Thursday, March 20, 2008

For RP Bishops, the best and the worst of times

The Church is the assembly of the people of God, incorporated into Christ through baptism. Both visible and spiritual, human and divine, it subsists in the Catholic Church as a society structured with hierarchical organs, and composed of the clergy, the laity, and the religious.

The Catholic Church is headed by the Roman Pontiff as successor to Saint Peter, Bishop of the Church of Rome, head of the College of Bishops, the Vicar of Christ, and Pastor of the universal Church here on earth. He fulfills his office as supreme Pastor of the Church always in full communion with the other bishops. Together, they form the college of bishops.

By divine institution, Bishops are successors to the Apostles. They are constituted pastors in the Church, to be the teachers of doctrine, the priests of sacred worship, and the ministers of governance. By their episcopal consecration, they receive the offices of sanctifying, teaching, and ruling, which they are to exercise in hierarchical communication with the Pope and the other Bishops.

They are called diocesan Bishops when put in charge of a diocese; otherwise they are called titular Bishops. They are bound to teach and illustrate to the faithful the truths of faith which are to be believed and applied to behavior. They are to preach frequently and to ensure that the various canons on the ministry of the word, especially on the homily and catechetical instruction, are faithfully observed, so that the whole of Christian teaching is transmitted to all.

Everything you have read thus far is taken from the Code of Canon Law or the Catechism of the Catholic Church. None of it is the writer’s own. It is imperative that we start with an authoritative statement on what a Bishop is, and what he is supposed to do, before we examine certain concerns that have been expressed about them in relation to the political questions of the day.

This is not an easy time for Filipino Bishops. The country is predominantly Catholic, but its main staple is politics and graft and corruption its inexhaustible topic. Many people, both Catholic and non-Catholic, expect the Bishops to lead their political fight. They will damn them if they don’t; but many others will damn them if they do. The Bishops cannot choose one side against the other. They have to serve both, and they can do so only by doing exactly what the Church asks them to do.

Much of the grievance stems from the refusal of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to join the call for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s resignation in the face of alleged bribery in the now scuttled $329.5-million National Broadband Network (NBN)-ZTE contract. Exacerbated no doubt by the restrictions imposed by some Bishops on the use of the Holy Mass for the so-called “search for truth,” featuring the star witness in the Senate probe of the aborted NBN-ZTE deal.

My own objection to the Arroyo presidency long antedates that of her former allies who now want her head. I have written countless articles and at least two books since 2002 on the subject, and lost a Senate seat in 2004 for calling her illegitimate in all my campaign speeches. But I am not prepared to let the Bishops do what I must by right and duty do as a lay citizen.

It is for us lay citizens, not for the Bishops, to demand her resignation. The duty of the Bishops is to denounce evil wherever it exists. But they are not required to identify the evildoer, or prescribe his criminal or civil punishment. If the evildoer kneels before a Bishop in confession, the latter’s duty is not to send him to jail but to ask him to do penance, to restitute what he has stolen, and to sin no more.

The Church’s teaching is clear.

The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) says: “The Church, by reason of her role and competence, is not identified in any way with the political community nor bound to any political system, nor does she claim competence in proposing solutions to concrete political and economic problems.”

The Cathecism restates this with an added quote from Centisimus Annus: “The Church respects and encourages the political freedom and responsibility of the citizen.” “It is part of the Church’s mission,” the Catechism continues, again quoting Gaudium et Spes, “to pass moral judgments even in matters related to politics, whenever the fundamental rights of man or salvation of souls requires it.”

On June 2, 2001, in a gentle and fraternal rebuke to the Bishops for their active role in the ouster of then President Joseph Estrada, then Archbishop (now Cardinal) Jean-Louis Tauran, as Secretary for Relations with States for the Holy See and the Pope’s representative, restated the Church’s teaching with utmost delicacy and clarity, emphasizing the need for “prudence, discernment, and a firm anchorage in the role of the Church vis-à-vis the political community.”

