July 15, 2006

CBCP position, a step backward

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) latest pastoral letter had been awaited with much anxiety or much anticipation depending on how one had forecast what the bishops would eventually say.

It appears that Gloria’s Boys went all-out to ensure that they would be able to influence the bishops in their pronouncement. Nothing short of means fair and foul was used, e.g. small, intimate dinners with the President and cash envelopes slipped discretely into the bishops’ hands.

Groups that oppose the Arroyo administration held on to the hope that the CBCP statement would be much less ambiguous and provide moral guidance on the burning issues of the day such as the presidential crisis of legitimacy and the political killings of activists and journalists.

The immediate reaction of the Arroyo camp to the pastoral letter indicates that on the balance, it is pleased with the CBCP position since what is highlighted is that the bishops do not support the new impeachment complaint filed against Mrs. Arroyo.

Those familiar with the much more critical than collaborative stance of the CBCP under the leadership of Bsp. Angel Lagdameo compared to Bsp. Fernando Capalla, a known Gloria ally, point to the CBCP’s oblique condemnation of the way the first impeachment complaint was torpedoed by a Congress dominated by Mrs. Arroyo’s subalterns and allies of convenience. They say this is the reason why the CBCP appears to be so cynical about what a new the impeachment process can bring about.

However, the CBCP statement does not categorically say so. Instead it attempts to render a political, not moral, judgment on last year’s impeachment process describing it as an “unproductive political exercise, dismaying every citizen and deepening the citizen’s negative perception of politicians, left, right and center”.

It then predicted that the same will be replicated in the new impeachment complaint “unless the process and its rules as well as the mindsets of all participating parties, pro and con, are guided by no other than genuine concern for the common good…”

The CBCP position on impeachment constitutes a wholesale dismissal of the only constitutional remedy left for those who seek the removal of Mrs. Arroyo from power without offering a clear alternative.

It is an indiscriminate and unfair condemnation of all the congresspersons (regardless of the positions they took and how they behaved in last year’s impeachment process), and now, of hundreds of citizens who, acting on their conscience and possibly impelled by the good bishops’ exhortation to seek the truth, filed the new petitions for impeachment against Mrs. Arroyo.

Moreover, the CBCP precondition for the impeachment process to be worthwhile is so ideal as to be unrealistic and even politically naïve. The net effect is to shield Mrs. Arroyo from a new impeachment complaint that has the more organized backing of citizens groups and is no longer the exclusive preserve of Opposition congressmen.

The CBCP position has already been interpreted by Speaker de Venecia as a go signal for his demolition squads to quash the new petition as ruthlessly as they did the first.

We can read between the lines, in the CBCP’s persistent demand that the 2007 elections push through, it’s bias for resolving the political impasse by making the 2007 senatorial and congressional elections a referendum of sorts for Mrs. Arroyo.

As a corollary, the CBCP made a separate call for “a thorough reform of the COMELEC to restore trust in the electoral process” to include “the resignation or even prosecution of a number of the Commissioners”.

What the bishops refuse to acknowledge is that COMELEC Chair Abalos is just as adamant about not resigning as Mrs. Arroyo, all the while loudly denying any wrongdoing, while prosecution of any member of the COMELEC would require an impeachment process that the CBCP has just concluded is counter-productive and doomed to fail.

The CBCP also fails to take account of the overwhelming advantage of the de facto President, Mrs. Arroyo, in mobilizing even illegally, government resources for her chosen candidates. Thus, the outcome of the 2007 elections could very well be determined once more by the unchecked stealing of public funds for the campaign kitty of favored candidates, for vote buying as well as for rigging the count.

In effect, the CBCP draws the Opposition and the people to put all their hopes in a corrupted electoral process that is proven to be fraud-ridden, skewed in favor of those with the most money and power and as discredited as the impeachment process that the bishops branded as an “unproductive political exercise.”

On the other hand, the CBCP’s steadfast position against fast tracking Charter change (Cha-cha) through the bogus people’s initiative and dubious constituent assembly is laudable but has a gaping omission. The bishops do not identify who is the prime mover and principal beneficiary of Cha-cha’s “self-serving” amendments; that is, none other than Mrs. Arroyo herself.

Even the much awaited CBCP stand on the spate of extrajudicial killings under the Arroyo regime was also a dud. While it condemned the “increasing number of extra-judicial killings of journalists and social activists suspected as sympathizers of insurgents” it never called government to account.

In fact, the specific mention that these political killings are being undertaken by “ultra-rightist elements in the military” is to rule out the well-founded suspicion that the killings are systematic and policy-driven and not just an aberration of the system.

Unfortunately the CBCP chose to underscore “extra-judicial killings” attributed to “insurgents” as equally reprehensible. Even assuming for the sake of argument that the attribution is correct, it is wrong to place them in the same category as extrajudicial killings done by suspected members of state forces or groups sanctioned by the state.

The latter enjoy the mantle of authority, are authorized to carry guns and are protected by a culture of impunity while so-called insurgents are considered criminals, labeled as “terrorists” and the full force of the law is used to hunt them down.

The attempt to be balanced by making mention of the so-called extra-judicial killings perpetrated by insurgents, because premised on the wrong assumptions, has the effect of highlighting the latter and thus obfuscating what the public outcry is about, i.e. the summary executions being undertaken by suspected members of the military or police forces or their surrogate assassins.

The CBCP’s denunciation of the unabated, in fact, in their own words, the increasing number of extrajudicial killings of journalists and activists is thus rendered ineffectual and can be easily brushed off since it does not constitute even a challenge much less a call for accountability on the part of government.

All in all the CBCP’s latest pastoral letter constitutes a step backward from their earlier ones. Despite the long explanation about the doctrinal basis for their taking a position on “burning social issues,” the application to concrete realities falls short even of the more modest expectations of their flock, most especially the exploited and oppressed.

Our long suffering people can only look to themselves and their authentic leaders for solutions to the fundamental problems gnawing at our social and moral foundations as a nation and reflected in the now festering political crisis of the Arroyo regime.#


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