Though critics of government corruption in the Philippines have called upon Catholic bishops to lead the reform movement, the nation’s bishops have refrained from involvement.
One prominent bishop has suggested that the efforts to imitate past “People Power” anti-corruption movements, in which clergy played a leading role, must now take on a new form. He suggested some people fear another reform movement might only “bring the country from one frying pan to a worse frying pan.”
Recently, 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. He claimed 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.
The former governor of the Central Bank of the Philippines, Jose Cuisia, said that though the scandal had not yet caused significant financial harm, the political impact was noteworthy. “The people are more and more enraged as they learn of the sordid details about these anomalous deals that are going on in government,” he said. “It’s just incredible that the [corruption] is so great that they don’t even think about it anymore. What’s $130 million?”
Cuisia called on the Church to take a stronger stand against corruption, saying, “corruption has very, very detrimental effects on the country’s poor people.” He said, “this is a moral issue that the CBCP must address and they must take a stronger stand on what’s going on in government.”
Ramon R. Del Rosario, Jr., Chairman of the influential Makati Business Club, also called for Church action. “The Church should take the lead,” Del Rosario said. Though saying he did not expect the Church always to take the lead in civil matters, he said, “but this is not just a civil and political issue, it’s a moral issue.”
Del Rosario said that the Church needed to provide not only guidance but also leadership, “so that those who are scared, looking for guidance will be properly led.”
However, President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Archbishop Angel N. Lagdameo recently maintained that the bishops could not be involved in politics in the same way they were involved in the “People Power” protests that ousted former ruler Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.
Writing in a statement, he said the first “People Power” protests, held on February 22-24 in 1986, were “historic and momentous days” that ended 14 years of martial rule and dictatorship and began a new democracy. Archbishop Lagdameo praised the peaceful and non-violent popular movement whose members “prayed together, reflected together, decided together and acted together.”
“They knew what they wanted,” the archbishop said. He noted that the late Cardinal Jamie Sin and the CBCP articulated their positions through radio broadcasts and pastoral letters.
Archbishop Lagdameo remarked that many of the participants in the first “People Power” protests had already died, and that those who still lived were 22 years older. This age, the archbishop suggested, had produced cynicism, apathy, and indifference about another movement today.
He noted that the “People Power II” protests in 2001, which were accompanied by hopes that history would repeat itself, only established the present corrupt government.
“Sadly, People Power II installed a leader who lately only has been branded as the ‘most corrupt’ and our government is rated ‘among the most corrupt governments.’ Is this the reason why many in civil society regard another People Power with cynicism and indifference? They are afraid another People Power might only bring the country from one frying pan to a worse frying pan,” Archbishop Lagdameo said.
The archbishop acknowledged that some Filipinos were disappointed that the bishops’ conference did not advocate specifics in its earlier call for “communal action” against corruption. He said the call to communal action was a challenge to “political conscience” that would generate a “creative, imaginative, and democratic” response to political problems.
Any new People Power movement, the archbishop said, would be different from past versions. “It will have to be with a different ‘brand,’” he said. “It will not be simply a repeat of the past. What brand will it have? What is God through the signs of the times telling us?”
The archbishop said that just one man’s witness against corruption had already exposed wrongdoing and had inspired further reform. “We hope and encourage that other courageous and inspired persons will emerge to tell or expose or humbly face the truth, whose concealment had made our country captive to corruption and greed of powerholders,” he wrote.
Archbishop Lagdameo also urged prayers for the country and sacrifice for the national common good.