“This is a fundamental point to keep in mind,” Tauran said, “if we have to avoid treading on legitimately established institutions and exposing the Church to accusations of political interference, compromising in the process the prophetic charism of the Church to denounce evil, the credibility of her preaching, and the force of her pronouncements.”

He reminded the Bishops always “to speak with well-pondered words and to act with utmost caution to keep clear of political manipulations,” and to remember that “the Church is Gospel-bound to exercise charity for all and at all times.”

However, the political temptation is strong. Well-meaning laymen and women are the first to drag the most vulnerable clerics into political issues, the resolution of which lies strictly within the laity’s exclusive competence. Very little respect is shown the fact that the Code of Canon Law expressly bans clerics---and religious---from partisan politics, public office, and business enterprise.

The most vulnerable clerics and religious end up believing that politics has become their mission and charism, and that they have specific concrete solutions to problems that are within the laity’s exclusive province. They call on laymen and women to obey them while they are in the act of disobeying Church law or doctrine.

This appears to be the case of clerics and religious reported to have defied the instruction of their Bishops not to use the Holy Mass for any political road show. Since high churchmen did it during the anti-Marcos campaign in 1986, and the anti-Estrada campaign in 2000-2001, activist clerics and religious can only look at the Bishops’ U-turn as proof that they had been coopted by Mrs. Arroyo.

In fact, the Bishops have merely decided to correct two historic mistakes and finally reaffirm correct Church doctrine.

The Eucharistic Sacrifice, says Canon 897, is “the summit and source of all worship and Christian life. By means of it the unity of God’s people is signified and brought about, and the building up of the body of Christ is perfected.” The Eucharistic celebration is “an action of Christ himself and of the Church” (Can. 899). The faithful, therefore, are to hold the blessed Eucharist in the highest honor (Can. 898).

Redemptionis Sacramentum, Instruction issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on April 23, 2004, declares:

“78. It is not permissible to link the celebration of Mass to political or secular events, nor to situations that are not fully consistent with the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. Furthermore, it is altogether to be avoided that the celebration of Mass should be carried out merely for show, or in the manner of other ceremonies including profane ones, lest the Eucharist should be emptied of its authentic meaning.”

“But what are the Bishops afraid of? We only want to celebrate a ‘Mass for Truth.’ Are they for or against the truth?” So goes the argument.

This is sophistry at its worst. The Mass belongs to Christ and the Church and may not be appropriated by anyone for his own purposes. The Mass is the memorial of the death and resurrection of Christ, who says, ‘I am the way, the truth, the life.’ The Mass is Truth. So not even the Pope will probably think of celebrating a “Mass for Truth.”

The Bishops deserve a vote of thanks for trying to uphold Church teaching which they had failed to do before. But they could have done a much better job in formulating our real moral concerns. They only needed to ask the right questions.

For instance: Is the law still an ordinance of reason promulgated by those in authority for the common good? The Bishops who have read St. Thomas should be able to take a clear moral position on this question.

How many among us still care to know the difference between truth and falsehood, good and bad, right and wrong? The Bishops need to ask to what extent the state’s effort to proclaim itself as the source of truth and law has contributed to this problem?

The Bishops are not called upon to decide who are guilty of corruption, plunder or any crime. But when a major corruption scandal shakes the nation they have a duty to find out whether the accusations are being answered, or due process is simply being manipulated and undermined to make sure the truth is never known.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


This Holy Week offers us a break from the high-octane, open-ended Senate investigation of the scuttled $329.5-million National Broadband Network (NBN) -ZTE contract, and a chance to reflect on a pastoral letter written by 16 Catholic bishops from the Ecclesiastical Province of Manila, led by the Cardinal-Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales.

It is a welcome respite.

The April 2007 contract has been cancelled. So many allegations have been heard against individuals who were supposed to have received bribes. Since the Senate does not prosecute, legally qualified parties should now initiate the filing of formal charges. This will make sure the high-profile TV series ends in a real court case. This should also temporarily free our senators from investigative work and allow them to lunge into other issues that require a little less of their capacity to astonish their TV audience.

