A Buddhist monk’s challenge to clergy of all religions – Commentary, Hector Welgampola

Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe pays respect to Venerable Madoluwave Sobhitha Thero - Ranil Wickremasinghe Facebook Photo.

Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe pays his last respects to Venerable Madoluwave Sobhitha Thero – Ranil Wickremasinghe Facebook Photo.

“…grassroots-level clergy of all religions should commit themselves to the role Venerable Sobhitha Thero played as mentor and guardian of the people’s conscience. The time has come to take such commitment to apocalyptic fulfillment through an apolitical mass movement…” – Hector Welgampola

2015 was a momentous year in the history of Sri Lanka. It began with a decisive presidential election followed by a significant parliamentary election. The polls led to an unlikely merging of two political teams led by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe. They were welcomed as implementers of a reform agenda pioneered by a charismatic Buddhist monk– Venerable Madoluwave Sobhitha Thero.

Soon after facilitating such triumph of people power, the king-maker withdrew to his temple, thus providing space and time for the new leaders to implement the program of Good Governance championed by him. However, like émigré who forgot nothing and learned nothing from the French Revolution, many political vermin of all parties lost no time in an eager rush for perks and privileges. While the frustrated prelate was contemplating the next move of his prophetic mission, he fell ill and died, a virtual white martyr in a campaign for social justice.

The new rulers hastened to give a State funeral to the venerable thero whose untimely death is mourned by the entire Nation. Even the Catholic Church held a Nov. 23 memorial in his honor. Eulogizing the prelate’s prophetic self-giving, his close collaborator Father Reid Shelton Fernando reportedly compared the prelate to Prophet Jeremiah. It was an appeal for further pursuit of the prelate’s prophetic commitment of witness to social justice. No doubt a tall order for puny politicians!

The politically dissipated new rulers too have rushed in to recommit to Venerable Sobhitha’s agenda, though emphasis seems to be more on constitutional reform and less on wiping out the endemic cancer of corruption. The Western-style perception of reform as political tinkering has been deep rooted in the psyche of the country’s political establishment. Unfortunately, the momentary dazzle of such political tinsel has often anesthetized the public and distracted their yearning for a moral ethic in politics: a weakness that has riddled the country for centuries.

By coincidence, this year also marks the bicentenary of the political cataclysm of 1815, which has been innocuously recorded as the year when the British completed their capture of then Ceylon. Until recent times, little was spoken of the local political establishment’s connivance in that transfer of power to the colonizers. Much less was highlighted about the polity’s spontaneous protest symbolized by a Buddhist monk courageous enough to rise against the aristocracy’s surrender of a Nation’s self-respect. History records how he pulled down the British flag and re-hoisted the flag of the country’s last independent kingdom.

Venerable Wariyapola Sumangala Thero’s action on behalf of his Nation was the symbolic launch of a people’s political protest that kept struggling in varied forms to survive for over a century. His 1815 protest surfaced and resurfaced in the form of popular riots, rebellions and uprisings in 1818, 1848, 1912 onward. Ultimately, such protests in the public square were hijacked by new rich urban elite seeking respectability of a tame path of constitutional reform to the delight of their colonial masters. 

That contrived process climaxed in the British-style dominion status leading to political independence in 1947. Just as the Nation’s cause of selfhood was nobly pioneered by generations of Buddhist clergy, its blossoming into a popular movement was thwarted by the money-culture- addicted business elite striving to emasculate it into a tool of economic dominance and political control. And from the early years of political independence, the parliamentary system became a forum to entrench family power, and share political spoils based on subtle racist and casteist criteria. That led in no small measure to the uprisings of the post-independence period. We do not need to go down that path again.

This bi-centenary year of the 1815 political upheaval has begun to be marked by still newer waves of constitutional pyrotechnics to divert the Nation’s need for moral reawakening and elimination of corruption at all levels. Political lobbies have proved themselves impotent in fulfilling that momentum perceived by Sobhitha Thero as a prophetic mission. It was part of a grassroots-level spiritual mission nurtured by generations of non-hierarchical Buddhist clergy including more recent plebian-allied prelates such as Venerable Heenatiyana Dhammaloka Thero, Venerable Yakkaduwe Pragnarama Thero and Venerable Siri Seevli Thero.

