morality characterized by corruption most gross and most rampant.

The AMRSP letter said: "At this time when people are losing hope and are becoming cynical and apathetic, a prophetic word from you will be like a Pentecost event, a rekindling of hope and an inspiration and impetus to take active part on social transformation." The press conference and the statement read therein was apparently the bishops’ response.

The archbishop said there is a real need to have a new government as the current one has been severely stricken by the "social and moral cancer" that is corruption.

"In response to the global economic crisis and the pitiful state of our country, the time to rebuild our country economically, socially, politically is now. The time to start radical reforms is now. The time for moral regeneration is now. The time to conquer complacency, cynicism and apathy and to prove that we have matured from our political disappointments is now. The time to prepare a new government is now," he proclaimed.

When asked if he was calling for a public uprising to force President Arroyo to step down, Lagdameo said "it is up to the people to decide what course of action to take."

But of course. The bishops can only propose. It is the people, or those whom Lagdameo challenged to become "liberators" who dispose.

It will be recalled that the CBCP in its plenum during the first impeachment crisis, called on the public to engage themselves in "communal discernment and communal action" regarding the sad state into which our political, social and economic ethos has been consigned into after six years (at the time) of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s dysfunctional governance.

Now, seemingly in despair, our lord bishops are asking their flock: Haven’t you discerned enough? Are you not going to take the proper communal action?

The bishops’ statement zeroed in on corruption as the biggest obstacle to reform. "In the past few years up to today, we have watched how corruption has become endemic, massive, systemic, and rampant in our politics. The faces and symptoms of corruption are over-priced projects, multi-billion scams of various kinds, election manipulations, anomalous transactions, bribery of both high and low, unsolved murders of media practitioners. Corruption is a social and moral cancer." Lagdameo noted that there have been at least three CBCP statements denouncing corruption, but the stealing spree goes merrily on, and more systematically.

Lagdameo said he believes Arroyo is a corrupt leader and has done little in preparing for a new government that could make a transition away from a corrupt one.

"In spite of the seemingly hopeless and negative prognosis, our liberation may yet serendipitously happen. We are dreaming, praying and hoping that our country may yet have the liberators. Yes, liberators who will, in a courageous peaceful way, effectively and uncompromisingly reform our country," they said in the statement.

"Corruption in such an extensive degree in the Philippines is a crime that cries to heaven for vengeance. Corruption in this country has become endemic, systemic, from top to bottom in government. Perhaps they may be given the punishment they deserve by the human justice system, but that’s not enough. Someone else in the Higher Authority will punish them as they deserve," a despairing Oscar Cruz, himself a former CBCP president, observed.

Realizing that their "sudden" rekindling of the issues surrounding the moral infirmity of the present administration is bound to raise questions, Bishop Soc Villegas declared: "We are not here to bring you peace. We are here to disturb you. I’m praying to God that after this meeting, may the Lord trouble you because the trouble that comes from the Lord is going to make you a better person and it’s going to make the country a better country," adding that with the current state of our government, there must be "very drastic and dramatic actions from each and every one".

Virtually quantifying the ill effects of corruption so gross, Villegas said that "If we have been only half less corrupt, we would have more money to feed our children, more money to put up schools, more money to bring medicines to hospitals."

Still, the jaded political observer, having wondered how and why our moral guardians keep jabbing without delivering a mortal punch, in tradition set twice by Cardinal Jaime Sin, would do well to listen to how the five bishops, under the approving gaze of nuns and priests, the same "soldiers" of Christ in upheavals past, tackled questions thrown at them by media.

After Archbishop Lagdameo gave regretful comment that President Arroyo was incapable of reforms, because she "is corrupt" herself, it was Archbishop Oscar Cruz who made their purpose more clear, more emphatic. In Tagalog, "tumbok na tumbok".

Was Arroyo capable of drastic reforms, the question went. "Siempre hindi", Cruz answered with nary a hesitant pause.

"How about Vice-President Noli de Castro?" The prelate said, "Walang ganyanan".

Senate President Manny Villar? Once again he quipped, "Walang ganyanan".

Needless to say, ditto with Prospero Nograles, Speaker of the lower house.

But when asked about Chief Justice Reynato Puno, Cruz approvingly said, "Pwede ‘yan!" Like a Diogenes desperately in search of an honest man, it seems Cruz has found one.

And when media segued into AFP chief Alexander Yano, the outspoken bishop, until now unstopped by his colleagues, and cheered on by the nuns, exclaimed, "Okay ‘yan!" He has found a second honest person.

Yet in truth, there are many honest Filipinos, many who have not dirtied their hands by scooping from the public till. That we are now all doomed to suffer being citizens of Asia’s most corrupt country is an abomination brought about by a few extremely greedy men and women we have had the ultimate misfortune of leading these benighted parts.

If I get their message, their cri de couer right, the bishops were challenging those honest men and women, and they must be considerable in number, to band together and install a reform government, revolutionary in purpose as well as in action, to become the "liberators" they seek.

"Who will pick up the broken, shattered pieces of our country, hurting from poverty and corruption, to make it whole again? In spite of the seemingly hopeless and negative prognosis, our liberation may yet serendipitously happen. We are dreaming, praying and hoping that our country may yet have the needed liberators. Yes, liberators who will in a courageous, peaceful way – effectively and uncompromisingly reform our country", the bishops cry.

Remember the song of the crusader, "Onward Christian soldiers"?

As to when, the bishops were clear and certain. "The time is now".