With respect to the bishops’ Palm Sunday message, “Towards a Morally Rebuilt Nation” was obviously meant to be a teaching document. It should be so received. And we should be free to raise questions if and when certain important points are not too clear or appear to have been omitted. Thus, this piece.

Let’s begin with the first sentence: Today we are experiencing a social and political mess. Another writer would probably have said simply, “We are in a mess.” To say “we are experiencing a mess” suggests the mess is inflicted on us by others. It matters not, by whom; enough that President Macapagal Arroyo is not being blamed for it.

This, however, goes beyond the question of truth to the search for probity,” the letter continues. “Probity is about the integrity of all, the accuser and the accused.” But probity is one of the first fruits of truth; he has probity who has truth. Can we say we want to focus on probity, so we shall temporarily set aside our concern for truth?

The so-called “search for truth” has taken on the appearance of a political road show. It should not. It does not reveal its authenticity, nor fulfill its purpose, by vulgarizing the Holy Eucharist for political purposes, by turning front page headlines into political placards, or by converting every little assembly into a lynch mob. The search for truth is an integral part of “service to truth,” “service in truth,” or “service based on truth.” It should so remain. The search and the service thereof should define the very purpose of our moral, political and social life.

The bishops perform a real service in focusing on the Seventh Commandment---“Thou shalt not steal.” In the movie The Kite Runner, based on the New York Times bestseller of the same title by the Afghan writer Khaled Hosseini, there is a line which says: “Every other sin is a variation of theft. When you kill a man, you steal a life. You steal his wife’s right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone’s right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness. There is no act more wretched than stealing.”

This has no chance of replacing any teaching of the Church. But the bishops perform their prophetic role when they demand restitution as an absolute requirement for the forgiveness of sin against the Seventh Commandment. This entails not only the restoration of what has been stolen but also the resolve not to steal again. But is it doctrinally wrong, or simply politically incorrect, to say that stolen public office be returned to its rightful owner, as soon as the theft is known?

The bishops try to rise above the fray by confining themselves to general moral principles. They do not refer to the NBN-ZTE issue at all. But they slip inadvertently when they cite the 1976 Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) project, as the biggest graft-ridden project of all. That may not be correct, for although BNPP did cost $2.3 billion, the “legal commission” paid to the agent, which was denounced as illegal, was only $18 million. The project itself was not known to have been overpriced, but it was mothballed for political, rather than scientific, reasons. A credible energy program was lost, and we suffered 10 to 12-hour daily power outages thereafter. In 2007, we finally paid our BNPP debt, without ever getting a single watt for it. This was the real scandal.

Recalling the chosen people’s crossing of the Red Sea and their entry into the desert Shur (Exodus 15:22), the bishops call on the faithful to live “the discipline of the desert” instead of going to the streets to seek political change. This is a powerful phrase, but it is not well explained, and could be lost in arcana. To many Filipinos, the Pharaoh is alive and well, and has not seen the last of the deadly plagues.

Would it be less fitting if we speak today not of Shur but rather of the unnamed wilderness, where Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights? At the end of his fast (Matthew, 4: 8-10 tells us), the devil tempted him thrice. In the third instance, “the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ’Be gone, Satan! for it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ “

Is this not the gospel we should share with those who have enthroned power, pleasure and money in place of the living God?

Monday, March 10, 2008


An article by Barry Wain in the January/February 2008 issue of Far Eastern Economic Review raises some troubling questions about the joint seismic undertaking of the Philippines, China and Vietnam in the Spratlys. It suggests that the government signed the agreement without consulting with its ASEAN allies, to the detriment of its territorial claim and regional cooperation, and in possible violation of the Constitution.

The question deserves to be examined in depth for its constitutional and strategic implications.

The Spratlys (Kalayaan to us) lie nearly halfway between the Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea, along the vital shipping routes that link the Indian Ocean to Vladivostok and carry through the Straits of Malacca East Asia’s trade to Africa, the Middle East and Europe. The area is claimed separately by the Philippines, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and France.

