Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines

Pabaon at Pa-kotse

Two cases involving the military and the Church demonstrate how inefficient the government transfer system is.

Sen Teofisto “TG” Guingoina III has had a busy year. His blue ribbon committee investigated corruption in the military early this year (see my earlier post – The Game of the Generals) that led to the former Secretary of Defense killing himself (see related post – Fallen Angelo), and now at the mid-point of the year it is uncovering “nonbailable” offenses committed in the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) involving the former president.

A Can of Worms

Both cases were like opening a can of worms. The probe of the military was originally meant to focus on the plea bargain deal entered into by its former auditor Gen Carlos Garcia and the Ombudsman and led to anomalies involving dodgy financial diversions and procurement practices.

The PCSO hearings originally were meant to cover allegations that certain Catholic bishops were on the receiving end of generous SUV donations. They eventually led to the apparent misuse and misappropriation of intelligence funds approved supposedly by the former president herself.

In both situations public funds intended to provide support or assistance to the lowliest members of society (the foot soldiers and the underprivelleged) somehow found their way into the pockets of the powerful and well-connected. It shows how spending programs and projects aimed at supporting social goals (providing national security and ameliorating the plight of the poor) become “milking cows” for rent-seeking groups and agents.

Again, in these cases, two of the most venerable institutions of our society (the military and the church) have been found wanting and compromised because of actions by its most senior members (see related post – Why is the RH Bill taking so long? to see how highly rated these institutions are).

The Cross and the Sword

These twin investigations demonstrate how risky it is to look under a rock, any rock involving government transactions. One anomaly that catches your attention, when investigated further often leads to a succession of anomalies more deplorable than the first. Such was probably the plight of the Aquino administration as it settled into office.

Indeed, no institution now seems immune from guilt. Previously we had thought that our politicians and the media were in this symbiotic relationship of corruption. Now the military and the church, two institutions which preach honor, duty and morality have been found to be entangled in a web of corruption.

Given their role in our society as guardians of our physical and spiritual safety, it becomes incumbent upon them to seek to repair the damage these scandals have caused. Indeed it was when they stepped out of their traditional roles, for the military their duty to uphold the constitution and for the church to stay out of politics, that they got in entangled in this web.

The Inequitable Transfer System

But these cases merely scratch at the surface of what the real problem is. I am speaking of the inequitable system that is at work in our public tax and transfer system. The Philippines has a very high level of inequality to begin with, so one of the principles behind taxation is to promote a more equitable society. Some level of redistribution is deemed important for maintaining social cohesion and even economic growth.

Our government accounts for roughly one fifth of our overall economy. Yet when you investigate its spending patterns, you will find that a large chunk of that spending actually redistributes resources up the income ladder rather than the reverse…

  • We can look at the Philippine coco levy fund which was set up to benefit the poorest of the poor coconut farmers and how it helped one of the wealthiest members of society amasse large shareholdings in one of the biggest companies in the Philippines. Meanwhile no tangible legacy has been granted to the supposed beneficiaries who contributed a share of their crop sales into the fund.
  • We can look at the manner by which rich and middle class households benefit from the grains subsidy involving billions and billions spent each year. 
  • We can study the way commuters in the city receive public subsidy from the regional taxpayers for their daily transit to and from the city. 
  • We can have a look at our tertiary education and health spending
  • We can look at our infrastructure program. 

Indeed studies that have investigated public spending by the Philippine government have come up with very low coefficients of equity meaning that our public spending tends to favor the well-off rather than the most in need in our society.

Roots to Branch Reform Needed

That is just the spending side. If we look at how we tax our people, then we will find that the same thing probably applies. We in effect provide a lot of tax cuts to the wealthy and impose the tax burden on a very narrow base of low to middle income households.

In a separate post, I have tried to call attention to this problem, the problem of private affluence, public squalor (see a related post, Are Filipinos Over-Taxed?). How much longer can we let this inequitable situation persist?

The corruption in the PCSO and the military are merely symptomatic of a much larger problem in our society. A problem of inequity that even our government perpetuates: if we took a long hard look at the present set-up we cannot avoid but draw the conclusion, that it is time for a root-to-branch reform of our tax and transfer system.

Twitters say #freeCarlos Celdran; CBCP gets negative publicity

Some twitters have much to say about #freecarlos, and about the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines. The tweets were largely in response to the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines case against actor Carlos Celdran. The actor strode to Manila Cathedral in 2010, and cried, “Damaso!” The CBCP filed a lawsuit against the actor.

Celdran is a leading advocate of the Reproductive Health Bill which is being debated in Congress.

The Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines is getting some negative publicity because of it. @camillasaguin asked, “Why is the CBCP still pursuing their case against Carlos Celdran? Why do they even teach forgiveness when they don’t know how to forgive?”

