COMMENTARY on the CBCP Statement: Seeking the Truth, Restoring Integrity. By Abp Orlando B. Quevedo

2. Is it true that it was the Mindanao Bishops who “saved” GMA?

Absolutely false. There were 55 Bishops present at the meeting of February 26, 2008. Four of the 55 were non-voting. Of the voting Bishops, 29 were from Luzon, 17 from Mindanao (among those absent from Mindanao was Bishop Pueblos), 6 from Visayas. From the numbers alone one can readily see how evidently false it would be for anyone to claim that the Mindanao Bishops “saved” GMA.  In fact, the Bishops’ statement was approved unanimously. Even the handful known to favour Gloria’s resignation approved the statement.

3. It is often said that the Bishops are divided. Is this true?

The oft-mentioned “divided hierarchy” is false. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines is made up of 115 Bishops. Of these, 100 are active voting members. Less than 10 of the Bishops are “pro-resign.” Such numbers do not make a “divided” CBCP. The unity of the Bishops has always been there even when they issued their statement on July 10, 2005 that they were not demanding the resignation of the President.

The image of a divided hierarchy could be a media creation. Four or five Bishops with a contrary opinion receive a lot of disproportionate media exposure and mileage. If one studies newspaper reports and interviews, their names appear again and again. Yet Bishops with this contrary opinion constitute less than 10% of the whole hierarchy.    

4. This time why did not the Bishops demand GMA to resign?

Choose from the following:
a) They are blind and cannot see reality;
b) They do not listen to the people and specially to the poor;
c) Many of them have received money from the President.
d) They have no spine.
e) All of the above.

Are these charges true? No they are not. Bishops do visit people in the barrios and listen to them. They know what the poor are saying. In the provinces people have problems quite different from those in Manila and are not as much affected by issues that the national media and various groups in Metro Manila project. Mindanao-based groups, for instance, try to project these issues unto the public but for various reasons, particularly ideological, the public does not favourably respond. Some groups in Manila might speak of massive rallies nation-wide, but the Bishops do not see this happening in their own dioceses. And so the Bishops see the difference between Manila and their own provincial dioceses. Their people generally see things differently. Maybe, just maybe,  it also takes a bit of courage for Bishops to go against the current “popular” political opinion and public clamor?

How about gifts and money from the President? My answer is quite simple. For how much could a Bishop sell his soul or conscience to someone else? 10,000 pesos? 20,000 pesos? 100,000 pesos? 500,000 pesos?  One million pesos? Five or 10 million pesos? That gifts or money would blind the eyes of Bishops and seal their lips to gross corruption when solidly proven would be a tragic contradiction to their experience as pastors at EDSA I and EDSA II.   

5. If the claims are only hearsay passed on from one to another, why then did the Bishops not go along with the “growing clamor for resignation”?

What I sense from the Bishops is this. Very many believe that the present process of arriving at the truth is seriously flawed for several reasons, some of which are the following:

(a) The Senate has become a partisan venue for the opposition to pile up charges upon charges, proven or not, for their own political interests;
(b) Although many developments have taken place since the Garci tapes, these developments beg for proof, the truth, closure.
(c) Senate work on the ZTE-NBN issue is “in aid of legislation.” By its very nature the process – which is sometimes without the benefit of the other side being heard or witnesses being interpellated by “defense” – is not ultimately meant to determine responsibility and guilt. In fact some of the Senators are saying, “Enough. We already have enough facts to aid us in legislation.” Hence, the Senate may not really the proper venue for seeking the truth;
(d) All of the above.

6. But does not the Lozano testimony in the Senate establish once and for all that GMA is guilty of the highest type of corruption? Isn’t the testimony of Lozada similar to the testimonies against former President Erap leading to EDSA II?

On these issues many Bishops would believe the following: In the case of EDSA II, there were Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearings. But the final stage of investigation was a formal impeachment process, with lawyers presenting and rebutting, etc. and with the Supreme Court Chief Justice presiding. Both sides were heard fairly. We saw on TV Governor Singson’s ledger, a money trail right up to Clarissa Ocampo’s riveting story of signature-writing by the former President – all irrefutable testimonies despite efforts by defense lawyers. The stage for EDSA II was set. The verdict of guilty was a foregone conclusion based on real evidences and not simply on stories. The non-opening of an infamous envelope was simply the trigger. There is, therefore, a great difference between the Lozano testimony and the testimonies leading to EDSA II. Today, lawyers would most likely dispute the truth of the Lozano testimony. Some people who are for the resignation of Gloria in fact have some reservations about it.

