COMMENT: Bishops, Save the Philippines! By Patricio P. Diaz

Common to both is the perception that the sitting president is the wrong leader. In the first, the Philippine bishops are challenged to oust President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo; in the second, Jesus is proposed as the model of “the kind of revolutionary that this country [the U.S.] needs” to be elected in November.

Those interested to follow the second may visit http://www.JesusIn2008.com, a “sort of nominating convention site [that] invites participants to infer his stances on modern politics and choose a contemporary running mate [for Jesus, the lone candidate], using the results as a voting guide in November”.

                                                            Leadership Crisis

The PDI, in its editorial, was correct in portraying the Arroyo administration as plagued by “wholesale corruption by the highest authorities.”  In fact, while it may be correct that the “ZTE national broadband network (NBN) deal” is a “can of worms,” it is inaccurate to imply that the “wholesale corruption” became “clear to everyone” only after “Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr. [had] fully pried open the can”.  Even the perception that the “can” is “fully opened” is questionable.

The editorial cited instances of wholesale corruptions made clear by Lozada’s exposé – “all instances of constitutional affront.” Then the question: “If the administration has become a constitutional wrecking crew, then what should the people of conscience do?”  Here is a clear call for leaders to lead the people rise to oust President Arroyo.

But there is a leadership crisis.  No one has responded to the call.  So, the direct call: “If there’s any sector that should have the intellectual sophistication and moral conviction to make clear to the populace what should be done, it should be the Catholic bishops.”  The call is not for the bishops just to show the way but to lead the way.

But the editorial perceived the bishops as not in the mood to lead.  It considered nothing “more lame and shallow than the bishops’ hailing Lozada as one who “could save the government from scandalous and immoral kickbacks,” then stop there.

                                                            Barbed Goad

To spur the bishops to lead, the editorial wielded the barbed goad. “By now the bishops should have appreciated that the ZTE issue, more than just another instance of corruption, is an episode in a vast tapestry of abuse of power, constitutional deception and subversion – a stark evil right in the corridors of power.” All sound-thinking Filipinos must have appreciated so.

More goad to move the bishops. “But still the bishops hem and haw, even deny they have the duty to lead the people…The people may not be marching in the streets now, but it is because they are waiting for the clarion call of our bishops.” If they would only lead!

As they won’t move, hit them harder. “But the bishops seem to have jettisoned their moral and pastoral duty.  They’ve become spiritual and moral illiterates.  They seem unable to read the signs of the times.  Perhaps checkmated by their own prudence and discretion, they’re now inspired less by the Holy Spirit and more by moral stasis.”  

The hardest hit of all: “Worse, they seem to have made themselves a party to the grand constitutional larceny.  Perhaps Lozada was referring to them when he quoted St. Thomas Aquinas freely, ‘The worst corruption is the corruption of the best.’” The undisguised charge attributed to Lozada: The bishops have been corrupted to silence and inaction.

                                                            Crying: “Foul!”

The bishops must be crying: “Foul! We did our part.”

PDI reported that, last January 25, civil society groups asked the Catholic bishops to take a firmer stand against the Arroyo administration, although not asking them “to do another Cardinal Sin” or “to call for another People Power similar to those which brought down the Marcos and Estrada administrations”.

Activist priest, Fr. Joe Dizon, speaking for the group, said they were asking the bishops “as moral leaders to declare once and for all, no matter what the consequences are, what is wrong and what is right” and to “speak in a clearer language – that cheating is wrong, that bribery is wrong”.

Dizon acknowledged the moral theology enunciated by Pope Benedict XVI that politics is the primary ministry of the lay, not of the bishops; he agreed that the bishops have no competence to intervene in political matters; yet he said that the bishops have “the moral responsibility to accompany the lay in pursuit of the cause of good government”. 

Again, PDI reported that, last February 10, Archbishop Angel. N. Lagdameo, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in the Philippines, hailed Lozada and Jose “Joey” de Venecia III for exposing the ZTE-NBN scandal. That could be the CBCP’s response to civil society’s call.

Lagdameo said of the exposé: “Their public confession may be considered a providential event that may yet save our country from being hostage to scandalous and shady government deals that offend the common good and serve only personal, family and group interests.” 

He said, “We lament in this season of Lent not only that we are sinners but also that our country has long been captive to the corruption of people in governance,” and recalled that in the CBCP statement last month, “the bishops precisely and strongly lamented the absence of a ‘social conscience’ today … the root cause of corruption in the country” which is “our greatest shame as a people”.

He did not openly call for the resignation of President Arroyo. But he raised the challenge of the De Venecia – Lozada exposé: “Truth hurts. But the truth must be served. Only the truth, not lies and deceits, will set out country free.  This truth challenges us now to communal action.”

The bishops have responded to the call. They have declared corruption as wrong. By exhorting the people to “common action” they have shown the moral way. But showing the way is not enough, the PDI editorial, “Checkmated Bishops,” contends. The bishops must lead. 

                                                        Why the Bishops?

The bishops have declared– not only in the present controversy but in many in the past – the moral basis for “communal action” which could mean the people uniting to make President Arroyo change or, in the extreme, change her. That is moral leadership.

Any movement to make President Arroyo change or to change her is political, the leadership of which belongs to the political and civil leaders. It is from the leaders of this movement that Arroyo can pick men and women to help her change her government.  In the extreme, it is from the same leaders that new leaders must come should Arroyo be changed – not from the bishops.

There are legions who should take up the political leadership – past Presidents Corazon C. Aquino and Fidel V. Ramos [I’ve deleted Joseph Estrada], leaders of Congress, members of the academe; business and civil leaders. If there are no men and women having the competence, “intellectual sophistication and moral conviction” among them – God, help the Philippines!

If there is no leader among them who can restore unity, integrity and sanity in this country, imploring the bishops to lead the ouster of Arroyo is hopelessly useless, if not insane.  What happened after EDSA I and II led by the late Jaime Cardinal Sin? The present political and moral crisis is the answer.

After the opportunities for genuine moral and political reforms have been squandered, why mustthe bishops be asked again to lead in changing Arroyo? They have steadfastly provided moral leadership and challenges.  Political leadership is prohibited as beyond their competence. ("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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