Incidents had occurred there between the Philippines and China since the seventies. The most significant was the Chinese occupation of Mischief (Panganiban) Reef in 1995, followed later on by their takeover of Scarborough Shoal. Clashes have also occurred there between Chinese and Vietnamese troops. Manila believes in a peaceful solution to this dispute, and has tried to enlist the support of ASEAN and the United Nations in its effort. China, however, opposes the “internationalization” of the conflict and insists on a bilateral solution, with each of the other claimant-states.

Nevertheless, some take the view that the dispute should not bar the claimant-states from working together to exploit the marine and mineral resources of the area for their shared benefit. In a speech to the Senate on Nov. 10, 1992, I proposed that we exert every effort to get the claimant-states to conclude a treaty which would declare the Spratlys a demilitarized multilateral economic zone and establish a cooperative regime for the joint exploration, development, utilization, conservation, management and equitable sharing of resources. The Executive did not respond to this proposal.

China’s occupation of Mischief Reef in 1995 confirmed the necessity of a regime that would prevent a repetition of that incident. Yet it also made the effort to launch such a regime doubly difficult. Where diplomatic notes failed to elicit the necessary response, it became necessary for our government to explore other means. Thus, at the Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum in Lima, Peru on January 11-14, 1999, I presented a resolution “regretting certain actions taken by certain parties that threaten the stability and peace of the South China Sea and calling upon all concerned to adhere strictly to the recognized principles of international law, notably the 1982 United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, and existing regional declarations on the South China Sea.”

This provoked what is probably the only known Filipino-Chinese exchange on this issue in an international parliamentary forum. The Chinese delegate explained that the Chinese presence on the Reef was not military, that the structures they had built there were purely for “humanitarian purposes” (to shelter fishermen in bad weather), and posed no threat to the freedom of navigation in the nearby sea lanes of communication.

Within ASEAN, the territorial conflict inspired a focused effort to craft a Code of Conduct for parties to such disputes. But without alerting its ASEAN partners, the Philippines on Sept. 1, 2004 signed with China an “Agreement for Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking in Certain Areas in the South China Sea by and between China National Offshore Oil Corporation and Philippine National Oil Company.” Vietnam initially protested, but on March 14, 2005, decided to join the two parties, through Petro Vietnam, in a “Tripartite Agreement for Joint Marine Scientific Research in Certain Areas in the South China Sea.”

The agreement is said to cover 142,886 sq. kms. of the South China Sea, one sixth of which, according to the Review, forms part of the Philippine continental shelf, outside the area claimed by China and Vietnam.

Two major issues arise. First, is it in our national interest to be party to this agreement? Second, is it constitutional?

To the first, the answer appears to be yes. Given the growing global need for new energy sources, the merit of the accord seems beyond cavil. Cooperation negates confrontation, and we do not have the armed might to confront China or Vietnam. We cannot afford to be blindsided and prevented from seeing the merit of cooperation by the political sins of the administration.

But seismic mapping has basic naval applications. Correct scientific information about the seabed would be indispensable to a country with a submarine fleet. Like China. Can we then prevent China from using the information gathered from our joint seismic mapping to develop the routes and lairs of its submarine fleet in the Spratlys? What then would be our contribution to that undertaking? This obviously is an important security question.

And now the Constitution. Is the technical agreement legally binding as a stand-alone agreement, without a mother treaty that defines the basic policy and is duly concurred in by the Senate? Should the seismic survey prove positive for gas or oil, how would a decision to jointly mine the area find support in the Constitution, which limits foreign participation in any state exploration and development of mineral resources to 40 percent of the capital, and reserves the use and enjoyment of the nation’s marine wealth in its archipelagic waters, territorial sea and exclusive economic zone “exclusively to Filipino citizens”?

Are there higher and more fundamental issues that can override the restrictive provisions of the Constitution? Or are there geopolitical issues that make a joint energy extraction activity with China and Vietnam a real concern to other friends and players in the region?

