I MUST confess I didn’t see that coming. “That” being the public apology contained in a pastoral statement titled “A Time of Pain, A Time of Grace” issued by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) at the close of its plenary assembly.
In their letter, the country’s bishops apologized for the “pain and sadness” they have brought on the Catholic faithful as a result of the widening scandal involving seven bishops who received (or asked for) favors from the Arroyo administration-era Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO). Since much of the funds received were used to buy sports utility vehicles, the seven were dubbed the “Pajero 7,” after the most popular SUV brand, although now it seems that none of the bishops ended up buying a Pajero.
Still, facing a Senate hearing on the improper use of government funds, funds raised from sweepstakes and lotto games which are forms of gambling which the Church officially condemns, the bishops may have had little choice but to admit the error of their ways. I had fully expected the men in robes to hang tough, since there were those who said the ones at fault were not the prelates but the PCSO officials. The government functionaries, it was pointed out, should have been aware that the Constitution expressly forbids the grant of state funds to religious persons or institutions for purely religious purposes.
Is buying vehicles for the use and comfort of bishops and priests a “religious” purpose? But what if the vehicles, as the bishops said, were being used to reach out and deliver goods and services to their flock in need?
These were just some of the questions the senators said they would ask the bishops if and when they showed up at a hearing. But with their public apology, it seems the senators have softened somewhat their belligerent stance regarding the bishops. Which may, to the suspicious, be precisely the aim of the sudden and unexpected humbling of the once-authoritative bishops.
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COUNT among the suspicious members of a group called “Filipino Freethinkers,” mostly young people who dare question the customary authority enjoyed by Catholic bishops and their “presumed moral ascendancy.”
The Freethinkers have organized a “presence” at the Senate grounds this morning to “greet the CBCP bishops and our senators” as they enter the Senate building where the SUV hearing will be held.
“Tomorrow we wish to stand and show the senators that in this our secular democracy, being bishops does not grant them any special immunity from criminal actions under the law, especially for an issue as clear cut as a full constitutional violation. If any other person apologizes for stealing, the police would still throw (him) in jail. Now the bishops in their latest statement expect to be pardoned simply because they made a public apology, as GMA did when apologizing for ‘Hello, Garci,’” the Freethinkers say.
The group likewise looks askance at what they call the “conspiracy of silence” on the part of GMA-friendly bishops in the face of “election fraud, blatant plunder and numerous cases of political disappearances” in the last decade. “We now know why they let that happen,” they add.
Obviously, the Freethinkers and other skeptics are not buying the abject stance of the CBCP. Does this mean that to them the bishops will ever be The Unforgiven?
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THANKS to Carl Balita, who hosts a show on entrepreneurship over dzMM, for his text message regarding yesterday’s column on “Saudization.” In that column, I wrote that the government and private sector need to make more purposive and meaningful steps to prepare for returning overseas workers, and not just scramble for ad hoc solutions every time our OFWs are threatened with mass repatriation as in Libya and Saudi Arabia.
“Entrepreneurship is the best alternative available for our ‘heroes’ (who are) treated as slaves in Saudi,” writes Balita. He adds that he has experience with workers in Taiwan and Hong Kong, and that he could offer “some success stories” to mitigate the fears of Filipino workers who face the loss of their jobs in Saudi Arabia.
Perhaps part of the preparation should be seminars to change the mindset of OFWs from being employees and workers to being entrepreneurs. Not everyone is cut out to be a self-employed business person, which demands some amount of daring, willingness to gamble, and ability to see opportunities where others might only find barriers. Capital might also be a problem, for which, as mentioned by Jay Sonza in yesterday’s Radyo Inquirer interview, an “OFW Bank” conceptualized by Vice President Jojo Binay could have been a viable option these days were it not shot down immediately by the Central Bank.
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ALSO on that “Saudization” column, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz has disputed allegations made by the migrant workers group Migrante International that Saudi Arabian officials have begun stamping “exit only” visas on the passports of departing Filipino workers.
As a news report earlier said, OFWs who had left the Kingdom for a vacation found that they could no longer enter Saudi Arabia because their passports bore the “exit only” stamp.
Labor attaché Albert Valenciano explained that a worker’s passport is stamped with “final exit” only after a “series of steps,” including the issuance of a release letter or no objection certificate by an employer “stating that it was giving its consent to release the worker and to send him home to his mother country.”
As Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a statement, citizens must be “discriminating about so-called information spread by excitable, even malicious and irresponsible, individuals or groups.”