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
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?