@artemusd tweeted, “this is a desperate act from the #CBCP against @carlosceldran to save their faces when they know for a fact that their resistance is futile.”

“Even John Paul II has forgiven his assassin,” @dapitanfishball wrote, “CBCP not dropping charges against Celdran #thisiswhyidislikethechurch #freecarlos”

“#freecarlos CBCP are a bunch of religious people who seem to be not!” @ts_kristina tweeted.

@KyraMeetsWorld said, “If I’m not mistaken Jesus Christ accepted Mary Magdalene despite her you-know-what. And the #CBCP is acting like this because of #RHBill?!”

@Micaandthescene wrote, “CBCP is always overreacting.”

“@carlosceldran I can only imagine how ignorant d friars wer during d Spanish col period.Der’s not much difference between ’em & d CBCP now,” @tsuhraysee tweeted.

Photo credit: Jonas Bagas, some rights reserved.

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Choosing Life, Rejecting the RH Bill: A pastoral letter by CBCP

This is a Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines on the Responsible Parenthood/Reproductive Health Bill

Our Filipino Brothers and Sisters:

The State values the dignity of every human person and guarantees full respect for human rights (Art. II, Section 11). The State recognizes the sanctity of family life and shall protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution. It shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception (Art. II, Section 12).


We begin by citing the Philippine Constitution. We do so because we intend to write you on the basis of the fundamental ideals and aspirations of the Filipino people and not on the basis of specifically Catholic religious teachings.

We are at a crossroads as a nation. Before us are several versions of a proposed bill, the Reproductive Health bill or sanitized as a Responsible Parenthood bill. This proposed bill in all its versions calls us to make a moral choice: to choose life or to choose death.

At the outset we thank the government for affording us an opportunity to express our views in friendly dialogue. Sadly our dialogue has simply revealed how far apart our respective positions are. Therefore, instead of building false hopes, we wish at the present time to draw up clearly what we object to and what we stand for.

Moral Choices at the Crossroads — at EDSA I and Now

Twenty five years ago in 1986 we Catholic Bishops made a prophetic moral judgment on political leadership. With this prophetic declaration we believe that we somehow significantly helped open the door for EDSA I and a window of political integrity.

Today we come to a new national crossroads and we now have to make a similar moral choice. Our President rallied the country with the election cry, “Kung walang corrupt walang mahirap.” As religious leaders we believe that there is a greater form of corruption, namely, moral corruption which s really the root of all corruption. On the present issue, it would be morally corrupt to disregard the moral implications of the RH bill.

This is our unanimous collective moral judgment: We strongly reject the RH bill.

Commonly Shared Human and Cultural Values – Two Fundamental Principles

Far from being simply a Catholic issue, the RH bill is a major attack on authentic human values and on Filipino cultural values regarding human life that all of us have cherished since time immemorial.

Simply stated the RH Bill does not respect moral sense that is central to Filipino cultures. It is the product of the spirit of this world, a secularist, materialistic spirit that considers morality as a set of teachings from which one can choose, according to the spirit of the age. Some it accepts, others it does not accept. Unfortunately, we see the subtle spread of this post-modern spirit in our own Filipino society.

Our position stands firmly on two of the core principles commonly shared by all who believe in God:

(1) Human life is the most sacred physical gift with which God, the author of life, endows a human being. Placing artificial obstacles to prevent human life from being formed and being born most certainly contradicts this fundamental truth of human life. In the light of the widespread influence of the post-modern spirit in our world, we consider this position as nothing less than prophetic. As religious leaders we must proclaim this truth fearlessly in season and out of season.

(2) It is parents, cooperating with God, who bring children into the world. It is also they who have the primary inalienable right and responsibility to nurture them, care for them, and educate them that they might grow as mature persons according to the will of the Creator.

What We Specifically Object to in the RH Bill

Advocates contend that the RH bill promotes reproductive health. The RH Bill certainly does not. It does not protect the health of the sacred human life that is being formed or born. The very name “contraceptive” already reveals the anti-life nature of the means that the RH bill promotes. These artificial means are fatal to human life, either preventing it from fruition or actually destroying it. Moreover, scientists have known for a long time that contraceptives may cause cancer. Contraceptives are hazardous to a woman’s health.

Advocates also say that the RH bill will reduce abortion rates. But many scientific analysts themselves wonder why prevalent contraceptive use sometimes raises the abortion rate. In truth, contraceptives provide a false sense of security that takes away the inhibition to sexual activity. Scientists have noted numerous cases of contraceptive failure. Abortion is resorted to, an act that all religious traditions would judge as sinful. “Safe sex” to diminish abortion rate is false propaganda.

