“The Presidency is not merely an administrative office. That’s the least of it. It is more than an engineering job, efficient or inefficient. It is pre-eminently a place of moral leadership.” (Franklin D. Roosevelt, New York Times Magazine, September 11, 1932)
FIRST, a preface to my views. Being a member of the clergy, be he a bishop, priest or deacon, does not terminate that person’s a being Filipino and a citizen of the Republic. Like any other citizen, he has every right to form his ideas or opinions on the country’s political, economic and socio-cultural conditions. In addition, he has every right to express them as well. On the other hand, also like any other citizen, this gives him no right to violate any law.
No Filipino citizen today can ignore his country’s over-all conditions and, in particular, the way it is being run, and still maintain that he/she loves the Philippines. It is hard to miss the many discordant winds around us. Latest economic forecasts boldly say that the country will be second only to China in economic growth, and this the president’s supporters feel is enough reason to leave him alone and let him finish his term, at the least. But, despite efforts, at times valiant and creative, poverty is hardly dented. Growth has been anything but inclusive. It is understandable that the business sector and the upper echelons of the economic-socio-political ladder that benefit most from the economic gains insist on leaving things well enough alone. They believe that present indicators speak much for the president’s excellence in steering us to unheard-of heights according to solid economic fundamentals.
Alas, all this sounds hollow to the urban and rural poor who constantly worry about not having a roof over their heads, a meal or two to survive another day, a child or two being unable to continue schooling because of continuing military operations against rebel groups or because they simply cannot afford the costs of higher education or because two super typhoons and/or sporadic big fires in crowded places of residence have sapped the family’s resources. And their government, let alone their president, has seemed unable to truly help.
Then came the Mamasapano debacle. Forty-four valiant members of the national police Special Action Force, mostly members of the underclass of Philippine society, successfully neutralized an international terrorist, only to be ruthlessly massacred while attempting to exit the area by rebel groups. Seemingly to add salt to their family’s wounds, the Chief Executive was nowhere in sight when their bodies were brought back to Manila to waiting and wailing families. The reason? It was not on his schedule for the day, said Malacañang. At the same time, the media found him gracing the inaugural ceremonies of a Japanese car company operations in Laguna.
This insensitivity, however unintended and glossed over by official sources, stunned, shocked and drew the ire of many, especially among the victims’ families. Even as I write ripples of the anger surfaces now and then. Not even the long hours he spent talking to the fallen heroes’ families and relatives have dampened the clamor for him to come clean on the truth of his role and responsibility or irresponsibility that might have contributed in one way or another to the eventual carnage. Allowing a suspended PNP Chief’s continued involvement in an operation so sensitive and dangerous, while not informing his own DILG Secretary and the acting PNP Chief, is not exactly an exercise of good judgment and responsible leadership.
It is no secret that initially a good number of the Church hierarchy welcomed Pinoy’s presidency. The thought that a son of the heroic couple Ninoy and Cory Aquino would succeed the scam-ridden Arroyo administration raised hopes for a government of high moral ascendancy. The anti-wang-wang drive, the ousting of a Supreme Court Chief Justice, the unveiling of the PDAF and DAP scammers accompanied by the jailing of some prominent politicians and businessmen—to cite a few—have inspired some confidence. But once in a while we also notice disappointing cracks. While the president has kept himself largely untainted, the same can not be said of a few of the people he surrounds himself with. The way the Reproductive Law was passed, what with generous DAP amounts being dangled before lawmakers’ eyes and also being withdrawn from non-supporters, greatly disappointed bishops and priests. It did not take long for them to realize that the president’s moral compass was guided less by magisterial teaching than by what Pope Francis would later term as “ideological invasions” he and the people he listened to have already embraced. And which, as a priest friend of mine pointed out once, they are “hopelessly devoted to”.
Perhaps this is only one of the reasons behind calls from some prominent Shepherds of the Church for the president to step down. I believe their views have to be respected. But personally I believe we need to take the bigger picture. Our current president was elected on the crest of a massive outpouring of sympathy for his deceased mother, President Cory, a turn of events he himself did not anticipate nor initially wanted. If ever any blame game had to be pursued to its awkward roots, the final finger could point in our direction and in the direction of our voters.
To my mind I believe we must address, as decisively as we can, two urgent concerns.
One, in so many elections, we the Church have done so much except educate voters effectively.
Two, in so many elections, we Filipino citizens have done so many things except vote wisely.