Iglesia ni Cristo

Why is the RH Bill taking so long?

Philippine adherence to the Catholic Church remains strong.

It is an institution that has withstood half a millenium on home soil. The only time in its history that Roman Catholicism was under threat was during the Philippine revolution for independence against Spain at the turn of the last century, when as part of the movement, the Philippine Independent Church sought to secede from the Church of Rome.

The Catholic Church has formed such an integral part of Filipino cultural identity that even after its transformation into a highly literate, open society, the Philippines remains staunchly conservative with respect to social mores including sexual education and family planning.

Filipinos demonstrated a strong devotion to their church as an institution in the World Values Survey of 1996 and 2001. In the chart that appears below (click to enlarge), country responses to the question do you have “a great deal” of confidence in the church are shown. The Philippines ranked eighth among all the countries surveyed (for those wondering if there is more recent data, the latest round conducted between 2005 and 2008 did not include the Philippines).

The only predominantly Christian nation

With 65% of respondents expressing great confidence in their church, the Philippines finds itself trailing countries like Morrocco, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Indonesia, Pakistan and Tanzania. It edged out India, Algeria, Zimbabwe, and Iran. It is the only predominantly Christian country in the top 10 (Census data in 2000 revealed it was 92.5% Christian, 81% Roman Catholic).

The nations with the lowest levels of confidence in organized religion include Japan, Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Denmark, and Great Britain. They are followed by Estonia, Austria, Belgium, Vietnam, France, Slovenia, Bulgaria, and Finland. The United States falls very close to the world average at about 37%.

To demonstrate just how revered the church is in the Philippines, the following chart (click to enlarge) shows the results for various institutions in the Philippines from the same survey (1996 and 2001 results are averaged out). It shows that churches are by far the institution that has secured the greatest level of trust from the people with 65% expressing “a great deal” of confidence in it.

The environmental movement, along with the army, justice system, women’s movement and the media inspire much lower levels of confidence ranging from 28% down to 23% (not even half of confidence in churches). Among the least trusted are political parties (8%), the government (12%), labour unions and parliament (both at 15%), major companies (16%), the police (17%) and civil services (19%).

Most revered institution

The next chart combines those that expressed “a lot” and those that had “a great deal” of confidence in a range of institutions.  Again, churches garnered the highest level of trust with almost universal confidence (93%) being expressed by the sample (which numbered close to 2,400 participants for the two rounds). The women’s movement came in second (75%) followed by the environmental movement (74%), the army (71%), television (70%) and the press (70%).  They are followed by the civil services (69%) and the justice system (66%).

The institutions that found the least levels of confidence were political parties (46%), labour unions and government (both at 55%), the police (58%), parliament (61%) and major companies (66%). Given the strong performance of the church vis-à-vis other institutions in the country, it is not surprising to see it have such a big influence on the public debate over the consolidated reproductive health bill (RH bill) in congress.

The good news for the women’s movement is that it does not seem to suffer the same stigma as other seemingly “radical” institutions like labour unions. The same bit of good news applies to the environmental cause.

By contrast, congress, the government at large and political parties seem to suffer from low confidence (the presidency which was part of the survey in other countries was not included in the Philippines). It is therefore not surprising to see the president swing from one end of the pendulum to the other and back again on the issue of the RH bill.

See-saw battle

In late January consistent with his campaign pledge, he expressed continuing support for it. Then in early February after a one-on-one private meeting with a retired cardinal in his office, the president backed away from including the RH bill among his priority legislative measures. Then in March, he proposed a “third way” to bring about a compromise between the pro- and anti-RH camps. He said he would stick to his stand even if it meant ex-communication.

Seeing the president waver and hedging his bets, women’s and environmental groups came out to rally behind the bill. To their credit, congressional leaders including the speaker and leader of the minority seemed to form bi-partisan solidarity in ushering the package through the lower house. Then came support from other religious institutions in the country. The protestant churches and the influential Iglesia ni Cristo came out in support of the measure.

