COMMENT: Chinese Adage Unheeded (2). By Patricio P. Diaz

Warning

“Jaro, Iloilo Archbishop Angel Lagdameo faces ouster as head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) if he remains under the ‘dangerous influence’ of bishops calling for the resignation of President Arroyo.” This, Bishop de Dios Pueblos said last February 28. (The Philippine Star, February 28, 2008)

As a warning, he said: “Archbishop Lagdameo should be extra-careful.  He should distance himself from the influence of Archbishop Cruz.  He should smell danger.  If he does not listen to the majority, I think there would be moves to replace him as president of CBCP.”

He further advised him that before issuing political statements like his call for a “new brand of people power” he should first consult his fellow bishops.

Unlikely

But Bishop Iñiguez, a pro-resign bishop, said the ouster of Archbishop Lagdameo is unlikely to happen. “The president of the CBCP is elected for a term.  And as far as I know, he cannot be removed unless he dies, violates any law of the Church, or commits moral blunders under our constitution.”

Archbishop Cruz, he of “dangerous influence”, commented: “Ouster of presidents of CBCP is never an option.  They usually resign and that’s easy. I’ve been a CBCP president myself.  We don’t get paid and we don’t have pork barrel.  All we get is free food during meetings. If you really don’t like what you’re doing anymore and your colleagues also don’t like you anymore, then why force yourself.  There is no need for ouster in that case.”

Was Archbishop Lagdameo offended? “If ever it happens, I would even be happy and grateful and welcome it as a blessing of God…. I am even entertained by the thought.” He agreed with other bishops that his ouster is unlikely as there is no provision for this in the constitution of the CBCP. He considered as Bishop de Dios Pueblos’ joke the “dangerous influence” of Archbishop Cruz on him.

Impressions

What impressions does this “expostulation and reply” among the Bishops give?

There are pro-Arroyo and anti-Arroyo cliques inside CBCP. Bishop de Dios Pueblos speaks for the first which he implies as the majority. The second includes Archbishops Lagdameo and Cruz and Bishop Iñiguez.

Does Bishop de Dios Pueblos not know that the CBCP constitution and laws have no provisions for the ouster of a CBCP president? Unbelievable! But the impression is that he doesn’t. He is either ignorant or indiscreet. And, worse! Some might call him arrogant.

It seems odd that a CBCP president must not, on his own initiative, issue a statement clarifying or elucidating an earlier Pastoral Statement that he himself has signed for the Conference. That the “warning” and “advice” of Bishop de Dios Pueblos suggests against the presumption that the CBCP president, like any president, has discretionary powers.

Fall-out

Obviously, Archbishop Lagdameo irked the pro-Arroyo clique when he issued on his own last February 18 “Discovering a New Brand of People Power” to supplement “Reform Yourselves and Believe in the Gospel! (Mark 1:15)”, the Pastoral Statement that CBCP issued on January 27, 2008 which suggests “communal action” for “much needed regeneration of our politics and social life’.

“To the disappointment of some, the CBCP recent statement did not specify what ‘communal action’ to take,” Archbishop Lagdameo says in his February 18 statement.

Essentially, the six-page January 27 Pastoral Statement suggests “communal action” for the “personal and communal conversion towards a social conscience” to:
 
First, Church groups: “We have to come together then as communities of faith, as we your Bishops said back in 1986 after the Snap Elections of that year, to ‘pray together, reason together, decide together, act together’, form groups of thinking and praying people – in our schools, seminaries, parishes, mandated organizations, lay movements, social action groups, most especially in basic ecclesial organizations.”  (emphasis supplied)

Second,
all others: “We ask this explicitly of Church groups.  But we will also ask all citizens who have a concern for the nation’s good, especially those who hold the reins of power, from Malacañang on to Congress, provincial and municipal governments, all the way down to barangay councils….”

Essentially, too, communal action calls for discernment.  What specific action may result from this? Archbishop Lagdameo implies that people have already responded to the Bishops’ call for communal action: “Many good things have started to happen.” And among these is a sign of “a new brand of People Power”.

