Giving stolen money to the Church
When someone gives stolen money to the Church or to religious groups, what does the giver have in mind or hope to happen? That he will receive pardon for his sins? That the evil that he has done will somehow be balanced by the good that will come out of the donation? That God’s punishment in this life or in the afterlife will not be more severe than if he just took it all? So that Church persons and those in the know would think so highly of him they couldn’t, for the life of them, imagine that such a generous giver has stained hands? Panghugas kamay(serving as hand sanitizer)? To polish one’s image (as in Na-polish)?
Much has been made of the donations that Janet Lim Napoles, the alleged mastermind of the multibillion-peso pork barrel scam, lavished on some Church persons or Church projects. Now she’s saying that she should not be called mastermind, brains, or queen of it all, but that is another issue. Whatever she is called, she does not deny that she donated money—in the name of her deceased mother, she said—to Church persons or Church institutions. The act may be seen as one with redemptive value, if not for the fact that what was stolen was stolen, and the donation, whether a big part or an infinitesimally small part of the loot, is not supposed to be given away at whim by the one who stole the money.
One cannot polish one’s image that way. The sheen will be gone in no time. The truth will be out.
Napoles cannot be likened to Robin Hood who stole from the rich in order to give to the poor or, in this age of widening societal gaps, the so-called Church of the Poor. Robin Hood did not steal for himself or for his next of kin. He and his Merry Men of Sherwood Forest did not live easy lives. Still, whether in the medieval setting or under present-day laws, that style of philanthropy or altruism is considered criminal. Thou shalt not use the name of the poor in vain.
Napoles and her bagmen and bagwomen stole—allegedly—from the poor to give to the already rich and those who wanted to be richer. What she gave away for Church purposes (if at all they were used for Church purposes) does not expiate her evil deeds.
Now as for the beneficiaries of the trickle-down effect, among them retired monsignor Josefino Ramirez, former rector of Quiapo Church, little has been heard from them. Ramirez’s confreres in the Church have come to his defense, saying that, one, the monsignor did not know where the money came from and accepted it “in good faith,” and, two, that he comes from a family of means, implying that therefore he couldn’t be all that needy or interested. I am very uneasy about the second reason, and I wish the good Manila archbishop, Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, who was among those who came to Ramirez’s defense, had not invoked the born-wealthy defense. It implies that the wealthy have no appetite for money and that only the needy poor are likely to be corrupted.
This is not to say that the monsignor, born wealthy or not, was salivating for Napoles’ donation. There is only the fact that has not been contested: She gave and he received. And there is only the question: Where did the money come from? We are not asking for mitered heads to roll.
But we also want to see receiving Church persons and institutions becoming wary of donors bearing expensive gifts. Weren’t some bishops’ faces red—as red as their skull caps—when confronted with the expensive vehicles they had received/sought as gifts from the previous administration? Cardinal Tagle did stress that Napoles’ donations should serve as an “eye-opener” for those accepting funds for their ministries. Cubao Bishop Honesto Ongtioco said Ramirez must have presumed that Napoles “was in good faith in giving the donations.” So both donor and recipient were “in good faith.”
The oft-repeated “I ask for nothing, I refuse nothing” should no longer be invoked. Didn’t Jesus say (Matthew 10:16), “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves”? In other words, don’t be naive about what you receive. Huwag tatanga-tanga. Huwag tanggap nang tanggap.
We have not heard much from those who run the retreat house in Magallanes Village in Makati, which was built by Ramirez through Napoles’ largesse. I’m really curious about that place. It housed some Chinese priests who earlier came to Napoles’ defense and said she did not detain whistle-blower Benhur Luy there.
We have not heard much from the Alagad ni Maria priests in Antipolo, whose place was (partly?) built by Napoles funds. Retired bishop Julio Labayen, who founded the religious group, lives there. Did he know of Napoles’ whereabouts and the sources of her funds? Labayen, one of the most progressive bishops in his time and now in his late eighties, has endured debilitating health problems in the past years, and I doubt if he knew much about Napoles’ “church outreach.”
All these give me thought about how this monumental scam that involved the lawmakers’ Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel has left almost nothing or no one untouched—whether as conspirators or victims. Worst touched were the farmers, fishers and other marginalized sectors who were supposed to be the end beneficiaries. They were left with empty bags. As a farmer’s pun goes, “Ang magsasaka naging magsasako.” What an enormous web of evil the queen and her conspirators have woven. As the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, said some time back: “We are shocked, together with our people, at the amount of money squandered when there are so many in great need.”
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