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Why aren’t we cheering the exit of EO 464?

It’s no mystery at all.

First of all, Executive Order 464, which barred Cabinet members from appearing before Congress without the President’s prior consent, was patently unconstitutional. Contrary to the propaganda, the Supreme Court (SC) did not strike it down; it voided some of its minor parts, but upheld its central provision as constitutional.

Second, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo revoked her unlawful prohibition on Cabinet members, but not her order requiring those who appear before Congress to invoke “executive privilege” in order not to divulge any controversial or sensitive executive material.

EO 464 had to go, given the pressure that had built up against it after the Catholic bishops demanded its revocation, Fr. Joaquin Bernas, S. J. having first proposed it in a newspaper column.

Let us revisit the central provision of EO 464:

“Section 1. Appearance of Department Heads before Congress. --In accordance with Article VI, Section 22 of the Constitution and to implement the constitutional provisions on the separation of powers between co-equal branches of government, all heads of departments of the Executive Branch of the government shall secure the consent of the President prior to appearing before either House of Congress.”

Compare it with Article VI, Sec. 22 of the Constitution:

“The heads of departments may upon their own initiative, with the consent of the President, or upon the request of either House, as the rules of each House shall provide, appear before and be heard by such House on any matter pertaining to their departments. Written questions shall be submitted to the President to the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House of Representatives at least three days before his scheduled appearance. Interpellations shall not be limited to written questions, but may cover matters related thereto. When the security of the state or the public interest so requires and the President so states in writing, the appearance shall be conducted in executive session “ (italics supplied).

These are two different animals. EO 464 required all department heads appearing before Congress to secure the President’s prior consent. The Constitution on the other hand requires only those who appear before Congress “on their own initiative” to obtain the President’s prior consent. All others invited by either House of Congress shall appear, according to the rules of each House.

There is no way a fairly attentive reader of English could possibly misread the above-quoted constitutional provision.

And yet, the 2006 SC ruling in Senate of the Philippines vs. Ermita upheld the validity of the patently unconstitutional EO provision. And the entire Court concurred in the decision penned by Associate Justice Conchita Carpio Morales, from then Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban down to the last justice, save the present Chief Justice Reynato Puno, who was then on leave.

And disaster of all disasters, the mass media --- including some legal luminaries and political pundits writing newspaper columns ---were led to believe that the SC had junked everything unconstitutional in EO 464.

Given this painful comedy of errors, only by scrapping it could the unconstitutionality of the EO be buried forever. Thus, the revocation is not altogether without merit, but since Mrs. Arroyo was its original author, none of her critics felt obliged to applaud her for rescinding it.

Still, we are stuck with her controversial concept of “executive privilege.”

Reputed authorities on the Constitution tell us that “executive privilege” is “enshrined in the Constitution.” “Enshrined” is not the word for it; the term “executive privilege” does not appear in the Constitution. Rather, the privilege is based on the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers, and exempts the Executive from publicly disclosing to the Congress sensitive correspondence, communications, and documents, particularly those involving the military, foreign affairs and other domestic concerns.

But nothing in the Constitution says the Executive may deny Congress any information it requires, in the name of “executive privilege.” After all, the Congress alone appropriates the funds for all government operations and participates in the ratification of treaties; it alone has the power to declare the existence of a state of war and revoke any presidential proclamation of martial law or suspension of the privilege of habeas corpus. It would be quite absurd for such a Congress to be told that it has no right to know certain information in the hands of the Executive, or how certain controversial decisions were arrived at by the Executive.

To safeguard and protect “executive privilege,” all that the Constitution requires is that “when the security of the state or the public interest so requires and the President so states in writing, (the information sought by Congress shall be given) in executive session.” No statute, executive order or judicial construction can decree that Congress be denied the information it seeks because it involves the security of the state or because the public interest requires that it be withheld from Congress. The Constitution assumes the capability of Congress to safeguard executive secrets; and Congress has written iron-clad rules on “executive session” to make sure such secrets are protected.

