COMMENT: Chinese Adage Unheeded (1). By Patrico P. Diaz

As a collegial body, the Bishops, in “… we come to you as pastors… not … as politicians …”, precisely and clearly stated their role in the search for truth to restore integrity “in the midst of restlessness and confusion” in the country.

They clarified that the role or “vocation” of politicians “is to order society towards the common good” – “the flourishing of democracy”.  But democracy, they believe, “must not be built on political formulae” alone; so, to help democracy flourish, they contribute moral values, the other necessary foundation of democracy.

So, the search for truth is the common concern of the Bishops and politicians: The problem: “We face today a crisis of truth and the pervading cancer of corruption.” The solution: “We must seek the truth and we must restore integrity.  These are moral values needing spiritual and moral insights.” The “We” refers to the Bishops and politicians.

The concern is common, but the roles are distinct — the Bishops providing the moral guidance and the politicians leading the actual search and restoration. By this division of roles, the Bishops decided to leave the politicians alone together with the people: “Therefore, we address this pastoral statement to everyone particularly you our beloved people and in a special way to our political rulers and officials.”  The “we” here refers to the Bishops only.

To complete their guidance, the Bishops urged that the search for truth “must be determined and relentless” and the way must be cleared of impediments. They prescribed six short-term responses to the search and one long-term.

A source close to CBCP said that 55 Bishops were present at the meeting. Not all were voting members.  Of the voting members, 29 were from Luzon, 17 from Mindanao, and six from the Visayas. They approved the Statement unanimously – including “the handful known to favor Arroyo’s resignation”.    

Multi-edged

One influential Bishop said: “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.”

This Bishop implied one collegial trait of CBCP: members may have varying positions on the subject of discernment. But those in the minority are likely to subordinate their positions to that of the majority.  

This Bishop also described “Seeking the Truth, Restoring Integrity” as multi-edged or allowing varying interpretations. Some understood it as supporting Arroyo since it did not explicitly call for her resignation. The anti-Arroyo criticized the Bishops; the pro-Arroyo led by the Palace thanked the Bishops for not calling for Arroyo’s resignation.

In disputing the Bishops’ moral-stand-only position, critics said that in the fight against corruption a moral statement is also political. One critic said that the Bishops’ arguments to explain their moral stand are, in reality, political statements. The Bishops’ on condemning corruption in the Arroyo government, they said, should have called for her resignation.

Bishops Talk

In response to criticisms and comments in the press, some Bishops (a) reiterated their collegial stand, (b) revealed their discussions at the meeting, and (c) showed their pro-Gloria, anti-Gloria colors and individual positions. (From: Philippine Daily Inquirer, Philippine Star, MindaNews)

Archbishop Leonardo Legaspi of Nueva Caceres: “There was an agreement – a moral understanding – that when the truth is found, we have to meet again – or at least our officers, if we don’t have way or time – to tell the public what to do.” He was one of the drafters of the CBCP Statement.

Archbishop Antonio Ledesma
of Cagayan de Oro corroborated Legaspi: “Everything is open in the sense that we have to judge the situation according to its own merits at the proper time. We will certainly be expecting concrete compliance and in fact in earlier statements we were asking for a closure of many of these high-profile cases of alleged graft and corruption.”

The implication is that the Bishops will issue another statement when the truth about the alleged graft and corruption in the Arroyo government is proven to be true or not true. While, according to Ledesma, most bishops did not favor another EDSA and the call for Arroyo’s resignation, will they ask her to resign if the allegations are found true? These are in the minutes of the meeting.

However, how soon will the truth be found? The Statement did not set a time frame. Neither did it specify a body to expedite the search. Will they ask Arroyo and the opposition to account for their compliance to the present and past Statements?

Legaspi spilled the Bishops inconsistencies. He said they did not discuss a specific deadline for the truth to be found: “We don’t want to appear as if we are threatening the government. We are not rallyists, anyway.” Are they serious about the “crisis” and the “restlessness and confusion” the “we face today”? That needs both deadline and pressure for a fast solution.

He also said that while they do not support the call for Arroyo’s resignation he believes the Statement is already “a form of pressure” on her.  Is the Statement a “political pressure” they are exerting on Arroyo? Yet, they refuse to support the political call for her to resign.

Bishop Emeritus Francisco Claver of Bontoc-Lagawe said that the call for Arroyo to resign is a move that “could weaken the country’s democratic structures”. How? The Star report did not carry Claver’s explanation — if he did explain – that was necessary due to the perception that Arroyo has, in fact, restricted and constricted the country’s democratic structures.  It would not be a surprise if Claver is perceived as pro-Arroyo.

Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Pampanga: “Bishops share in the indignation but define their role more clearly as that of pastors, not of political powerbrokers.” They recognize the questions on the moral ascendancy of the government. They respect the option to call for resignation of Arroyo if that is a “product of discernment.” He appears ambivalent.

Bishop Ramon Villena of Bayombong in defending the CBCP Statement said that its critics might have been influenced by opposition Sen. Panfilo Lacson or the “fake hero” Rodolfo Lozada Jr. He adopted the Malacañang propaganda line; he can be perceived as pro-Arroyo.

Their Own Way

In their own way, five Bishops expressed their personal interpretation of the CBCP Statement: they attended interfaith prayer rallies last March 29. “We are making the same strong CBCP statement, but with warm bodies,” said Bishop Emeritus Teodoro Bacani.

With Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, Archbishop Oscar V.Cruz of Lingayen-Dagupan, and Bishop Deogracia Iñiguez of Caloocan, Bacani joined the Makati City interfaith rally “to seek divine intervention against what they perceive as a corrupt administration”.

To Bacani, their presence in the rally clearly stated that “the CBCP does not frown on people who’d ask for resignation or who’d ask for the truth to be made known.”

To Pabillio, in asking Arroyo to pave the way in the search for truth, the CBCP challenged her to let the truth out: “Ilabas ang katotohanan at huwag hadlangan and katotohanan [Let the truth out and don’t obstruct the search.]

Called to speak to the rally, Cruz repeated three times: “GMA, Resign!” [GMA is Arroyo’s presidential initials.] Interviewed by Radio Veritas, he explained the “marvelous process” by which Bishops reconcile issues of socio-moral concerns.  He did not attend the February 26 CBCP meeting; if he had his way, he would have “put only one word in the letter: Resign”.

Iñiguez was not reported to have said anything during the rally but he is one of the bishops well known to be anti-Arroyo and calling for her resignation. Interviewed by The Philippine Star, he asked, “You think that’s true?” after stating the perception “that the bishops are divided when it comes to relationship to the Palace”.

Archbishop Angel Lagdameo of Jaro (Iloilo) and CBCP president joined the interfaith march and rally in Iloilo City organized by the Alliance for Truth and Justice.  The Alliance called for transparency and for truth about corruption to come out.  Some members demanded that Arroyo must resign.

Lagdameo said, “My walking with the people, my solidarity with the people is my statement to the people that I have their sentiments in my heart. My joining in the march is my statement.”

As stated earlier the anti-Arroyo Bishops are just a “handful”. However, it also appears that there is also a “handful” – if not more – who are pro-Arroyo. Shall it be said that the rest are the “no talk” Bishops who are either truly colorless or are careful not to reveal their color. Whatever, the few who are visibly pro-Arroyo and anti-Arroyo make CBCP appear divided. [To be continued]

("Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr. Diaz with a "Lifetime Achievement Award" for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You can reach him at [email protected])

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