If that mission of apolitical social engagement is not to be frittered away, grassroots-level clergy of all religions should commit themselves to the role Venerable Sobhitha Thero played as mentor and guardian of the people’s conscience. The time has come to take such commitment to apocalyptic fulfillment through an apolitical mass movement.

Veteran Asian Church journalist Hector Welgampola from Sri Lanka has retired as Executive Editor of the former Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) based in Hong Kong, then Bangkok. Before UCAN, Hector headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka. Since retiring Hector has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita. He authored the resource book Asian Church Glossary and Stylebook.

Veteran Asian Church journalist Hector Welgampola from Sri Lanka has retired as Executive Editor of the former Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) based in Hong Kong, then Bangkok. Before UCAN, Hector headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka. Since retiring Hector has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita. He authored the resource book Asian Church Glossary and Stylebook.

No surrender of “love of God” in educating Filipinos – DepEd Sec De La Salle Bro. Luistro

De La Salle Brother Armin Luistro, Secretary of Education - FaceBook Photo

De La Salle Brother Armin Luistro, Secretary of Education – FaceBook Photo

Education Secretary Brother Armin Luistro, a member of the Brothers of the Christian Schools (De La Salle) denied reports that the department he leads has surrendered its vision of learners formed to be “God-loving,” as claimed in various media reports on the department’s revised statement of vision, mission and values (VMV.)

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) the same day  issued a statement lamenting the silence about God in the reworded version of the  vision statement.

Brother Luistro explained the new statement of the department’s VMV in a post on the DepEd’s website Friday, Aug. 29. He stressed that the statement of vision, mission and values must be taken in its entirety. Doing so would show that the term “God-loving” remains as a value that the department seeks to promote as stated in the word “Maka-Diyos”, its synonym in Filipino language.

He said specifying the formation of students who are  God-loving, pro-people, pro-environment and patriotic allows values education teachers to develop modules that will form persons of integrity who live out their faith and convictions, while avoiding pietism or ritualism.

“We do not have any fundamental disagreement therefore with the position of various groups who wish to promote the love of God among our learners.”

He also affirmed the constitutional principle of “benevolent neutrality” towards religion and spirituality. He said the department will continue to promote the spirit of inclusivity and remain open to dialogue.

Brother Luistro’s complete statement reads:

On 4 September 2013, I released DepEd Order No. 36 s. 2013 in order to update the Agency’s directions and further strengthen our capacity to fulfill our constitutional mandate.  The review of our Vision and Mission was anchored on the Filipino Core Values of *Maka-Diyos, Maka-Tao, Makakalikasan and Makabansa as articulated in Section 40, Republic Act 8491. [*pro-God, pro-human being, pro-environment, patriotic]

Recent media reports have mistakenly attributed to me claiming, “the God-loving phrase was removed from the department’s vision to be fair to Filipinos who may subscribe to other beliefs and principles”. I had not issued any statement to that effect. This attribution is completely false.

Other articles refer to a Christian advocacy group whose spokesperson “aired the group’s dissatisfaction over what it believes is a rash decision on DepEd’s part that had been influenced by some members of the non-religious sector.”  Other local news articles referred to a group claiming to have pressured the Department based on an open letter that they posted on 5 February 2013 via their Twitter account.  I have not had the occasion to interact with any of these groups on this matter.

As early as 2010, discussions on the revision of the VMV were initiated within the department. A series of consultations was conducted with key persons in various levels of the organization, including the regions and school divisions.

It is important that the DepEd’s new VMV be regarded as one document to be appreciated in its entirety.

The term “God-loving” is synonymous with Maka-Diyos. The term Maka-Diyos is essentially connected with Maka-tao, Makakalikasan and Makabansa and allows our Values Education teachers to develop modules that will hopefully form persons of integrity.  It warns against pietism or ritualism and encourages persons of faith to live those convictions everyday, everywhere.

We maintain that the formation of God-loving learners is a vision that we have not surrendered. We do not have any fundamental disagreement therefore with the position of various groups who wish to promote the love of God among our learners. We affirm the long-established constitutional principle of “benevolent neutrality” towards religion and spirituality. We also affirm that the department will continue to promote the spirit of inclusivity and remain open to dialogue, as this is a part of learning to live together.