Considering today’s political polarization it is unfortunate that the veracity of witnesses would also depend to some extent on the mind set of the observer. If I am anti-Gloria I would be very inclined to say that Lozada is truthful. But even in the anti-Gloria group we find many who would rather go through a legal process of finding the truth. The pro-Gloria camp would say that no solid evidence has been presented. As a result of these divergent perspectives many Bishops believe that the truth is far from settled and that we must continue to seek the truth.

7. Why do the Bishops say that the President and all the branches of government should lead in combating corruption from top to bottom?

The Bishops’ suggestion may not be as bizarre or as weird as it seems.  Even today people, including some of our present senators, keep telling the President to do something about corruption in the different branches of government. The President should do this or do that, they say. In other words, she should take the lead. And yet many of these would say that the President is Ali Baba herself.

But should we not also wonder who should clean up corruption regarding the use of Pork Barrel given to the Senators and Congressmen. Should it be the Senate? The House? Strangely, it seems that the Senate Ethics Committee has made some inquiries into allegations regarding certain alleged corrupt practices within their ranks but we have not seen any reports on these inquiries. So who should take the lead? Or maybe there is no corruption regarding the Pork Barrel?

In their statement the Bishops go on official record that the President and all the branches of government must take the lead. If nothing is done, there would really be no one else to blame.

Perhaps when all is said and done, despite the weirdness of the suggestion, the Bishops and ordinary people could be right. The President does have some role – other than herself being investigated, and every government official should be when charged – in rooting out corruption (if at all possible) in government. If not she, then who? Civil society? The Church? A junta? The military? The people? All of us together?

8. Is the Bishops’ statement political or moral?

From the very beginning, we all knew that we had to take a stand from the moral point of view. The reasoning for our stand must be on moral grounds. That is why we insisted on the Gospel moral values of truth and integrity. But we also knew that from one united moral stand, varying political options could flow.

Let me present, for instance, a rhetorical moral argument. Corruption at the highest level is to be unequivocally morally condemned. But there is, indeed, corruption at the highest level. Therefore, it is to be unequivocally morally condemned. Let us also presume that the second premise is solidly supported.  

The conclusion is a moral statement that is dependent on the usual circumstances (who, what, when, where, why, how, etc). It has political implications. Some will demand resignation. Others will demand impeachment. Still others will require the legal processes to proceed. Some will wait for 2010 to give their political response. Etc., etc. It is quite clear that one moral statement does not peremptorily demand only one political option. This reality flows both from the nature of the given moral statement and from the contingent, relative nature of political decisions. This is why continuing discernment is necessary to arrive at the truth. From a dialogue both of thought and action one united political stand might prudentially emerge.

9. Why did the Bishops “strongly recommend” the abolition of EO 464?

The abolition of EO 464 will greatly help the process of seeking the truth. Many questions can be answered by Cabinet Secretaries and they can provide a lot of information related to the present controversies. Fr. Joaquin Bernas, S.J., informed the Bishops that even if EO 464 were to be abolished, “Executive Privilege” would still remain. To a Bishop’s question Fr. Bernas answered that the President cannot waive Executive Privilege since it is not given to her personally but is granted to the Office itself. (Many people think that “the President can waive this privilege if she has nothing to hide. If she does not waive it, she must be hiding something.”). But there are specific parameters, he said, to Executive Privilege. Therefore, without EO 464 a Cabinet Secretary can answer many questions and provide many kinds of information about alleged corruption cases as long as the questions are not about specific areas covered by executive privilege.  

Hence despite its obvious limitations the recommendation to abolish EO 464 is a priority recommendation of the Bishops to help seek the truth.

10. What is the most important recommendation in the Bishops statement?

I believe it is a recommendation that unfortunately has been hardly mentioned by the media, although it was emphasized at the press conference. The Bishops recommend the formation of circles of prayer, discernment and action in parishes, religious organizations and movements, colleges and universities, and Basic Ecclesial Communities. This communal process/action focuses on the issues of truth and integrity facing us today, including their causes and remedies. The Bishops believe that from such circles of prayer, discernment and action at the grassroots a culture of truth and integrity will emerge and spread. It is people power at and from the grassroots. Concretely it would require of each diocese a pastoral program of moral conscientization. From reports in the media, it seems that the prayer rally in Zamboanga calls for action along this line. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MinsdaNews. Archbishop Orlando B. Quevedo, OMI, served as CBCP President for two consecutive terms).