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.