************

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines addresses a press conference at the end of the 2012 CBCP plenary assembly at Pope Pius XII Catholic Center in Manila. NJ Viehland Photo

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines – NJ Viehland Photos

Following is the full text of Archbishop Villegas’ statement sent to Catholic in Asia 

CBCP President on the 2013 Version of the Vision Statement of the Department of Education

The Department of Education recently re-worded its Vision Statement.  In the past, the department tasked with the formation of our children once envisioned “functionally literate and God-fearing Filipinos”.  Unfortunately, in its 2013 version, there is no more mention of God, nor of the salutary fear of Him that, Scripture tells us, is the beginning of all wisdom.

A vision statement is not an empty platitude.  It guides the articulation of policy.  It orientates plans of action.  While maka-Diyos remains one of the Department’s core-values, we maintain that the formation of God-fearing pupils and students is a vision that cannot be surrendered.

“This Sacred Synod likewise declares that children and young people have a right to be motivated to appraise moral values with a right conscience, to embrace them with a personal adherence, together with a deeper knowledge and love of God.”  This is what Vatican II teaches in “Gravissimum Educationis“. 

Children ride a jeep with their mothers in Pasig City, east of Manila, to enroll for school in June. - NJ Viehland Photos

Children ride a jeep with their mothers in Pasig City, east of Manila, to enroll for school in June. – NJ Viehland Photos

The right of a child to recognize God, to love him and to hope in him cannot be harmful to anyone else, believer or not.  Our pluralistic society indeed accords respect for the option of some to believe and for others not to. This respect for pluralism does not compel civil society to expunge the name of God from public life, especially when the majority of Filipinos continue to acknowledge God’s sovereignty and to trust in Divine Providence. Furthermore, the attitude of our laws in the Philippines towards religion is characterized as’benevolent neutrality’: the accommodation of religion whenever such accommodation does not offend law or public policy.

We exhort our Catholic laity in public elementary and high schools to be zealous in the apostolate of forming pupils and students. Do not get tired of teaching that God is the beginning and the end of all things, that he is the Father who wishes all to have life, and to have it to the full! 

This, our dear public school teachers, is your particular mission in the life of the Church, the dignity of your calling as evangelizers within the world and its concerns.  It is a challenge of particular urgency in this, the Year of the Laity. Stand up for God. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

August 29, 2014, Martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist

+ SOCRATES VILLEGAS   

Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan  

President, CBCP

************

At least 20 million students enrolled in public pre-school to high school in school year 2011-2012 and 3 million reportedly enrolled in private schools for those levels.

 
 

 

‘People’s initiative’ petition-campaign against pork barrel – photos

Muslim girl at Luneta Park sat with Sister Cecilia Espenilia [front, in red hat] and close to 20 fellow sisters of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena during the Stand up, sign up vs. all pork rally Aug. 25, 2014. - NJ Viehland Photos

Muslim girl at Luneta Park sat with Sister Cecilia Espenilia [front, in red hat] and close to 20 fellow sisters of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena during the Stand up, sign up vs. all pork rally Aug. 25, 2014. – NJ Viehland Photos

MANILA, PHILIPPINES

The nationwide campaign for 10 million signatures to pass a bill that will abolish the pork barrel system kicked off here today with a rally in Luneta Park co-organized with the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP).
Police estimated some 5,000 people were at Luneta during the 7 a.m. Mass, but organizer Renato Reyes, Jr., secretary general of New Patriotic Alliance (“Bayan”) tweeted that 20,000 people came.

Stand up, sign up vs. all pork! rally Aug. 25, 2014 at Quirino Grandstand, Luneta Park, Manila - NJ Viehland Photos

Stand up, sign up vs. all pork! rally Aug. 25, 2014 at Quirino Grandstand, Luneta Park, Manila – NJ Viehland Photos

Nurses - Just one of the variety of sectors represented at the Aug. 25, 2014 rally dubbed as Stand up, sign up vs. all pork in Luneta Park, Manila. - NJ Viehland Photos

Nurses – Just one of the variety of sectors represented at the Aug. 25, 2014 rally dubbed as Stand up, sign up vs. all pork in Luneta Park, Manila. – NJ Viehland Photos