This might have tipped the scales for the president who then belatedly renewed his support for the house version of the bill which he had earlier de-prioritized. Having found a lukewarm greeting to his invitation for dialogue, his representatives issued a statement saying the president was happy with the house version and would throw the full weight of his office behind it.

One final hitch

Then finally the latest twist came from the speaker of the house Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte, Jr whose view it was that there was no urgency to pass the RH bill before the end of this session of Congress. The following was reported in today’s Inquirer

Belmonte Thursday said it would not be possible to put to a vote the consolidated House Bill 4244, or the “Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health, and Population and Development Bill,” during the remaining session days of Congress.

“We need not finish this (RH bill) in the last 13 days. We’re trying to get in as many bills as possible and these are bills considered for committee reporting or on second reading,” Belmonte said.

The Speaker said there was no need to rush the RH bill since President Benigno Aquino III himself “has not made anything or any pressure on us” with regard to the measure.

In fact, the RH bill was not among the priority measures submitted by Malacañang to Congress, Belmonte said (emphasis added).

Once again, another snag has been uncovered on the road to the passing of this bill. It will certainly be frustrating to those who support it, but not surprising. I predicted that the real game here was to “beat the clock.” Many said that the president’s tacit approval of the bill was all that mattered. To me, the prioritization of the bill was crucial in securing its place on the agenda.

In the final analysis, we can see just how important not prioritizing the RH bill was. The cardinals might have extracted from the Palace all that they needed to delay its passage once more. No one can fault Speaker Belmonte for prioritizing other measures. It is after all his ministerial duty to do so. The president using the “judicious use” of his powers as an excuse to exclude the RH bill last February, may have found a middle path alright. On the one hand, he remains a supporter of reproductive health, on other he found a way to “keep the faith”.

Aquino alliance rocked by factions, interests (Last of three parts)

(Series by VERA Files; first published in The Manila Times)

Another source also said that President Aquino was reluctant to sign the appointment papers of Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo that was causing complications in foreign relations. Although Romulo took his oath of office first week of July, his appointment was signed only on August 10. As a result, Romulo missed the 43rd meeting of foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Hanoi on July 20, since his lack of an official appointment prevented him from signing official international agreements for the Philippines.

Sources also cited the appointment of Education Secretary Armin Luistro, former president of De La Salle University, as another case of utang na loob [debt of gratitude]. The La Salle brothers had offered their Greenhills campus as the venue for the wake former President Corazon Aquino, who died August last year, when the Ateneo de Manila University and Santo Domingo Church were unavailable.

Luistro was appointed despite his lack of expertise in basic education, according to Aquino supporters, in the process shutting out former Education Undersecretary Juan Miguel Luz who had helped craft President Aquino’s education agenda during the campaign.

In many cases, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. admits, the last word on appointments rests with him and the President. The two enjoy a friendship that dates back to when their fathers were Liberal Party members in the 1960s. Ochoa’s father was former mayor of Pulilan, Bulacan.

Classmates Inc.

In 1998, Ochoa became President Aquino’s legal counsel when the latter was elected to the House of Representatives. President Aquino’s first choice was Eulalio “Galland” Diaz 3rd, his classmate at Ateneo, but Diaz was not available.

Ochoa took pre-law studies at the University of Santo Tomas but enrolled at the Ateneo Law School where he had for classmates those who attended Ateneo undergrad with President Aquino, including Diaz and now Sen. Teofisto “TG” Guingona Jr.

Many of President Aquino’s classmates who went to the Ateneo Law School belong to Class of 1985 whose class valedictorian was Edward Serapio, who was once former President Joseph Estrada’s lawyer and was jailed along with him on charges of plunder. Serapio was subsequently acquitted.

In fact, President Aquino has fallen back on his classmates at the Ateneo in his search for appointees, leading critics to dub them as “Kaklase [Classmates] Incorporated.”

