NOT all of them bought Pajeros, a sport utility vehicle ( SUV) manufactured by Japan’s Mitsubishi Motors; some bought even more expensive SUVs and pick-up trucks, and others cheaper Asian utility vehicles (AUVs) with funds from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO). Erroneously tagged by the media as “the Pajero 7,” some of these bishops of the Catholic Church are asking for “understanding,” in tacit admission that their use of public funds might have been neither legal nor moral.

Some of the country’s bishops also asked for understanding when the world-wide sex scandals involving the clerical abuse of children erupted during the papacy of John Paul II, making this the second time in less than a decade when the allegedly spiritual and moral betters of the Filipino people have asked poor sinners for sympathy.

I suspect that most Filipinos, including non-Catholics, understand the seven bishops completely, although only in the same way that they understand that pedophilia and other forms of libertine behavior have been resident among the clergy ever since they set foot on these islands.

They also understand that–as one of the bishops declared in an attempt to explain how some among them could unashamedly beg the Arroyo regime for cash donations with which to buy motor vehicles including high- end ones — as a power broker, the Church has always been in “critical collaboration” with the administrations that have come to power in the country of our despair.

Those Filipinos already of age during the martial law period certainly understand that critical collaboration was indeed Church policy then; they also understand how equally true was critical collaboration a Church policy during the Arroyo regime. But they know too that during both regimes, the Church leaned more heavily on collaboration rather than criticism.

Certain Church hierarchs did not hesitate, they seemed only too happy, to be seen in public with the Marcoses during the martial law period, and so religiously did they attend not only Palace social functions but even the parties the Marcoses threw aboard the Ang Pangulo presidential yacht that they became regular fixtures during those affairs. As they were rubbing elbows with the power elite, however, the local and international human rights groups were filing report after report on how the regime and its military thugs were committing the most horrendous human rights violations, among them abductions, rape, torture, extra-judicial killings, and the massacre of entire communities.

The regime wasn’t only into murder and revelry, however. It was also plundering the country’s resources. Unless they were total idiots, the hierarchs of the Church who were “critically collaborating” with the regime must have themselves understood that merely being in the same room as the Marcoses and flashing toothy grins during Palace affairs was sending the country the message that the dictatorship had the support of the Church to which 81 percent of Filipinos belonged. But no matter: they continued collaborating with it in the totally self-serving belief that, as brutal as the regime was, it was the only thing that stood between them and the growing social and political movement that would have denied the Church the power it has shared in this country for 400 years with conquistadores, governors- general and presidents despite revolution and war, and might have even seized the booty it has amassed during centuries of tax-free aggrandizement.

Only at the very last moment, in 1986 when it became clear that Ferdinand Marcos had about as much chance of political survival as an ice cube in hell, did Church leaders withdraw their support for the regime, and they did it by asking the faithful to protect the military mutiny ex-dictatorship pillars Ramos and Enrile had been forced to launch on pain of being arrested by their former benefactor.

Even more Filipinos know that the Church was instrumental in preventing Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s ouster from the office that she allegedly won in the 2004 elections. While it was true that some of the country’s 100-plus bishops had enough humanity, sense of justice and sympathy with the suffering of the Filipino people to be critical of the corruption, human rights violations and lawlessness of the Arroyo regime, the majority were either secretly or openly supportive of it.

Many Filipinos have long suspected why, and they understand that it can’t be mere coincidence that some of the very same Church supporters of the Arroyo regime were among the recipients — supposedly in behalf of their respective dioceses — of millions from the PCSO.

They should also be able to understand why these men of the cloth did not demand the resignation of Mrs. Arroyo then despite the multiple scandals, the immense corruption, and the extra- judicial killings that were the hallmarks of her watch. Equally understandable is why at least one of them, Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos of Butuan City, in support of opposition criticism that Benigno Aquino III has been keeping in office some of his friends who have been accused of various misdeeds, is asking him to resign for something that pales in comparison to the offenses of which De Dios Pueblos and company’s patron has been accused.

The long-suffering people of this country will probably understand too that De Dios Pueblos’ tirade came in concert with similar demands, and amid rumors fanned by the usual conspirators, for the removal of Mr. Aquino from office. Interestingly — and predictably, given his political preferences — De Dios Pueblos has loudly opposed both the reproductive health and divorce bills, claiming that a divorce law would mean “more immorality.” But of arguably the same interest is the fact that he’s on record, via a letter he wrote former Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in February 2009, as practically on his knees begging for an SUV, which he specified must be “brand new,” as the Palace gift on his 66th birthday.

Certainly all this should lead Filipinos to the realization that while the prelates of the Catholic Church habitually weigh in on practically every public issue from the use of condoms to the capacity of Benigno Aquino III to run the country, some conspicuously exempt themselves from the test of those standards of moral behavior to which they subject ordinary mortals.

Filipinos should also understand, by looking at what’s happening today in the context of the Philippine Church’s 400-year record of assisting in their subjugation and thwarting every attempt at meaningful change, that while it’s all about hypocrisy, it’s even more fundamentally about power — or more precisely, about being close enough to power to share it, nurtured through, among other means, aiding and abetting the most despicable regimes, from those of the Spanish governors- general to those of Marcos and company, that have had the singular opportunity to rule over this unhappy land. It’s critical collaboration without the critical part.


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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