Philippines archbishop denies bishops are divided in anti-corruption response

.- Archbishop of Cotabato Orlando B. Quevedo has denied media reports of a “divided hierarchy” and accusations that Philippines bishops from the nation’s major southern island of Mindanao have “saved” President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo by influencing the bishops’ response to a massive corruption scandal.

President Arroyo and certain cabinet members have faced allegations of corruption in a now-canceled program to build a national broadband network.

At an emergency meeting on February 26, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) addressed the corruption scandal with a general call for reform of the government and society.  The statement lacked a specific condemnation of President Arroyo, which would have increased pressure for her to resign.

In a statement to be published by The Mindanao Cross, Archbishop Quevedo said the report of a split within the bishops’ conference was “absolutely false.”  According to the archbishop, of the more than fifty archbishops and bishops voting at the February 26 meeting, a plurality came from Luzon, less than twenty came from Mindanao, and a few also came from the Visayas.

“From the numbers alone one can readily see how evidently false it would be for anyone to claim that the Mindanao bishops ‘saved’ [President Arroyo],” Archbishop Quevedo said.

The archbishop said, “in fact, the bishops’ statement was approved unanimously,” continuing, “even the handful known to favor Gloria’s resignation approved the statement.”  He said of the 100 acting voting members of the CBCP, less than ten favored the resignation of the president.  “Such numbers do not make a divided CBCP,” Archbishop Quevedo said.

He said the reports of a divided hierarchy “could be a media creation.”

Archbishop Quevedo listed various speculations aired about why the CBCP did not call for the president’s resignation:  “they are blind and cannot see reality; they do not listen to the people and especially to the poor; many of them have received money from the President; they have no spine and all of the above.”

The archbishop said these charges were not true.  He said that bishops visit people in the barrios and listen to them.  These people, he said, “have problems quite different from those in Manila” and are not as much affected by the national media and various groups. The archbishop defended the bishop conference’s call for top-to-bottom reform from leaders of all governmental branches.  Archbishop Quevedo said anti-corruption efforts would be aided by the recent abolition of an executive order some considered a “gag rule” hindering government investigations.   The bishops supported the order’s abolition in their February 26 statement.

Archbishop Quevedo said the call for prayer was the most important recommendation in the bishops’ statement.  Prayer circles, parish action, discernment, religious orders and organizations, and higher education represent “people power at and from the grassroots.”

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