COMMENT: Search for Elusive Truth. By Patricio P. Diaz

The search must be “relentless and determined, and the way to truth and integrity must be untrammeled” or without impediments, they emphasized. These are their conviction – the imperatives.

However, in assigning the urgent task to the “people and in a special way to our political rulers and officials”, they took cognizance of “charges and allegations” and “questions about the moral ascendancy of the present government” that can complicate the search.

Strangely, in a country where the doctrine of separation of Church and State is embedded in its Constitution, the intervention of the Church in times of political crisis is not only welcomed but is tacitly implored with each side in conflict fervently praying to God for the Bishops’ favor.

As the Bishops cannot please both sides, their intervention may widen the divide despite their honest intention to reconcile the differences and unite the nation. This may explain why two previous Pastoral Statements — on  July 9, 2005 and July 9, 2006 — failed to reconcile President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo with the political opposition and her critics.

Will “Seeking the Truth, Restoring Integrity” that the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines issued last February 26 work differently?

Three Statements

Since the issues are corruption and the moral ascendancy of the present government, what “Seeking the Truth, Restoring Integrity” can do should as well be seen in the light of how “Restoring Trust: A Plea for Moral Values in Philippine Politics” (2005) and “Shepherding and Prophesying in Hope” (2006) have been heeded by President Arroyo especially and other national leaders.

The 2005 Statement was issued at the height of the “Hello, Garci” tape crisis that nearly toppled Arroyo. While the Bishops declared, “we do not demand her resignation”, they also countered, “… neither do we encourage her simply to dismiss such a call from others”. They emphasized that on the part of the leader the possession of competence, personal integrity and accountability is necessary.

While the burden of resolving the crisis was both on the President and the people, the Bishops put more of the weight on Arroyo. They told her “to discern deeply to what extent she might have contributed to the erosion of effective governance and whether the erosion is so severe as to be irreversible. In her heart, she has to make the necessary decision for the sake of the country”.

The burden implied: “If PGMA, on accounting for her acts as President, decided that she must resign, she must; but if she decided to the contrary, she must do what she must as President.”

In response, Arroyo thanked the Bishops for not demanding for her resignation and promised: (a) to read thoroughly the Pastoral Letter; (b) to bring greater moral enrichment to the nation; (c) to work with the Church, members of civil society and others to improve the economy and build a better quality of life for the people; and, (d) to put an end to the political bickering that was causing much harm to the nation.

The Bishops’ counsel to the nation to let the President decide must have firmed up Arroyo’s decision not to resign. Shortly after, she released to the press what could be her discernment: “She was more convinced that God had made her His Servant-President.” She has repeated many times since then this “God’s chosen President” conceit – the latest, in Davao City last February 29 [See: “GMA says God, not luck, helped her survive crisis”, by Edith Regalado, February 29, 2008 ( www.philstar.com).

The 2006 Statement was issued on the occasion of the second impeachment move against Arroyo. As a general rule, the Bishops welcomed impeachment as “a process to arrive at the truth” and “respect the position of individuals or groups that wish to continue using” this means (Sub-paragraph 24.1).

Yet, in sub-paragraph 24.2, they said that “we are not inclined at the present moment to favor the impeachment process as the means for establishing the truth. For unless the process and its rules as well as the mindsets of all participating parties, pro and con, are guided by no other motive than genuine concern for the common good, impeachment will once again serve as an unproductive political exercise…..”

This was in reference to the first impeachment complaint in 2005. The pro-Arroyo members of the House used the Rules on Impeachment to bar the strong complaint and to railroad the weak and their number to kill the complaint right at the committee level. They were set to spare Arroyo from impeachment, not to use it to find out the truth about the complaints including the alleged cheating in the 2004 election. And the Palace used money to insure House loyalty.

The Bishops were convinced that under these circumstances and mindsets, impeachment would not bring out the truth but would instead dismay the citizens and deepen their negative perception of politicians of the left, right and center. This clearly suggested that impeachment may be used to seek the truth after changing the circumstances and mindsets but it was completely ignored.

The February 26, 2008 Statement, like the 2005 and 2006 Statements, is for the search of truth – truth about the “pervading cancer of corruption”, in particular the ZTE-NBN scandal, and about the integrity of the Arroyo government.

In stating, “We strongly urge the President and all the branches of government to take the lead in combating corruption wherever it is found,” the Bishops, like in 2005, placed the burden of the search for truth more on President Arroyo. This may be logical since she has all the powers.

The Bishops are consistent in their role: “… we come to you as pastors, for that is our precise role. We do not come as politicians whose vocation it is to order society towards the common good.” But their role is significant: “Our message [on morality] contributes to the flourishing of a democracy which must not be built only on political formulae.”

