The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) will hold a special plenary meeting on Tuesday to discuss its position on a recent government corruption scandal involving the president of the Philippines, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reports.
The CBCP normally holds plenary sessions twice a year, in January and June. The special meeting will take place because of differing interpretations of CBCP president Archbishop Angel Lagdameo’s recent call for “communal action” and a “new brand of people power.”
Philippines President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and certain cabinet members have faced allegations of corruption in a now-canceled program to build a national broadband network.
Rodolfo Lozada, a former government consultant, testified before a Senate committee on February 8, claiming that a $329 million broadband service contract with a Chinese telecommunications company contained $130 million in kickbacks. Among others, Lozada implicated the former head of the election commission, Benjamin Abalos Sr., and President Arroyo’s husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo.
Bishop Pedro Arigo of Puerto Princesa has called for President Arroyo’s resignation, while another bishop has called for the resignation of her cabinet. Other bishops support President Arroyo completing her term.
Some laity have interpreted the call to mean the bishops would lead street demonstrations against Arroyo in a “people power revolt” similar to the protests that toppled Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and Joseph Estrada in 2001.
Bishop Socrates Villegas, a protégé of Cardinal Jaime Sin, the cleric who lead previous anti-corruption demonstrations, decried a “culture of indifference” that aided corruption in the country. He said the revolts were like “shots of opium” that gave people a “temporary high and nothing more.” Political reform, he said, had to start with individuals.
“Each and everyone must be the reformed Filipino that we want our public officials to become. We must change ourselves so that society and government will change,” he said.
“We must not demand repentance and reform from our leaders if we are not even willing to repent of our personal sins as dishonest and uncaring ordinary citizens.”
“The EDSA [People power] spirit is not just about political change. It is primarily about a change of heart and soul,” Bishop Villegas continued.
"Let us not invoke the EDSA spirit for political change if we are not even open to moral and spiritual reform individually. The change we seek must come from within.”
After the special session of the bishops’ conference, there will reportedly be a meeting between bishops and legislators on February 27.