As some if not all of the country’s Catholic bishops thought, their July 10 pastoral letter was vague enough to mean something to everyone. A less charitable way of putting it is that the bishops had their cake–and ate it too.

Those against the impeachment of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal- Arroyo thus seized on a key phrase in the document–“we are not inclined … to favor the impeachment process as the means for establishing the truth”–to prove that the bishops want Mrs. Arroyo to remain in Malacanang.

On the other hand, those who want her ousted have declared that no, the bishops don’t want her to remain in power; they’re simply leery of the impeachment process.

How else interpret the statement that “unless the process and rules as well as the mind-sets of all participating parties pro and con are guided by no other motive than genuine concern for the common good, impeachment will once again serve as an unproductive political exercise, dismaying every citizen, and deepening the citizen’s negative perception of politicians”?

It can only mean, say those who want Mrs. Arroyo out, that the bishops favor other means “for establishing the truth.” Ergo, the means could be another “People Power” exercise in the manner of EDSA 1986 and 2001.

Those inclined to soaring flights of fancy may be forgiven for fantasizing that the bishops could have meant another EDSA or other, even more drastic means. On the other hand, regime lackeys and the congressmen in Malacanang’s pockets can’t be blamed for thinking that the bishops are at least resigned to having Mrs. Arroyo for President until 2010. After all, they have only the July 10 pastoral letter to gauge what the bishops are thinking.

That letter is so evasive and so equivocal it’s practically worthless as a guide to anything. What it does achieve is to strengthen the argument that priests, especially bishops, should leave politics to the politicians.

Unfortunately, anyone can prove by now that leaving politics to the politicians has been the Philippines’ ruin. Given how the country’s arch-politician and her fiendish crew have damaged every institution–the educational system, the military, the civil service, and even the Church, among others–it’s clear that someone or something else should intervene before the entire archipelago goes under.

Many Filipinos still hope that the “something” would be the Catholic Church and its bishops, given the Church role in EDSA 1986.

That event seemed to signal the rebirth of the Philippine Catholic Church, as its leading bishops repented their support for the Marcos regime and joined the citizen-military mutiny against it. From an elite institution that for centuries had worked hand in glove with the powerful, it seemed that it had finally morphed into a true advocate of people’s rights, liberties and interests.

But the years that followed EDSA 1986 contradicted this optimistic view. Instead of seeking the structural changes that for centuries had kept Filipinos poor and the country undeveloped, the Church became a partner in giving new life to the antiquated land tenancy system through its support for the flawed land reform program. Instead of working for the authentic independence that has eluded the nation through four centuries of foreign control, it supported government policies that tied the country still closer to external interests. And in issue after issue, the Church demonstrated that what it wanted was for the government to adopt as policy its views on censorship, family planning, and even foreign affairs.

The bishops’ moral equivocation in 2005 over the very same legitimacy issue that’s threatening to permanently ruin this country should have taught Filipinos that they can’t expect much from a Church hierarchy whose members are part of the elite themselves. This year the same point was made by the July 10 pastoral letter–with considerable help from the Arroyo regime.

The persistent reports that the regime tried to bribe the bishops with offers of money for “livelihood projects” as well as outright cash and other gifts and even food suggest two things. One is that, for all the supposed piety of Mrs. Arroyo, the regime regards the bishops as no more than power brokers no different from congressmen who can be bought on the cheap. Because these attempts are likely to have been based on past success, it also suggests that some bishops succumbed to previous temptations like offers of food and donations of vestments.

The skeptical can’t be blamed for thinking that there’s a connection between the offers of money etc. and the document that resulted from the Catholic Bishops’ July retreat and plenary assembly. There is every possibility that at least some of the bishops were bought off, and argued for a pastoral letter so ambiguous it could at least be interpreted by Arroyo allies as supportive of Mrs. Arroyo.

To be sure, there are Catholic bishops like Oscar Cruz, Antonio Tobias and Deogracias Iniguez who have shown the kind of moral rigor the country needs, and which brooks no compromise with evil rampaging across the archipelago. Unfortunately, they seem to have been outnumbered and outmaneuvered by their more “pragmatic” and creatively ambiguous colleagues.

(Business Mirror)

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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