In the Senate investigation into the aborted ZTE NBN contract, there is a suggestion that a crime has been committed. A government witness at these hearings may therefore refuse to answer questions by invoking his right against self-incrimination. But he may not invoke “executive privilege” to cover the possible existence or commission of a crime.

Friday, March 7, 2008


The anti-Arroyo campaign has taken a new turn. The social classes and sectors have converged; students, men and women religious and the bravest of bishops ---the poster boys and girls of EDSA 1 and 2 are back; and a big sector of the media will talk of nothing else. Yet not even Cory Aquino seems to think it’s going to be a walk in the park. And for obvious reasons.

First of all, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is resolved to dig in, whatever the cost or consequence. She has seen what happens to ousted Presidents: Marcos died in exile in Hawaii; Estrada spent six years in detention, was convicted of plunder, and had to plead for pardon from the very woman who had ousted him. She will not want to end like them.

Second, Mrs. Arroyo still controls the military and the police (although some suggest the opposite) and is locked in with the local officials, most congressmen, justices and judges and possibly some “opposition” figures and prominent religious personalities.

Unless the scandal reaches a tipping point, a critical mass develops, the armed forces withdraw their allegiance and the bishops bless their efforts, her support base could keep her where she is. Marcos fell in 1986 and Estrada in 2001 only after the people and the military, with episcopal benediction, camped out in the streets.

Third, the presidential hopefuls, with their big bucks and even bigger bungles, would rather play with Mrs. Arroyo than with a transition regime that could rob them of their chances of becoming president by 2010. They might pay lip service to the “Arroyo, resign!” campaign, but they are not likely to risk anything, unless assured of a place in the next government.

Fourth, as the anti-Arroyo forces spread so also will the power struggle among the putative leaders intensify. They all agree that Mrs. Arroyo should go, but they can’t seem to agree on anything else. Some prefer a military junta that will eliminate corrupt politicians and promise “radical and sweeping change.” Others insist that only an elected president replace a president with a disputed mandate, no matter how rotten the elections. And not even Vice President Noli de Castro would like to bring in the Vice President.

De Castro, however, is the only card the anti-Arroyo forces could play if they want to push Mrs. Arroyo out without straying from the constitutional path. He is also the same card Mrs. Arroyo could play if she is compelled to capitulate or if she wants to preempt everybody else. She need not resign to bring him in. All she has to do is to inform the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives that she is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of her office,” and make De Castro acting President.

In that case, she would remain the President (although “on leave”), immune from suit, though not necessarily from impeachment, which may no longer matter too much at that stage. She just might see in De Castro what the Russian President Vladimir Putin saw in his successor, President Dmitry Medvedev.

Some GMA loyalists, however, argue that, given another chance, she could still reform and rehabilitate herself. They cite as proof her decision to revoke Executive Order 464, which barred Cabinet members from appearing before Congress without her prior consent, even though she still requires them to withhold secrets from Congress, in the name of “executive privilege.”

Many will argue that she did it only to please the bishops who had asked for it in exchange for their decision not to ask her to quit. It is too little, too late.

But what if, just to confound her enemies, she should now cancel all questionable contracts, abolish the pork barrel, reform the electoral system, change all her Cabinet members who have not been confirmed by the Commission on Appointments (CA), recall former Chief Justice Hilario Davide, Jr. whom she had sent as Philippine permanent representative to the U.N., in violation of the Foreign Service Act, which terminated all septuagenarian ambassadors in 1992, and of the Constitution, which requires the prior consent of the CA for all ambassadorial appointments?

What if she now prosecutes all offenders, including those close to her, and begins to execute every single law faithfully, according to her oath of office?

And, what if the Supreme Court, for its part, decides to revive the impeachment process by abandoning its totally repugnant decision in Francisco vs. House of Representatives, 415 SCRA 44, which saved then Chief Justice Davide from being impeached in 2003, and now allows impeachable officials to avoid impeachment simply by causing the filing of a faulty complaint against themselves, in order to prevent the filing of a real complaint against them for at least a year afterwards?