He explains that many have become cynical and indifferent to EDSA brand of People Power when EDSA II “installed a leader who lately only has been branded as the ‘most corrupt’ and our government is rated ‘among the most corrupt governments’” – clearly referring to President Arroyo and her government.

He sees as a sign of this “new brand of People Power” emerging in the “movements of some groups for a National Campaign Against corruption in the government….”

Alluding to Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr. in the Senate hearing on the ZTE-NBN scandal, he says: “Imagine, with just one courageous person willing to witness to the TRUTH, some good things are already starting to happen, like the  exposition of other scams, lies, deceits, ‘moderate and immoderate greed’.” He encourages others like Lozada to come out.

Implying communal action and a new brand of People Power as the answer, he asks: “Today, what is God telling us about expressing our highest sense of the national common good?” and stresses, “This is the question that must be answered in all honesty, no matter how painful, by Church leaders and Church people, by civil society, the military and police, by our congressmen and barangay leaders, by our Senators, above all by the residents of Malacañang.”

Interpretation

Achbishop Lagdameo did not specifically mention the ZTE-NBN scandal. However, it was reported that “a new brand of ‘people power’ is slowly rising from the national broadband project mess being investigated by the Senate” (GMANews.TV, February 18). It was the reporter who named Lozada.

The February 28 Star report showed that Bishop de Dios Pueblos interpreted Archbishop Lagdameo’s February 18 statement – while seen by “some quarters as a call for mass actions to end corruption” – as directed against President Arroyo and her government, to which “most bishops, especially those in Mindanao, disagreed.”

The same Star report said, “Some bishops lamented that some prelates and groups have misinterpreted the call for communal action as a call for people power,” and Archbishop Quevedo – one of the drafters of the January 27 and February 26 Statements — explained the call for communal action as an appeal for “community discernment that would include prayers which would eventually lead to action”.

Could Archbishop Lagdameo have misinterpreted the “call for communal action”? I don’t think so.  His statement coheres with the two CBCP Pastoral Statements that he signed for CBCP.

In fact, “Seeking the Truth, Restoring Integrity” sustains “Discovering a New Brand of People Power” when, referring to communal action suggested in “Reform Yourselves and Believe in the Gospel (Mark 1:15)”, it says: “We believe that such communal action will perpetuate at the grassroots level the spirit of People Power so brilliantly demonstrated at EDSA I. It is People Power with a difference”– meaning, People Power with a new brand.

Recap

Like the President and other high officials, Bishops, too, are subject to misinterpretation. And mortals as they are they can also make mistakes.  Like the President and news sources, media reporters like them to talk. The more they talk on controversial political and social issues, the more they are liked.

Media do not make distinction between the President, high officials and Bishops as sources of news.  The more one talks against the other the more the news. In fact, some media people fuel controversies through intriguing questions. When Bishop de Dios Pueblos issued a stern warning against Archbishop Lagdameo with a threat of ouster, he got the headline.

But Bishops cannot avoid political and social issues. Such issues have moral aspects which, as pastors, they have to address.  Even if political leaders want them to keep off political matters under the doctrine of separation of Church and State, they ask for guidance from Bishops in times of political and social crises.     

It is on responding to the appeal or acting on their own initiative as pastors that Bishops are caught between contending forces. As each side expects to be favored, they cannot please both. And, the people expect a miracle from them. Whatever they do, they are likely to be criticized.

“They are damned if they do, they are damned if they don’t”, so says another popular adage. In the present “crisis of truth” and “pervading cancer of corruption”, their Statements please the pro-Arroyos and extremely disappoint the anti-Arroyos.

Unlike the Chinese in the adage, the Bishops cannot just clam up so as not to make mistakes. The problem is how to talk without making mistakes or being misinterpreted. The people and the contending forces who implore them to talk are, to the contrary, of no help.

Media do not mind blowing up controversies among them. So, beware!  ("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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