[#AwaNgDiyosPH] Papal ‘punch’ packs a push for PHL political reform



MANILA (The Filipino Connection and Philstar.com)—A pastor whom the world admires comes here, expresses a message of reform to the echelons of a developing country government, then leaves that seat of power with a punch.

That punch is called rejecting corruption, said by the global Catholic Church’s spiritual leader with his eyes panned on an audience led by a reputed corruption-busting president and elected and appointed national officials.

President Benigno S. Aquino III guides His Holiness Pope Francis towards the Palace Main Lobby of the Malacañan Palace during the welcome ceremony for the State Visit and Apostolic Journey to the Republic of the Philippines on Friday (January 16, 2015). (Photo by Benhur Arcayan / Malacañang Photo Bureau)

President Benigno S. Aquino III guides His Holiness Pope Francis towards the Palace Main Lobby of the Malacañan Palace during the welcome ceremony for the State Visit and Apostolic Journey to the Republic of the Philippines. (Photo by Benhur Arcayan / Malacañang Photo Bureau)

But when Pope Francis leaves the Philippines after a five-day state and apostolic visit, will it lead to “political conversion” or to a case of the mouse plays again when the cat’s away?

Pope Francis challenged Filipinos to “reject every form of corruption”. Unknowingly, Francis’ message of rejecting corruption —that “diverts resources from the poor”— is President Beningo Simeon Aquino III’s centerpiece reform agendum.

That Papal punch of a message —to reject all forms of corruption— has the family as center: Corruption excludes them, so do the reverse, the Pope says: “…make concerted efforts to ensure the inclusion of every man and woman and child in the life of a community.”

There’s another punch from the Argentinian Pontiff.

“It is now, more than ever, necessary that political leaders be outstanding for honesty, integrity and commitment to the common good.”

All the top government officials —elected and non-elected, political allies and those who had to align with for convenience, and the career bureaucrats— heard that Papal punch. (In 16 months, voters from Asia’s biggest Christian nation will vote for a new set of leaders, with Vice President Jejomar Binay and Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas among the reputed contenders.)

The Vatican, a sovereign state, has its own bureaucratic problems that are currently being addressed. What is also being addressed, albeit carefully, are worldwide cases of minor abuse by some clergymen (with them making up an estimated two percent of the global religious force) that has been maligning an entire Church’s holy image.

Nevertheless, and in simple, common-sensical language, Francis’ aspiration of honest and committed Filipino political leaders will protect human and natural resources and pass on to future generations “a society of authentic justice, solidarity and peace”.


Pope Francis welcomed in Malacañang (courtesy RTV Malacanang)

Political conversion?

Now comes the interesting question for Filipino voters ready to punch votes in 2016: Will political conversion follow? Can politicians be evangelizers, whatever that word “evangelization” means to the secular person?

A former Philippine chief justice thinks Francis’ messages today can sweep conversion (a word which the Pope himself told officials at Malacanang Palace) unto this country’s leaders and those in individual Philippine communities.

“I could expect a lot of conversions and transformations on the part of politicians. If you are a grafter and corrupter, you have to change,” former Chief Justice Hilario Davide, Jr, told The Filipino Connection / Philstar.com at the sidelines of a religious conference in Manila.

“If you are totally dishonest, you have to change.”

And yes, Davide adds: public service is “a form of evangelization” —politicians as evangelizers they should.

“Under our 1987 Constitution, the public office is a public trust and all government officials are to exercise utmost responsibility and integrity, and (abide by) justice in order to live a modest life.”

President Aquino, interestingly, packed his own punch even in the presence of the Pontiff: He slammed Filipino clergymen who were critical of his current administration, and not of the previous one, that of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (who Aquino claims her government is riddled with much corruption).

“In these attempts at correcting the wrongs of the past, one would think that the Church would be our natural ally,” Aquino said. “In contrast to their previous silence, some members of the clergy now seem to .. (admonish) me.”

“Is it any wonder then, that they see the glass not as half-full or half-empty, but almost totally empty? Judgment is rendered without an appreciation of the facts,” the President said.

Many of the Philippine bishops weren’t in Malacanang, including those who formed a group —the National Transformation Council— that bishops spearhead. Retired Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal and Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, both founders of the NTC, said months ago Aquino lost his moral ascendancy to govern.

Retired Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz, in 2006, also told the same thing to Arroyo in a context of moves to amend the Constitution. Protestant bishops from the National Council of Churches in the Philippines also told Arroyo the same words—lost the moral ascendancy to govern —in 2008 when an alleged national broadband network project got snagged with alleged corruption.

That’s the nature of a Christian Church in the Philippines: politically active.


Final punch

The Pope, observed to be masterfully putting together concepts into one thought filled with symbolic meaning, said a six-letter word that was his one last punch to political leaders: family.

It needs support, the Pontiff said, while recognizing the difficulties of today’s democracies, like the Philippines,’ “to preserve and defend such basic human values”.

Assistance given unto these families, the Pope says, “can help bring about a culture of integrity —one which honors goodness, truthfulness, fidelity and solidarity as the firm foundation and the moral glue which holds society together”.

Francis’ visit to Malacanang was as a head of state. But at first, he said in his speech: “My visit is above all pastoral.”—The Filipino Connection and Philstar.com.



The Filipino Connection covers the visit of Pope Francis in partnership with Philstar.com.



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