“Seeking the Truth, Restoring Integrity” is consistent with the 2005 and 2006 Statements, much more so with the first, “Restoring Trust: A Plea for Moral Values”. To reiterate, will it work differently?

Six Ways

To pave an “untrammeled” path towards “truth and integrity”, the Bishops “strongly”:

“1. Condemn the continuing culture of corruption from the top to the bottom of our social and political ladder;

“2. Urge the President and all the branches of government to take the lead in combating corruption wherever it is found;

“3. Recommend the abolition of EO 464 so that those who might have knowledge of any corruption in branches of government may be free to testify before the appropriate investigating bodies;

“4. Ask the President to allow her subordinates to reveal any corrupt acts, particularly about the ZTE-NBN deal, without being obstructed in their testimony no matter who is involved;

“5. Appeal to our senators and the ombudsman to use their distinct and different powers of inquiry into alleged corruption cases not for their own interests but for the common good;

“6. Call on media to be a positive resource of seeking the truth and combating corruption by objective reporting without bias and partiality, selective and tendentious reporting of facts.”

One opinion about the Statement is that the Bishops should have “demanded”, not just “urged”, “recommended”, etc. I think that was not necessary. Persuasion may be more effective than demand.

Some Questions

However, it may be asked: Are the six ways adequate to find the truth?

Condemning the culture of corruption (1) is morally necessary. The first step in the fight against corruption is to believe it is evil and to firmly set our mind, will and conscience against it – to eradicate it. It is the indifference of the vast majority of Filipinos to corruption and its coddlers that has nurtured the evil culture.

But relying on the President to lead and clear the way in the search of truth (2), (3) and (4) is most questionable considering how she has heeded the 2005 and 2006 Pastoral Statements. She made promises to the Bishops and ignored them. She ignored, too, what the first two Statements set as her part in the search for truth. Will she heed the present Statement?

The Bishops took cognizance of the “restlessness and confusion” enveloping the country; of the “crisis of truth and the pervading cancer of corruption”; and of the “questions about the moral ascendancy of the present government”. Is that not their recognition of the part of Arroyo in the creation of the mess? The “questions about the moral ascendancy of the present government” necessarily reflects on the moral ascendancy of Arroyo as head of that government.

Why would they still entrust to her the lead role in the search of truth, the finding of which will be adverse to her interests? Has it ever dawned on the Bishops that it was to protect her political interests that she had ignored her promises to them and the first two Statements?

Arroyo is smart. For all their three Statements, she thanked the Bishops for their not asking for her resignation. Of course, even if they had asked, she would not have complied! And as they bid her to discern, she will. In 2005, what did she discern? She was more convinced that God had made her His Servant-President. So, she firmed up her decision not to resign.

What did she say in Davao City last February 29? “I believe in Divine Providence. I know the Lord takes care of me …” She said a lot more. Will God’s chosen Servant-President see truth in the charges of corruption and questions of moral ascendancy in her government? The answer is unmistakable.

Truth Commission

Even if the senators and the Ombudsman heed the Bishops’ appeal (5), their credibility is under question. The Palace and Arroyo supporters believe that Senate investigations are only for the political interests of the senators at the expense of President Arroyo and her government while the anti-Arroyo sectors believe the Ombudsman will whitewash cases against Arroyo’s trusted officials and cronies.

In “Restoring Trust: A Plea for Moral Values”, the Bishops took cognizance of “the demand for a Truth Commission” as “not against the Gospel”. It was an option in seeking truth. Today, more than in 2005, the continuing crisis of truth, uncured cancer of corruption and the enveloping restlessness and confusion point to it as the only option left.

One question asked then was: Who would constitute the Commission? If the members would be appointed by the President, the Commission would suffer in its credibility.

To avoid that perception, the CBCP should take the lead role in setting up the Commission. It can invite the Palace, the Congress and the Supreme Court to form a body to select the members and formulate the mandate of the Commission. The country does not lack men and women of sterling qualities to compose the Commission.

Truth is not elusive. It is only being evaded. We evade it and call it elusive.

On Media

The call on media (6) is most welcome. But I take exception to the implication that media reports in corruption cases are bias, partial, selective and tendentious. The existence of such reports cannot be denied but they are exceptions, not the rule.

Media always strive to be fair, balanced and, as much as possible, objective. In majority of cases, it is the sources that are bias, partial, selective and tendentious – feeding media with information for the advancement of their interest. Do I have to go into details?

Reporters take what their sources give. Sometimes when their sources don’t like the feedbacks to their statements, they would readily blame the reporters for misquoting them or citing them out of context. They would ask for correction or even apology even if the correctness of the story is borne out by the tapes.

I think, the Bishops should have included in their Statement, either as part of (6) or as a separate item, an exhortation to the Arroyo government not to suppress press freedom or threaten media with closure, arrests and libel charges. Suppression of press freedom blocks the search for truth.

("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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