La Salette Sr. Sonia Silverio (center in cream blouse and brown skirt) with ecumenical bishops, priests and lay Church leaders ring bells at the Stand up, sign up vs. all pork! rally Aug. 25, 2014 to call attention to the "evils" that arise from pork barrel fund allocations. - NJ Viehland Photos

La Salette Sr. Sonia Silverio (center in cream blouse and brown skirt) with ecumenical bishops, priests and lay Church leaders ring bells at the Stand up, sign up vs. all pork! rally Aug. 25, 2014 to call attention to the “evils” that arise from pork barrel fund allocations. – NJ Viehland Photos

Rallyist greets Retired Bishop Teodoro Bacani, Jr.  before the bishop's speech at Stand up, sign up vs. all pork rally at Luneta Park, Manila Aug. 25, 2014 - NJ Viehland Photos

Rallyist greets Retired Bishop Teodoro Bacani, Jr. before the bishop’s speech at Stand up, sign up vs. all pork rally at Luneta Park, Manila Aug. 25, 2014 – NJ Viehland Photos

Religious and members of their institutions were prominent rally participants at Luneta, along with groups of nurses and health workers, teachers, lawyers, private and government workers – and even beauty queens.

Even beauty queens showed up represented by Maria Isabel Lopez (left, Bb. Pilipinas- Universe 1982) and Azenith Briones [rightmost, Mutya ng Pilipinas 2nd runner up and Miss Photogenic) rejected pork barrel allotments during the Aug. 25, 2014 Stand up, sign up vs. all pork rally at Luneta Park, Manila. - NJ Viehland Photos

Even beauty queens showed up represented by Maria Isabel Lopez (left, Bb. Pilipinas- Universe 1982) and Azenith Briones [rightmost, Mutya ng Pilipinas 2nd runner up and Miss Photogenic) rejected pork barrel allotments during the Aug. 25, 2014 Stand up, sign up vs. all pork rally at Luneta Park, Manila. – NJ Viehland Photos

Even doggies Winston (brown) and Cleo came to Luneta Park's Quirino Grandstand grounds where petition signing and a concert-rally were held Aug. 25, 2014 as part of a movement to stop all pork barrel fund allocations. - NJ Viehland Photos

Even doggies Winston (brown) and Cleo came to Luneta Park’s Quirino Grandstand grounds where petition signing and a concert-rally were held Aug. 25, 2014 as part of a movement to stop all pork barrel fund allocations. – NJ Viehland Photos

Read full report here on why the religious groups and Catholic bishops support the movement to stop pork.

Signing of the petition and the program during the rally followed a 7 a.m. Mass concelebrated by various priests. In his homily, Missionaries of Jesus Father Wilfredo (Freddie Dulay) reflected on the pork barrel controversy and people’s response in faith. 

Following are excerpts from  Father Dulay’s homily which are clear enough to be transcribed:

…..  Dear brothers and sisters,

Our country is not constituted by jaded populations. We are not cynical or impervious to change. Ours is a people of hope crafting and wanting to believe in the possibility of a better tomorrow.

We are a people who look forward to new beginnings – always desirous for a fresh start – may it be after an earthquake, a typhoon or disastrous government, and the Arroyo government could not be described in kinder terms.

No matter the folly of the previous administration, our people would always give the new one a chance expecting it could be no worse than its predecessor, hoping at least that it would do better.

We’ve had enough of the short lady from Lubao. Her greed for power and money had no measure and she was blatant about them. She really had to go.

But now that she’s gone from center stage, what do we have?

Many of us believed that we would have another shot at benevolent leadership, at least.

But why are we so angry after Janet Lim-Napoles got careless and fell into the gap – and now getting angrier when the PDAF reincarnated into the DAP?

Ask the people, especially those we have traditionally called the “common tao” – if a bit condescendingly and as if we haven’t all become so common in our ways – three simple and rather straightforward reasons are repeated time and again.

First was betrayal. *”Naisahan nanaman tayo. Nauto nanaman tayo. Nakuha nanaman tayo sa mga pangako. Tayo daw ang kanyang boss at magkasama nating tatahakin ang daang matuwid. Hindi naman palang totoo ang daang tinatahak ng nagtutuwid. kunwari lang pala. Hindi lamang bale ito at baluktot, masalimuot pa. kunwari lang pala. Ang daming tinatago – billion billion pala. Kung di pa natapilok si Janet, ang katotothanan ay di pa natin matatarok hanggang ngayon.” – betrayal.

