COMMENT: Some Questions. By Patricio P. Diaz

The dictionary is clear: “cleric” means “member of the clergy”.  And, “clergy” means “a group ordained to perform pastoral or sacerdotal functions in a Christian church” – the first meaning. I have not heard Muslims – nor have I read in Muslim writings that have come my way – call their religious leaders “cleric” in English.

But maybe it’s good to ask Muslims whether the terms “cleric” and “clergy” can apply to their religious leaders in English usages, for, the second meaning of “clergy” reads: “the official or sacerdotal class of a non-Christian religion”.

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On Rice: Is the steep and quite sudden increase of the prices of rice in the market due to a crisis in rice supply – actual or impending – or to market forces or to a government decision to allow the increase? The prices of first class rice are from P4 to P5 per kilo higher than in the last months of 2007 and early 2008.  That’s here in General Santos City.

Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap denied the existence of rice supply shortage. While production has been increasing, Yap admitted that it meets only 90 percent of the national requirement. The government, however, will import rice from Vietnam (INQUIRER.net, March 24).

The increase in prices, Yap explained, is due to the increases in the prices of fertilizer and oil. This may be true but it hardly explains the P28 to P29 per kilo prices compared to P24 late last year and early this year.  Some market forces must be the culprit.

Incidentally, Yap was criticized for allegedly telling the Filipinos to eat less rice because of the shortage.  He said he suggested to restaurants and other eateries to offer “half-serving” of rice for those who can’t consume the full serving. There is much sense in this – conserve, don’t waste.

However, this might be contrary to business profitability — the bigger the servings, the more the profit.  I know of a popular restaurant in Manila that serves per order two big slices of sinigang na bangus. To moderate eaters, one is enough. But eateries must earn profit, not conserve food.

However, there’s one remedy. Have the extra rice wrapped and taken home. But here’s the funny part: Even with the “rice half-serving” in the menu, there will still be extra rice if “half-serving” is not enough and another “half-serving’ is ordered and not fully consumed.

The ultimate remedy: Put a reminder on the menu – for carenderias, a notice posted on the wall – just to order one “half-serving” of rice if one “full” or two “halves” are too much: “Better half-full than wasteful.”

According to the Food Nutrition Research Institute of the Department Science and Technology, by throwing away unconsumed rice, Filipinos waste 25,000 bags of rice a day (INQUIRER.net, March 24). That’s 9,125,000 bags a year or 456,250,000 kilos (456.25 tons) or P1.575 billion at P28 per kilo, if first class rice.

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On Debt Payment: President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo vetoed a provision in the 2008 budget that requires the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and the Department of Finance to submit a quarterly report of debt payments to the two Houses of Congress.

According to Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr., the vetoed mandatory provision of the 2008 budget was intended to stop the servicing of loans considered “fraudulent, wasteful or useless”.  He named some of these loans for “defective projects” that have not been benefiting the people (INQUIRER.net, March 24).

The vetoed provision was also for Congress to monitor the loans.  This will bring to light the observations that the government actually disburses more for debt servicing than the amount provided in the budget.

Citing the Constitution, Pimentel said “the government must exercise transparency in its actions”.  However, even if the government is transparent, can it refuse to pay its loans? I think the payment is obligatory, according to the same Constitution.

To Pimentel’s question, “Why would Malacañang hide these transactions from the public”, he knows the explanation very well. And so does the public — making the hiding unnecessary.

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On Interfaith Activities:  What are these “interfaith activities” that President Arroyo has institutionalized through two successive executive orders? Are these under a policy defining a new relationship between the government and the different churches in the country – that of cooperation instead of separation as provided in the Constitution (Article II, Section 6)?

Last year, Executive Order 626 created the National Committee on Interfaith Cooperation “to consolidate, rationalize and ensure the consistency of the country’s policies and position on various interfaith initiatives and forums in and outside the country”.  Last March 12, EO 714 superseded EO 626 to change NCIC to Council on Interfaith Initiatives (CII).

