After so much thought about giving my piece of analysis of the ensuing hullaballoo involving seven (7) unnamed bishops being recipients of donations of vehicles (SUV) from the administration of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, I come out now with something that I hope will also share something of a discussion points relative to what we see around, mostly, on what has been said and uttered, officially through the Senate investigations and the statements made by sectors like CBCP and the bishops themselves.
The Holy Alliance
The Church and State, much more has been separated from the inception of the 1987 Philippine Constitution but such was on the principles of equality and cooperation. Strictly speaking, the separation of State and the Church has been etched on the tablets of the Republican ideals of the young republic but priests were also one of the crafters of such arguments, among them is the esteemed Jesuit Fr. Joaquin Bernas, a revered constitutionalist.
As much as it is desired that State affairs be off the affairs of the church vice versa, there has to be an alliance of sort. The birth of the alliance between the powerful and influential Catholic Church is the rising discontents on the way and manner Ferdinand Marcos is running the Philippines. Radio Veritas has been a key factor in the espousal of the strong stand of the Church against the former dictator. The Church under the stewardship of the late Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin is under the impression that the rising tide against Marcos can also be fuelled further with the support of the Church of the opposition leader then, Cory Aquino. Tita Cory has found an ally in Cardinal Sin and vice versa, thus the birthing of the famous and bloodless coup which we are proud to associate with, the EDSA Power Revolution.
The complex and all-too enveloping alliance between the church and the state has thus driven the Marcoses away and restored peace, secured democratic stability and also brought upon the Church the influential role in serving as a conduit of government programs in reaching out to the poor. In short, the ones who most benefitted from the role of the Catholic church and the bishops were no other than the Aquino family whose rise to power was driven if not entirely on the shoulders of the bishops headed by the late Cardinal Sin.
After the EDSA Revolution and the crafting of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, the Church as I have seen it, wanted a diminished political role in the new government though it is widespread knowledge that cabinet ministers and secretaries sympathetic to the interests of the Catholic church were also supported and chosen to help run the Cory Administration. It is in this singular moment that the role of the bishops have evolved from purely political mass action to social responsibility and social consciousness thus the birth of massive projects targeting the marginalized and those voiceless members of the society. Churches, not only the Roman Catholic Church has established foundations and social services arms to serve as conduit of government programs, to augment the much needed manpower, logistics and technical support in abetting poverty and the spiralling decay of morality and spirituality brought about by the pains of Marial Law.
The healing process of the Filipino psyche has immensely been propelled by the presence of the Catholic Church and other churches directly serving the poor Filipinos that has not been reached sufficiently by government programs.
The alliance then has evolved from strongly political to social welfare and poverty alleviation.
In the Administration of former President Fidel V. Ramos, the Catholic Church has played a crucial role in helping, hand in hand for the historic visit of the late Pope John Paul II to Manila to celebrate the World Youth Day, touted as the biggest in the history with more than 4 Million youths in attendance. Ramos is a devout protestant, a member of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP).
Although the Catholic Church has been active the years after Cory and during Ramos’s time, the rising church-based organizations were also seen in the active participation of Episcopal and other denominational congregations acting as conduits of government programs for the poorest of the poor. Here, you will see rising tides of evangelical and non-catholic organizations serving the poor also, effectively counter-balancing the sustained role of the Roman Catholic Church in government.
During the heyday of President Erap Estrada, the tandem was seen between him and the Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal. This is caused by the alienating and scathing support of the Manila-based bishops on Erap for his wanton and philandering ways not to mention, his strings of accusations and ill-advised policies.
Since this time, the role of the Catholic Church has been sustained from the moment Cory Aquino rise to power after the toppling of dictator Marcos.
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the bishops
Rising on a shaky government foundation and surrounded by NGO’s backed by the Catholic Church during the EDSA 2 revolution, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has been and will always be beholden to the interests of the Catholic church being instrumental to her rise to power. As with the Presidents before her, PGMA has nothing to lose if she continue to support the Catholic Church bishops and so with the church, they have nothing to lose if they will continue to support the administration of PGMA.
During the time of PGMA and more crucially after 2004 elections where she garnered a fresh mandate as President and a new found confidence on the wide mandate she received, she has altogether diminished her alliance with the NGOs directly supporting her in the coup against Erap, even if these NGOs are supported by the Catholic Church. Instead, she continued to seek spiritual and religious guidance from the bishops everywhere she go. Being a Marian devotee herself, PGMA has sealed the alliance further between her government and that of the Bishops of the Catholic Church.
It is imprudent also to conclude that all these years, from Cory Aquino until PGMA’s term, that there are only and solely the Catholic Church and its Bishops who were beneficiaries of government funds and donations, there were myriad and countless others who represented the churches from different denominations who received funds from government including the PCSO.
The strings attached in these relationships from Cory to Gloria were as simple as cooperation for social progress, nothing more. It is acceptable that government alone can never address the gnawing realities of poverty in the countryside and those that happens that robs people of their basic human dignity and economic freedom. This is where the role of the Churches come in. The church served as conduits of these programs and projects, targeting on hapless segments where poverty has exacted too much too often, which the government’s arm cannot reached and embraced.
PCSO and the Bishops
My analysis on this is simple: The bishops have been heads of Diocese where projects and programs of government were variedly addressed, from poverty alleviation, to health, to livelihood to relocation. It is incumbent upon the PCSO, upon the instructions of the President to render donations and fund transfers to these Diocese and foundations run by them, in behalf of the bishops because, since the time of Cory Aquino, such relationships, I can call that HOLY Alliance existed. And further, when you say it is the Diocese, the one you are talking to are the Bishops, not the priests, nuns etc.
If indeed the bishops were guilty of inappropriate actions on this occasion, then unmasked them and so accountability be also rendered. If there are no truths in this, as already echoed by PCSO Chairman Margie Juico on the Senate investigations, then the Filipino nation must altogether put a closure on this issue and gratefully acknowledge that because of the alliance of the republic and the churches, poor Filipinos were helped, were served and much more, reached out.
This ongoing bravado to bring about truth and accountability is best coupled with a discerning perspective as to where our cooperation has reaped for us better relations, let us ergo sustain it. It gives us more to gain if we continue to put on bridges of understanding, openness and respect than to burn our bridges. To my estimation, in this ensuing holy alliance between the churches and the state, so few political families have so grossly benefitted from it starting from the family of Corazon Aquino, democracy icon as well as a respected Catholic and the late Mother of President Pnoy.
Let us therefore be responsible in ensuring that such alliance in behalf of the poor be sufficiently embolden to benefit not only so few politically-entrenched families but to the most of the Filipinos who had been left unattended and uncared for by any elected governments since 1987. The role of the churches in these plights is immensely disproportionate to the commitment and audacity of any Philippine government on record. Let us help protect the very bastion of which our faith on both democracy and freedom rests when all in government are failing our own society.
I still subscribe to the ongoing investigations in order for us to better bring to fore the role of democracy in dispensing fairness, transparency and accountability and to test the strength and maturity of our institutions but if this are done to serve anyone’s ulterior motives to disintegrate the Churches, whether Catholic or non-catholic, it is unacceptable and inconceivable even in a mere figment of one’s imagination.