Advocates moreover say that the RH bill will prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. This goes against the grain of many available scientific data. In some countries where condom use is prevalent, HIV/ AIDS continues to spread. Condoms provide a false security that strongly entices individuals towards increased sexual activity, increasing likewise the incidence of HIV/AIDS. “Safe sex” to prevent HIV /AIDS is false propaganda.

Advocates also assert that the RH Bill empowers women with ownership of their own bodies. This is in line with the post-modern spirit declaring that women have power over their own bodies without the dictation of any religion. How misguided this so-called “new truth” is! For, indeed, as created by God our bodies are given to us to keep and nourish. We are stewards of our own bodies and we must follow God’s will on this matter according to an informed and right conscience. Such a conscience must certainly be enlightened and guided by religious and moral teachings provided by various religious and cultural traditions regarding the fundamental dignity and worth of human life.

Advocates also say that the RH bill is necessary to stop overpopulation and to escape from poverty. Our own government statistical office has concluded that there is no overpopulation in the Philippines but only the over-concentration of population in a number of urban centers. Despite other findings to the contrary, we must also consider the findings of a significant group of renowned economic scholars, including economic Nobel laureates, who have found no direct correlation between population and poverty. In fact, many Filipino scholars have concluded that population is not the cause of our poverty. The causes of our poverty are: flawed philosophies of development, misguided economic policies, greed, corruption, social inequities, lack of access to education, poor economic and social services, poor infrastructures, etc. World organizations estimate that in our country more than P400 billion pesos are lost yearly to corruption. The conclusion is unavoidable: for our country to escape from poverty, we have to address the real causes of poverty and not population.

In the light of the above, we express our clear objections:

We object to the non-consideration of moral principles, the bedrock of law, in legislative discussions of bills that are intended for the good of individuals and for the common good.

We are against the anti-life, anti-natal and contraceptive mentality that is reflected in media and in some proposed legislative bills.

We object strongly to efforts at railroading the passage of the RH bill.

We denounce the over-all trajectory of the RH bill towards population control.

We denounce the use of public funds for contraceptives and sterilization.

We condemn compulsory sex education that would effectively let parents abdicate their primary role of educating their own children, especially in an area of life – sexuality – which is a sacred gift of God.

What We Stand For

On this matter of proposed RH bills, these are our firm convictions:

We are deeply concerned about the plight of the many poor, especially of suffering women, who are struggling for a better life and who must seek it outside of our country, or have recourse to a livelihood less than decent.

We are pro-life. We must defend human life from the moment of conception or fertilization up to its natural end.

We believe in the responsible and natural regulation of births through Natural Family Planning for which character building is necessary which involves sacrifice, discipline and respect for the dignity of the spouse.

We believe that we are only stewards of our own bodies. Responsibility over our own bodies must follow the will of God who speaks to us through conscience.

We hold that on the choices related to the RH bill, conscience must not only be informed but most of all rightly guided through the teachings of one’s faith.

We believe in the freedom of religion and the right of conscientious objection in matters that are contrary to one’s faith. The sanctions and penalties embodied in the proposed RH bill are one more reason for us to denounce it.

Our Calls

As religious leaders we have deeply and prayerfully reflected on this burning issue. We have unanimously made the moral judgment – to reject the RH agenda and to choose life.

1. We call for a fundamental transformation of our attitudes and behavior towards all human life especially the most defenseless, namely, human life being formed or being conceived. The cheapness with which many seem to consider human life is a great bane to our religious-oriented nation.

2. We call upon our legislators to consider the RH bill in the light of the God-given dignity and worth of human life and, therefore, to shelve it completely as contrary to our ideals and aspirations as a people. We thank our legislators who have filed bills to defend human life from the moment of conception and call upon all other legislators to join their ranks.

3. We thank the great multitude of lay people all over the country, and particularly the dedicated groups who made their presence felt in the halls of Congress, to defend and promote our position. We call upon other lay people and adherents of other religions to join the advocacy to defend and promote our commonly shared ideals and aspirations.

4. We call on our government to address effectively the real causes of poverty such as corruption, lack of social and economic services, lack of access to education and the benefits of development, social inequities.

5. We call for the establishment of more hospitals and clinics in the rural areas, the deployment of more health personnel to provide more access to health services, the building of more schools, the provision of more aid to the poor for education, and the building of more and better infrastructures necessary for development.

6. We echo the challenge we prophetically uttered 25 years ago at EDSA I and call upon all people of good will who share our conviction: “…let us pray together, reason together, decide together, act together, always to the end that the truth prevail” over the many threats to human life and to our shared human and cultural values.

We commend our efforts against the RH bill (or the Responsible Parenthood bill – its new name) to the blessing of our almighty and loving God, from whom all life comes and for whom it is destined.