*(We’ve been conned once again. We’ve been suckered-in again. We’ve been taken again by promises. He said we are his boss. This was just make believe, after all. It’s not true that the road we travel is the straight path. This isn’t nay broken and crooked, it is treacherous as well. There’s so much that is hidden – billions and billions. If Janet did not stumble, we would not be grasping the truth today.” – betrayal.)

The second simple reason is that now we know better. **”Wala naman palang dahilan upang maghirap ang nakararami sa atin. Wala naman palang dahilan upang sila ay magutom at magdusa. Ang dami palang pera. Mayaman ang bansa. Marami naman palang sapat na pera upang magpatayo ng napakaraming paaralan at hospital at tugunan ang ating mga pangunahing pangangailangan. Meron tayong kakayanang umabante at umunland.”

**(There’s no reason after all for many of us to be wallowing in poverty. There is no reason after all for them to be starving and suffering. There is so much money after all. The country is rich. There is so much and sufficient funds after all to put up so many schools and hospitals and to provide for our basic needs. We have the capability to advance and progress.”

There’s plenty to go around and a lot going for us. Where has it all gone?

Now at least we know where the money goes. We don’t only have leeches for leaders, with a few exceptions (but they are truly hard to find), there are also bottom-feeders, and their pockets much to our grief ***”talagang bottomless.”  ***(really bottomless)

My dear brothers and sisters,

Should anybody here be surprised that we are gathered to collect signatures for the abolition of the pork barrel system and all its manifestations and reincarnations?

Abolish the pork, and the true leaders would emerge – not those who are engaged full time in self-service, but leaders who would want to serve the people and build up the nation.

Maybe it’s not too late. Beloved and beleaguered leaders, listen and take heed to what the Lord declared more than 2,000 years ago: “I came to serve, not to be served.” He followed it up by telling us, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and get lost in a sulfurous non-airconditioned place?”

Of course, I’m paraphrasing, but the paraphrase fits the occasion.

Let us pray that our leaders would wake up.

 ***********

Renato Reyes, Jr. , Secretary General of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (New Patriotic Alliance) told Catholic In Asia, “We’re very pleased with the level of support from the Catholic Church. There’s a big boost coming from at least 73 bishops and we expect support from their diocese and parishes. 

He said the pork barrel controversy has managed to unite the population. “It has managed to unite the religious, the progressives, the unions, students, teachers.” Reyes considers this “a good sign that, hopefully, we’d be able to continue with the momentum in the coming days.”

How important is it for this cause to have the Catholic Church so actively behind it? Reyes notes, “Corruption is a moral issue, so it’s very good that they’re involved. They can mobilize their constituents. In gathering signatures, it’s also very nice that they’ve opened up their parishes and dioceses and invited the people to sign up for the People’s Initiative. The have that actual support of manpower and machinery.

Reyes explains that the movement’s measure of success is “if we are able to mobilize people and if we are able to raise awareness.

He stressed that activities over the weekend through Monday is just the beginning. “This is just the start – the attempt to get numbers – the signatures. The bigger indicator of success would be raising the consiousness of the people and making them more vigilant about corruption and holding the president himself accountable for all this corruption,” Reyes added.

 

 

 

 

Bishops’ conference not part of latest complaint to impeach Aquino, CBCP

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan walks back to the plenary hall at Pope Pius XII Catholic Center after a break in the 2012 plenary assembly of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines which he now serves as President. - NJ Viehland Photos

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan walks back to the plenary hall at Pope Pius XII Catholic Center after a break in the 2012 plenary assembly of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines which he now serves as President. – NJ Viehland Photos

Retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz of Lingayen-Dagupan signed the impeachment complaint against President Benigno Aquino III on Monday as an individual and does not represent the position of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), conference president Archbishop Socrates Villegas stressed in a statement shortly after the filing.

Archbishop Cruz joined 27 other individuals in filing the complaint and petitioning the House of Representatives to impeach Aquino over a funds disbursement program called Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) that the Supreme Court has ruled as unconstitutional. 