Mrs. Arroyo has seen no need to do any of these things till now. But, what if she discovers that she could survive the raging storm only if she did what she had avoided doing all these years?

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Lost sheep or shepherd?

The bishops are pastors, not politicians, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) says to explain why they were not joining the call for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s resignation. It is the politicians (not the bishops) “whose vocation it is to order society towards the common good,” they point out.

Every well-formed Catholic layman knows this. But the Catechism of the Catholic Church also says, “it is part of the Church’s mission ‘to pass moral judgments even in matters related to politics, whenever the fundamental rights of man or salvation of soul requires it’.”(CCC 2246)

The laity expect their bishops to speak out whenever something evil latches upon the social order and poses serious harm to civil society and to souls. Widespread organized corruption is one such evil. It damns society to perdition and the unrepentant soul to the netherworld.

The bishops recognized this when they “strongly condemn(ed) the continuing culture of corruption from the top to the bottom of our social and political ladder” and “strongly urge(d) the President and all the branches of government to take the lead in combating corruption wherever it is found.”

But many see this as an unjustified vote of confidence for Mrs. Arroyo who, to them, has come to personify the problem. No one recognizes the outbreak of an AIDS epidemic and then calls on all known and suspected AIDS carriers to take the lead in stopping the epidemic.

Resignation is a specific technical solution to a problem that can be solved in several ways. It is not for the bishops but rather for the laity to propose it and lead its call. Some bishops did not see this too clearly in 2001; they seem to see it much better now. But did they have to talk of resignation at all to revisit the moral criteria for leadership and express unequivocal support for the people’s right to seek change?

In 1986, the bishops did not demand Marcos’s “resignation.” They simply said the snap elections were fraudulent, and added the following:

“According to moral principles, a government that assumes or retains power through fraudulent means has no moral basis. For such an access to power is tantamount to forcible seizure and cannot command the allegiance of the citizenry. The most we can say then, about such a government, is that it is a government in possession of power. But admitting that, we hasten to add: Because of that very fact, that same government itself has the obligation to right the wrong it is founded on. It must respect the mandate of the people. This is the precondition for any reconciliation.”

Now, as then, we need to clarify certain moral issues. We need not prejudge anyone or anything. Assume that all allegations of official wrongdoing are no more than mere allegations. They must be proved at the proper forum. But cover-up upon cover-up has followed every single one of those allegations, and the defense has focused not on showing the baselessness of the allegations but rather on the destruction of the process by which the truth may be ascertained.

Thus, to prevent Mrs. Arroyo from being impeached, someone files a nuisance impeachment complaint against her in the House of Representatives. The complaint is then thrown out, giving her a one-year period within which no further complaint against her may be filed. At the end of this period, another nuisance complaint is filed, for the same purpose of immunizing her from an honest-to-goodness complaint.

In the Senate inquiries, instead of countering allegations of wrongdoing, Mrs. Arroyo simply prohibits Cabinet members from appearing in the hearings and those who appear from divulging anything inimical to her interests.

The result is a serious moral and constitutional disorder where the strength of the law is replaced by the law of the strong, where truth and justice are trivialized, and young and old can no longer distinguish between true and false, right and wrong, good and bad.

We are now among the most corrupt nations in the world. The reputed take of corrupt politicians and their friends is now in the billions of pesos per unholy handshake. One study claims that only thirteen centavos out of every peso intended for a public project end up in the project. Yet, not a single high-grade corruption scandal has ever been acted upon.

Is it because the truth is unknowable? No, it’s simply because the attitude of those in power is this: “We are in power and you are not. You may have the smoking gun and everything else, but we control the forum and the process (and sometimes the press). Is there anything you can do about it?” And they get away with it.

This is the moral disorder the bishops could have dissected. But they did not. Thus so many of their flock feel lost, and so many others feel their pastors are.