CII is “the highest policy-setting body for the country’s interfaith initiatives and involvement both here and a broad (Press Statement from the Office of the President, March 23, 2008). Created to implement the CII policies is the Presidential Committee on Interfaith Initiative (PCII).

The OP Press Statement mentioned five important functions of the PCII:

1. To formulate and submit for the approval of the CII, a Philippine Plan of Action on Interfaith  Cooperation (PPAIC) after coordinating with all government agencies, local government units, the academe, and all non-government organizations;

2. To monitor and ensure that the goals and targets within the country under the approved PPAIC are met;

3. To represent the country and articulate Philippine interfaith policies and position in different local and foreign fora;

4. To ensure that the country is well-represented and able to maintain its leadership and its effective participation in the various interfaith initiatives and activities;

5. To receive, approve and prioritize program and project proposals consistent with the approved PPAIC and make quarterly reports to the CII on the status of the PPAIC.

Article II, Section 6 of the 1987 Constitution notwithstanding, cooperation between government and different churches in the country is a most desirable policy.  In fact, cooperation – not separation – between Church and State should be the doctrine.

But there are questions that should be asked:

First: Why is the relation termed “Interfaith”? The government is not a religion. In relating with the different churches or religions, that relationship cannot be properly called “interfaith”. Is the policy under EO 714 supplanting EO 626 meant for the government to coordinate the activities of the different churches or religions in the country?

But in Function No. 1, the PCII in formulating the PPAIC coordinates “with all government agencies, local government units, the academe, and all non-governmental organizations” – not with the churches unless the Church organizations and Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) are “NGOs” as referred to. For 2008, PCII has a P1 million operating fund.

Second: Function No. 3 speaks of “Philippine interfaith policies and position in different local and foreign fora”. What are the Arroyo government’s religious concerns “here and abroad”?

This seems to imply legislations that infringe into morality contrary to the position of the Church or the Philippines’ quest for an observer status in the Islamic Foreign Ministers Conference of the Organization of Islamic Conference. Normal relations among countries are economic and political – not religious or interfaith — perhaps, except with the Vatican.

Third: Function No. 4 speaks of “leadership” and “effective participation in various interfaith initiatives and activities”. Perhaps, media are just too preoccupied with political controversies to have the time and space for the activities of the PCII. In the absence of media reports, the people can just ask what these “various interfaith initiatives and activities are”.

PCII members, all with the rank of assistant cabinet secretary, are representatives of the Presidential Council on Values Formation as chairman and of the Department of Foreign Affairs and of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Processes as members. Their initiatives and activities should be of interest to the nation.

Fourth: Function No. 5 speaks of “program and project proposals consistent with the approved PPAIC” which the PCII receives, approves and prioritizes. From whom and where do the proposals come? Do they come from organizations under the Roman Catholic Church, other churches and the mosques?

Last year, I read a news item — which unfortunately, I did not file – about a government policy to channel development funds through church organizations in order to avoid corruption. Were there social and economic projects of the Church assisted by the Government under NCIC?

This leads to charges against the Catholic Bishops which sound malicious, if not outright so – that the Bishops had been bribed by President Arroyo so as to be soft on her, not calling for her resignation in their Pastoral Statement on the pretext to avoid making political statements contrary to the policies of the Church.

For instance, last February 29, former party-list representative Andrea Ma. Patricia Mangrobang Sarenas from Davao City (2004-2007 wrote in the internet loop Mindanao 1081: “kasi, jun, sobrang daming pera talaga ang naibigay ni gloria sa maraming obispo and pari.  inalagaan, patuloy na inaalagaan.  kaya beholden, super beholden. kaluod!” (You know, Jun, Gloria has given many bishops and priests very much money.  They are being taken care of very well always. So they are beholden, super beholden to her. Nauseating!)

Considering Ms. Sarenas’ political and social stature, many would believe her as speaking out of personal knowledge. However, if under EO 626 last year — henceforth, EO 714 — social and economic projects of churches for the benefit of the people were assisted with government funds subject to audit, can such assistance be called “bribe”? Was there such assistance? Even assuming that there was, that will remain a controversial question.

(“Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You may e-mail your comments to [email protected]).

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