“I have no doubt that the good Archbishop himself will like it clarified that his decision to be one of the complainants is his alone, in the exercise of his discretion and as a result of his personal discernment,” Archbishop Villegas wrote.

He added that the position that any bishop takes on any particular issue is not necessarily that of the CBCP.

Villegas said the CBCP as the highest assembly of Catholic bishops in the Philippines “neither supports the filing of any impeachment complaint against the President” nor will it “begrudge anyone, member of the clergy, or laity, the exercise of constitutionally and statutorily recognized rights.”

Acknowledging today’s “difficult and confusing times,” the prelate reiterated his call for everyone to submit to the Constitution as the prime expression of the covenant by which the Filipino people have determined the form and the operations of their government adding that there is a very important distinction between what is popular — or appear to be so — and what is right.

Following is the full text of  Archbishop Villegas’ statement sent to Catholic in Asia:

Through the media, I have been informed that Archbishop emeritus Oscar V. Cruz is one of the signatories of an impeachment complaint filed with the House of Representatives against the incumbent President.

I have no doubt that the good Archbishop himself will like it clarified that his decision to be one of the complainants is his alone, in the exercise of his discretion and as a result of his personal discernment.  As in the past, Archbishop Cruz has exhibited a lively interest in the events of our day, as should all Catholics.

It should also be clear, however, that the position that any bishop takes on any particular issue is not necessarily that of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines. That is to say that the CBCP as the highest assembly of Catholic bishops in the Philippines neither supports the filing of any impeachment complaint against the President, but it will neither begrudge anyone, member of the clergy, or laity, the exercise of constitutionally and statutorily recognized rights.

These are difficult and often confusing times.  We reiterate our earlier call for all to submit to the Constitution as the prime expression of the covenant by which the Filipino people have determined the form and the operations of their government.  There is a very important distinction between what is popular — or appear to be so — and what is right.

I pray that all our officials ever be cognizant of this important difference so that all may resist the temptation of pursuing a course of action only because it seems to be popular.  We urge respect for the breadth and the limits of constitutionally allocated powers between the great branches of government.

In the wake of recent events of which the public has been made aware through the media, we stand for an independent judiciary. To insist that ours be a government of laws and not of men is not to subordinate the human person to the law, but to uphold the equality of all before the law so that the powerful may not trample upon the week and so that all enjoy the freedom of the sons and daughters of God.

Let the government show the citizenry that the law is at all times to be obeyed, for only under such a regime are rights and liberties safeguarded.

We urge our citizens to keep themselves informed, to be circumspect in their actions and in their statements, and to allow their discernment at all times to be inspired by the Gospel, and governed by the law of love.

July 21, 2014

+ SOCRATES VILLEGAS
Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan
President, CBCP

Read also

Catholic bishop, missionary priest among those seeking Philippines president’s impeachment

Catholic bishop, missionary priest file impeachment complaint vs Aquino

Retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz of Lingayen-Dagupan (right) chats with Franciscan Fr. Robert Reyes at Manila Hotel during a break in the August 26, 2013 forum on the Priority Development Assistance Fund that has since then been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. - NJ Viehland Photos

Retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz of Lingayen-Dagupan (right) chats with Franciscan Fr. Robert Reyes at Manila Hotel during a break in the August 26, 2013 forum on the Priority Development Assistance Fund that has since then been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. – NJ Viehland Photos

Former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) who is chief judge of the Church’s national marriage appeals court and a Sacred Heart missionary priest joined 26 other individuals who signed on July 21 the complaint seeking President Benigno Aquino III’s impeachment over a funds disbursement program that the Supreme Court has ruled as unconstitutional.

Complainant Archbishop Oscar Cruz, a canon lawyer who retired in 2009 as archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan serves as Judicial Vicar of the National Appellate Matrimonial Tribunal and directs the CBCP’s Legal Office. 

However, CBCP President Archbishop Socrates Villegas has stressed that his predecessor as Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan in filing the complaint is acting “alone, in the exercise of his discretion and as a result of his personal discernment.”  

Archbishop Villegas in a statement issued shortly after the complaint was filed in the House of Representatives said that the 124-member CBCP, as the “highest assembly of Catholic bishops in the Philippines neither supports the filing of any impeachment complaint against the President.”  