Among those who have been named to the Aquino government are Kim Jacinto-Henares, Diaz as administrator of the Land Registration Authority, Rene Almendras as Energy Secretary, Cristino Naguiat as chairman of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., and Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Jose Amor Amorado.

Other Atenean lawyers in Aquino’s government are Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda, Juan Andres Bautista as chairman of the Presidential Commission on Good Government, Pio Lorenzo Batino as defense undersecretary, Michael Frederick Musngi as deputy executive secretary, and Francis Tolentino as chairman of the Metro Manila Development Authority. A number of them were part of the group called Pinoy Lawyers that served as the legal arm of the Aquino campaign in the elections on May.

Ochoa said he and President Aquino act like they are still members of a barkada and are often the only two officials at Malacañang’s Premier Guesthouse. “Ang lungkot sa Premier Guesthouse. Kami lang dalawa ni Noynoy [It’s lonely at the Premier Guesthouse; it’s just the two of us],” he said.

Barkada-style relationship

The barkada-style relationship prevails to this day and Ochoa said he often forgets he is dealing with the President. During a meeting with World Bank, Ochoa said, he answered Aquino with a “Sige, pare [Okay, dude].”

“Then I corrected myself. ‘Mr. Pre-sident,’” he said.

This relationship and his position as executive secretary, often considered the “little president,” have practically given him a monopoly on the President’s attention. When President Aquino didn’t like the names recommended by the search committee to head the Department of Science and Technology, he turned to Ochoa for help.

“He [Aquino] said he didn’t know anyone on the list. So I offered to consult my brother-in-law,” Ochoa recalled, referring to Mario Montejo, a mechanical engineer.

But Ochoa said that the President instead replied, “Bakit hindi siya [Why not him]?”

Ochoa also said he recommended Enrique Ona as Health secretary after hearing about his work at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute. “I know him only by reputation,” he added.

Critics have slammed Ona’s appointment, especially his promotion of the sale of organs for transplant. “He is for Filipinos to sell their organs. That’s against medical ethics. It’s exploitation of the poor. One donates organ to save another life, not for pay,” said a leading doctor.

Ona and Romulo are said to be among five individuals recommended by the Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC), a two-million-strong church group whose support the LP reportedly courted during the campaign. The INC also recommended the appointments of Environment Secretary Ramon Paje and National Bureau of Investigation chief Magtanggol Gatdula.

Paje, however, was named in an acting capacity to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources portfolio that would reportedly be given to former Rep. Nereus Acosta of Bukidnon, the President’s fellow Liberal Party member, who lost in the senatorial race. Acosta is covered by the one-year appointment ban on losing candidates.

Ochoa acknowledges that “everyone tries to influence” the President in the appointments. In cases when his advisers clash, the executive secretary said he and Aquino end up having the last say.

But he also said, “At the end of the day, it’s P-Noy [President Aquino] who decides. It’s the personal choice of the President. It’s his personal judgment.”

(Read the first part here and the second part here.)

Reporters barred from interviewing Villar

Reporters barred from interviewing Villar
AMITA O. LEGASPI
GMANews.TV

Reporters covering the Nacionalista Party campaign were furious Wednesday night after they were barred from getting near presidential bet Senator Manuel Villar Jr. and interviewing him after at least four hours of waiting.

The organizers of the NP rally in Pasig’s Mega Market blocked the media from getting inside the backstage area to see Villar, who was then addressing the crowd. Before Villar arrived, the media were allowed to go to the backstage and freely roam the area.

There were also some personnel wearing orange, Villar’s official color, who took pictures of the complaining reporters.

No one from the NP camp wanted to explain the incident. Even the senator’s media relation officers said they were unaware of the order to prevent the media from getting inside.

Before the incident, Villar’s media officers told reporters that the senator cannot grant an interview as he has no voice due to sore throat.

However, the senator was able to speak before the Pasig residents and his supporters.

The reporters wanted to get Villar’s reaction on the endorsement of the Iglesia Ni Cristo religious organization of his rival, Liberal Party standard bearer Sen. Benigno Aquino III.

