Philippines bishops renew pressure on government corruption

By Ecumenical News International
October 29, 2007

Catholic bishops in the Philippines have renewed their attacks on corruption following reports that staff of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who now faces a new impeachment bid, have bribed congress representatives, governors and mayors to support the troubled leader - writes Maurice Melanes.

A presidential spokesperson had described the alleged bribes as "gifts", an explanation that only added fuel to the bishops' anger.

"Bribery is not an acceptable word even to culprits: so it is better called 'gifts'. To feel good and escape the blame of conscience, [the spokespersons of the president] have called a bribe a 'gift'," the head of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, Archbishop Angel Lagdameo of Jaro, said.

The practice of bribery, said the archbishop, should be "condemned in the same way that the Lord Jesus Christ expressed anger at the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees". Reading from a prepared text, Bishop Labayen said, "There is no other alternative for the people but to demand that the leader, the chief executive, the commander-in-chief, the president step down and resign."

Bishop Emeritus Teodoro Bacani, Jr of Novaliches said he was saddened by the lukewarm reactions from the general public. He believed most citizens were becoming immune to frequent reports of corruption. Calling on the public to be vigilant against all forms of such behaviour, Bacani also urged the Catholic Church to denounce it.

"We ought to be strong in our statements. As St Gregory the Great said, when a shepherd refuses to speak he will lose his sheep," the retired Novaliches bishop was quoted as saying on the Philippines' Catholic-run Radio Veritas.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper had earlier quoted unnamed congress representatives as saying they had received cash after Arroyo met more than 100 mostly pro-administration members.

On 15 October 2007, provincial governors Eddie Panlilio and Jonjon Mendoza said they were each given cash by an unidentified government official after they attended an 11 October governors' meeting presided over by Arroyo. Panlilio and Mendoza said that somebody gave each of them a bag containing half a million pesos (US$11 333).

Panlilio, who is a former Catholic priest and now governor of Pampanga province, said he had written to the president to ask about the source and purpose of the money given to him, and would return it if he got no explanation.

Pressured by the bishops, Arroyo has asked for an inquiry into the alleged bribery scandal. The president faces the new impeachment move because of an alleged irregular multi-million dollar national Internet broadband deal.

In predominantly Catholic Philippines, the church and its bishops have helped trigger "people power" revolutions that led to the ousting of President Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and of President Joseph Estrada in 2001.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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