Co-complainant priest Fr. Benjamin Alforque of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSC) is a biblical theologian who has been teaching Sacred Scriptures in various theology schools and formation houses in the Philippines and lecturing abroad on this and various topics, including promoting justice, peace and integrity of creation.

He co-chaired the Justice and Peace Commission of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (JPC_AMRSP) and the ecumenical group Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR). A political detainee under Martial Law (1972-1981), Fr. Alforque became a founding member of the association of former political detainees in the Philippines (SELDA) and founding member also of the human rights group, KARAPATAN.

Read full text of the impeachment complaint the clergy filed with House Representatives, leaders of civil-society groups, anti-corruption and anti-pork activists, and other concerned citizens.

Read also 

Catholic bishop, missionary priest among those seeking Philippines president’s impeachment

Pork tales

 

CBCP Document: Our Moral Response to the Unconstitutionality of DAP

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines addresses a press conference at the end of the 2012 CBCP plenary assembly at Pope Pius XII Catholic Center in Manila. NJ Viehland Photo

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines addresses a press conference at the end of the 2012 CBCP plenary assembly at Pope Pius XII Catholic Center in Manila. NJ Viehland Photo

The Supreme Court has ruled that many government acts under the Development Acceleration Program (DAP) are without constitutional authority. Earlier, it ruled the Priority Assistant Development Fund (PDAF), more popularly known as the ‘pork-barrel fund’ also unconstitutional.

Why this Statement

The just distribution of the resources of the nation in accordance with the prescriptions of law and the tenets of morality is an issue of social justice. It is therefore a concern of the CBCP — and of the entire Church in the Philippines — as well.

Both DAP and PDAF involve enormous sums and while it is claimed by the government officials involved that these went into projects that benefited the people, there are serious allegations that we cannot summarily dismiss and ignore. Three senators have been charged, together with others, for the illegal use of pork-barrel funds. It is claimed that a considerable part went into ghost NGOs set up precisely to facilitate the conversion of public funds for personal and other illegal and immoral uses.

Benedictine Sister Mary John Mananzan joined women legislators, whistleblowers, students and other members of Babala (warning) movement for the abolition of pork barrel and prosecution of legislators and public officials guilty of graft, corruption and plunder. NJ Viehland Photo at St. Scholastica's College museum.

Benedictine Sister Mary John Mananzan joined women legislators, whistleblowers, students and other members of Babala (warning) movement for the abolition of pork barrel and prosecution of legislators and public officials guilty of graft, corruption and plunder. NJ Viehland Photo at St. Scholastica’s College museum.

Communal Guilt

But there is no reason to direct our ire only at the three senators, nor at those presently accused, for we must humbly recognize that the propensity to make use of what is not ours to better the lives of our families or to gain access to luxuries that would otherwise be beyond us will be found in all of us.

We are all guilty by attitude and by our disposition.

We renew our call for national conversion — the conversion not only of individuals but of institutions as well! It will be well for us to remember that conversion is our response to the ceaseless call of Love Incarnate, Jesus, to ‘turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel’.

We must pray together for the grace of conversion, because the prosecution and punishment of a few will not rid the nation of the propensity to corruption that is found in us all!

Appeal to Government

We call on the Commission on Audit and on the Office of the Ombudsman to tell the nation where DAP funds went. While, indeed, in many cases, it would be impractical, unhelpful even, to undo every project funded by what the High Court has ruled to be unconstitutional means, we must nevertheless know how these monies were used, for where there was illegal and immoral application of funds, there must be restitution.

There must be accountability.

We reiterate our position that investigation and inquest cannot and must not be selective, for public perception that some are shielded while others are persecuted detracts from the confidence people must repose in their institutions.

A government that professes to tread the straight path must remain true to that profession and must be willing to let go of the corrupt in its own ranks! We in the Church will do the same.

Many of our bishops have already established systems for the accountability of our pastors and parish leaders. We have issued guidelines so that we may be more vigilant about the provenance of donations and grants. This way, we in the Church strive to respond to the demands of honesty and fairness.

Let us restore integrity in our land.

From the Pius XII Catholic Center, Manila, July 4, 2014

+ SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan
President, CBCP