Test of Church intention to intervene in public affairs | Inquirer Opinion
Commentary

Test of Church intention to intervene in public affairs

/ 04:52 AM January 29, 2015

Has Pope Francis’ visit enhanced the Church clout in its interventions in public affairs? This rather intriguing question was raised at the conclusion of Amando Doronila’s “Analysis” (“A test of Church clout in political intervention,” Front Page, 1/26/15).

My humble reply to the question is: No.

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Pope Francis’ political remarks, albeit inspiring, left some ambiguities, thus falling short of being explicit in his message to both the Philippine hierarchy and the faithful, whose singular competence and integrity in matters of politics remain far from realized.

“As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems.” So wrote the Pope in his first apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (Joy of the Gospel), a reiteration that could have sent a stronger message for broader, collective action than mere parochial, individual charity for the poor.

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The Church does not have the clout, influence, or power over its followers who do not blindly heed calls on political issues. There’s much work needed on the part of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines to educate and exercise the Church’s indirect duty in politics “to contribute to the purification of reason and to the reawakening of those moral forces without which just structures are neither established nor proven effective in the long run” (Pope Benedict XVI, “Deus Caritas Est”).

At the root of our people’s sufferings—from crises and periods of serious social disruption, widespread breakdown of peace and order, uneven and unfairly distributed economic growth, pitiful support for education and other social programs, steady disintegration of major infrastructure projects, widespread corruption at all levels of society, massive outflow of workers seeking employment overseas, and steady rise in absolute poverty—is politics.

At least 40 percent of our annual budget (taxpayer money) is lost to corruption, while 30 percent is automatically appropriated to debt payment. For every peso, only 30 centavos goes to public services.

Thus, no solution may be in sight for the poor and to demands for free education with more schools, teachers, and books, better healthcare benefits for all, improvement in our justice system, world-class public infrastructure, conducive climate for private business hand in hand with job creation, and many more unless, first and foremost, we confront corruption head-on.

Two structural reforms through people’s initiative come to mind and are independently underway—on the prohibition of political dynasties and the abolition of the pork barrel system. A third initiative on the freedom of information bill may well be forthcoming if this administration and Congress fail to pass it for the nth time.

In January 2013, the CBCP declared: “As monopolies in business, monopolies in politics limit the entry [of] new ideas and … better services. Political dynasties breed corruption and ineptitude. We are aggrieved that lawmakers defy the mandate of our Philippine Constitution given 26 years ago to make an enabling law to ban political dynasties.” It added: “We support initiatives by the lay faithful to pass an enabling law against political dynasties through the people’s initiative which the Constitution provides.”

In July 2013, it said: “According to our moral judgment, the present pork barrel practice in government is fertile ground for graft and corruption. Promoting the politics of patronage, it is contrary to the principles of stewardship, transparency and accountability. It is immoral to continue this practice.”

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But despite those pronouncements, the two initiatives pioneered by citizens/laity are not getting off the ground.

For any people’s initiative to succeed, the Church’s active participation is vital, indeed obligatory, if it is to live up to its acknowledged role as agent for change, defender of the oppressed, and champion of social justice.

Such necessity resides in the fact that for any signature campaign to succeed and pave the way for a referendum, there shall be at least “10 percent of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least 3 percent of the registered voters therein.”

“It is a Christian task to work for laws that will bring about genuine prosperity, more equitable distribution of income and wealth, the promotion of the rights of the poor and of indigenous peoples” (CBCP Pastoral Exhortation on Philippine Politics, 1997).

The actions of Church leaders will tell the truth about what they genuinely believe in and stand for. But, sadly, these leaders are on the verge of failure in lending their collective support. As an observer said: “The CBCP can be described as a big boys’ club where bishops are ‘little popes’ in their dioceses that remain intensely independent and where ‘decisions’ or pastoral letters and exhortations … are mere suggestions that bishops may or may not observe and/or implement in their respective realms.”

Indeed, if people’s initiative is our way to combat poverty and promote the interests of the poor, the Church is our way to its success.

The first may be difficult to undertake but, if we as a people shall succeed, the next ones should be easy. What Filipinos need to do is to exercise this right, to make the Constitution and implementing law work for us, and to take affirmative action where Congress has failed, then, now and in the future.

Else, expect us to remain what we are today for a long, long time—a country with a great number of poor and powerless people.

Norman V. Cabrera ([email protected]) is president of Kapatiran Party.

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TAGS: Catholic Church, church, Philippine hierarchy, political issues, politics, Pope Francis, public affairs
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