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There’s the Rub

Postscript to ‘Monsi’

I’m glad my favorite cardinal, Chito Tagle, spoke out for retired Quiapo Church rector Josefino “Monsi” Ramirez. Ramirez is mentioned in the Luy files as one of those who had benefited from Janet Napoles’ largesse. Specifically, he was one of those who received a P2.5-million donation for a church program and, additionally, P434,451 in transportation fare for a foreign trip.

In fact, as Tagle and Ramirez himself point out, the money is perfectly explainable and reasonable. The foreign trip was to Rome in 2008 and included four other Chinese priests in the sum. The occasion was the World Apostolate Congress of Mercy, and Ramirez was the coordinator of the Divine Mercy for Asia. The P2.5 million, on the other hand, was in fact only P2 million (an honest mistake on Luy’s part, or a kupit of P500,000?) and went to a microfinance program under Caritas Manila. Those things aren’t just perfectly reasonable, they are also perfectly laudable.

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I applaud Tagle’s defense of a beleaguered colleague because I’ve gotten a little antsy about people being accused wrongly. Or if not accused wrongly, at least put in a bad light by innuendo. It’s a cautionary tale about being a little more wary and circumspect about taking the Luy and Napoles lists at face value. Not all who are named in them are guilty of corruption or party to the scam.

Indeed, the entire section about Napoles’ donations to the clergy means nothing and deserves only the trash can. From 2004 to 2010, Napoles, according to Luy, distributed “stipends” totaling P344,000 on several occasions for “priests/nuns, deacons.” So freaking what? The period cited (2004 to 2010) is all of six years, and P344,000 spread over that period (P57,333 a year) to an unspecified number of “priests/nuns, deacons” is an inconsequential amount. And we don’t even know what the money was used for. For all we know, it was to light votive candles in Quiapo Church for the Black Nazarene. Yet taken at face value, it hints of something insidious.

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That Ramirez has to clear his name at all is iniquitous.

To begin with, in 2007 or 2008, when he received the sums that appear in Luy’s records, Napoles was an unknown quantity. Why ever shouldn’t he accept donations from her, or even solicit them, if he at all did? For all anybody knew, Napoles was just a benefactor with a predisposition toward religious activities with a view to saving her soul. And indeed, as it turned out, although the ultimate source was Napoles, the direct donor was her mother, who was a well-known religious person who gave to charity through a foundation established in her name. That the foundation was founded with blood money would come to light only later. In the meanwhile, why look a gift horse in the mouth? As the Bible says, the Lord works in mysterious ways.

More to the point, the donation had no strings attached. It required nothing of Ramirez other than that he put the money for the purpose it was given. It did not carry the proviso that if the donor were subsequently to be seen as less than virtuous, the recipient should exert himself to put in a good word for her on earth as it is in heaven.

That is what differentiates—no, contrasts—this case with that of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s bishops, into whose company Ramirez—and the other “priests/nuns, deacons”—are thrown by association. Whose activities were well-documented in 2007-2008. In the case of the bishops, they knew very well the immoral nature of the source, who was widely perceived to have run off not just with the country’s wealth but also with the country’s vote. The bishops weren’t just willing to accept blood money, they were eager to solicit it, especially as the quantities made Napoles’ mother’s penny-ante donations look like watch-your-car tips. It appears that Arroyo was at least no miser in corrupting people.

Quite apart from that, it carried not very invisible strings or far from tacit understandings, which the bishops embraced with full knowledge and consent, conditions for mortal sin. That became clear with the position of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines defending Arroyo in the “Hello Garci” scandal, expressing continued support for her despite widespread calls for her, spearheaded by Corazon Aquino, to step down. This is nothing of the kind.

And in the end, what in God’s name is wrong with accepting a donation that is meant to allow Caritas to put up a livelihood program for the poor? At least the stolen money wasn’t stolen in turn, which it was by Arroyo’s bishops, it simply went to their pockets. At least the blood money—though it wasn’t known to be so then—was used to wipe the blood of the dying. At least not all of Napoles’ share in the P10 billion went to throwing parties and buying BMWs for her kids.

If I recall right, Tony Meloto, too, was criticized at one point by the organization he broke up with, Couples for Christ, for accepting funds from pharmaceuticals to build houses for the poor. The criticism had to do with the idea that those pharmaceuticals were known to manufacture artificial contraceptives, which went against the grain of the ant-RH campaign. Well, quite apart from the fact that the anti-RH campaign was a batty one and found little support from Filipino Catholics, what of it? You stop yourself from embarking on so compelling, so urgent, so unassailably moral a task as uplifting the lot of the poor by scorning a donation that imposes no conditionality on the ground that it is not as pure as the virgin snow?

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That Ramirez has to make the effort to defend himself at all is iniquitous. He has done nothing wrong, he has done everything right. He doesn’t deserve infamy, he deserves respect.

He doesn’t deserve barb, he deserves praise.

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TAGS: black Nazarene, Caritas Manila, Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, Chito Tagle, Hello Garci scandal, Janet Napoles, Josefino “Monsi” Ramirez, Quiapo Church, World Apostolate Congress
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