For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

Bishop of Tandag
President, CBCP
January 30, 2011

source: The Catholic Position on RH BIll

Redrawing the circle

Manila Cathedral

To entrench oneself in a position diametrically opposite to that occupied by a ideological adversary may well be a significant demonstration of whatever convictions one holds dear. That said, the problem with such a move, however ferociously or passionately undertaken, should be obvious enough: it merely reinforces the area and the circumference of the already existing discursive circle. Moreover, antipodal antagonism confirms, if not intensifies, in the foe the power that one is trying to deny it.

Thus, no matter how many individual skirmishes or battles one claims as triumphs, the war itself cannot be won—the terms of the conflict only ensure the maintenance of the status quo, which is to say endless and unproductive enmity, rather than victory, which is to say any hoped-for change: the expansion or contraction of the circle, or its transformation into a different, more feasible shape.

Within such a scheme of struggle, the question of strategic value is often elided or ignored, because the effect and defect of committing to diametrical distance, to absolute opposition, is the reduction of one’s vision—if vision it can indeed be called—to a narrow set of premises, which in turn lead to action that is limited in scope and efficacy. It should be unsurprising that agitators of this stripe tend toward maneuvers that are predicated less on dignity, respect, or logic than on puerility, sanctimoniousness, or auto-eroticism.

One such agitator is Carlos Celdran, a tour guide and an advocate for the immediate passage of the controversial reproductive health (RH) bill—a bill that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) is strongly against.

Let us call a spade a spade: Celdran’s recent disruption of an ongoing mass at the Manila Cathedral by holding up a placard emblazoned with “Damaso”, yelling at the assembled bishops, and—according to a report from The Philippine Star—later goading police officers on the scene to arrest him is an act not of subversion in the vein of José Rizal, regardless of Celdran’s attire—or utterly destitute notions of Rizal and heroism—but of perversion.

If with his gimmick Celdran had intended to catch the spotlight of national attention, he has certainly succeeded brilliantly. But now that he has drawn our collective notice, I have to ask: So what? Or, perhaps more crucially: Now what?

Perversion, admittedly, has a long and honorable tradition of being deployed in the name of critical commentary. For example, Diogenes of Sinope, perhaps the most famous of the Cynics, deliberately behaved like a dog in order to foreground the falsehoods of civilization and uphold the virtues of asceticism. To my mind, though, Celdran’s publicity stunt partakes of the same kind of perversion that motivates a child to sneak cookies before dinner, draw on the walls with crayons, or grab the shiny new toys of another: for the primitive pleasure of being able to do something that is conventionally forbidden.

Insofar as Celdran can be described as a cynic, it is in the modern sense of word, because if the manner in which he chose to make his protest is any indication, he seems to believe the only way to forward his cause is to sensationalize it, to appeal to the lowest common denominator, to frame a complex matter in the crudest and most simplistic of ways: by stoking the fires of generic underdog rage. Perhaps the bishops did need “to hear what the Filipinos are saying“, but Celdran’s objective did not appear to be so much clarity as it was blasphemy.

Whatever Celdran thought he was doing—in his own words, he wanted to give the bishops “a dose of their own [medicine]“—I have serious doubts that his stunt has helped matters any, chiefly because he and like-minded ilk missed a very important point: engaging the CBCP on the RH bill is an exercise in futility, because, as an institution of the Roman Catholic Church, it cannot and should not be expected to take a stand that runs counter to official Church teachings or defies the Holy See. For better or for worse, the Church accepts as axiomatic that artificial contraception is evil, and the actions of the CBCP with reference to the RH bill proceed from that same premise. Given this, it must be understood that there is no room for negotiation at all.

Nevertheless, it is exceedingly evident that what the CBCP thinks, says, or does as a body clearly does not have much of an impact on the general populace, considering that several surveys have already shown that a majority of Filipinos—including Catholics—favor the passage of the RH bill. Furthermore, as I have pointed out elsewhere, Catholic doctrine allows for the possibility of dissent if that is what one’s conscience dictates. Going head-to-head with the bishops, therefore, is myopic and wasteful, even gratuitous: one might as well bash one’s head repeatedly against a wall for all the good that arguing with the CBCP will do, even if cracking one’s skull open is “gutsy” and “bad-ass”—oh, and, of course, thoroughly mediagenic.

In the realm of public opinion, church and state are already separate, so why bother to fight the CBCP and accord it more power, more influence, and more exposure than it ought to have, entitled though it may be to a voice in the peanut gallery of our rowdy democracy? Enshrined in the Constitution is the freedom of expression, which necessarily includes the freedom to ignore. The battle for the passage of the RH bill, at this particular juncture at least, is not with the bishops, but with the nominally honorable members of Congress. As blogger iwriteasiwrite has suggested, dialogue with the Catholic Church can—and should—resume after the bill has been passed into law.

[This also appears in my blog, Random Salt.]

Photo credit: Manila Cathedral, by Micropawn217, some rights reserved.