The senator also did not receive the endorsement of another major religious leader based in Mindanao, Pastor Apollo Quiboloy of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ organization.

In a hastily-called press conference at the sidelines of the campaign rally earlier in day, reporters were also requested to limit questions on the malfunction of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines and Smartmatic.

When reporter tried to asked about the INC endorsement, the senators said they can no longer answer the question as it was time for them to go to the stage and greet the crowd.—JV, GMANews.TV

Iglesia ni Cristo endorses Aquino-Roxas tandem

Iglesia ni Cristo endorses Aquino-Roxas tandem
By Arlyn dela Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—The influential religious group Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) has made official its choice for president and vice president in the coming May 10-elections.

Beginning Wednesday during early worship service in various locales of the INC nationwide, church ministers read to the faithful members the list of the INC’s candidates in the coming elections.

For president, the church endorsed Liberal Party standard-bearer Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and for vice president, Aquino’s running mate Senator Manuel “Mar” Roxas II.

The INC’s endorsement is one of the most anticipated endorsements in the May elections. Voting as a block, the INC has an estimated command votes of 5-8 million.

Last week, Aquino and his siblings met with the top leaders of the INC at the church’s Central Office in Commonwealth, Quezon City.

It was his third meeting with the INC church leaders since the start of the campaign period. The last time however was longer because he was also introduced to other ministers in the church assigned in different regions in the country.

Bro. Mike to announce presidential bet on Saturday

Bro. Mike to announce presidential bet on Saturday
By Sheila Crisostomo and Aurea Calica
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – El Shaddai leader Mike Velarde said yesterday he would reveal on Saturday the presidential candidate his group would support in the May 10 polls.

In an interview at the Commission on Elections (Comelec) office in Intramuros, Manila, Velarde said the El Shaddai Council of Elders has been evaluating the track records of leading presidential bets.

He however refused to give a hint who between frontrunners Senators Manuel Villar Jr. and Benigno Aquino III he would endorse.

Velarde and officials of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, led by chairman Donald Dee, went to the Comelec yesterday to meet with poll officials.

Dee said they want to help the Comelec ensure a peaceful and credible election.

Meanwhile, Aquino disclosed that he and his sisters had met with Iglesia ni Cristo executive minister Eduardo Manalo thrice and was given a chance to discuss his platform and other issues.

His running mate, Sen. Manuel Roxas II, also had a meeting with INC leaders where he was asked about his program of government.

Talks are circulating that INC leaders are no longer considering Villar and that their choice had been narrowed down between Aquino and administration candidate Gilberto Teodoro Jr.

He admitted courting the votes of religious groups but it would be up to various sectors supporting them to make the announcement.

“My sisters were with me when I met him. It was also our chance to say thank you because there were prayers offered by INC for my mother’s health and also after she passed away so that was the perfect opportunity (to meet them),” Aquino said.

He said they were also able to discuss concerns about poll automation and other issues the Comelec had not addressed.

Aquino and Roxas said they hoped to get the endorsements of at least three big groups by next week.

Roxas debunked text messages being sent that the INC was looking for the “highest bidder,” saying these were only black propaganda.

Administration lawmaker defends party-list group

Administration lawmaker defends party-list group
By Delon Porcalla
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – A veteran administration lawmaker scored The STAR yesterday for labeling his party-list group as among those with “questionable goals.”

“This is already below the belt. This is even very selective. And it was not even arranged in alphabetical manner,” Alagad party-list Rep. Rodante Marcoleta complained to The STAR executives.

He was referring to the “Know your party-list” item that appeared in the daily’s front page yesterday. The item is a partial checklist of party-list groups aiming for House seats in the coming polls. The STAR aims to update the list daily, depending on records the groups submit to the Commission on Elections.

Groups tagged by civil society group Kontra Daya as having “questionable goals” are marked with asterisks in The STAR checklist.

“Why is The STAR allowing itself to be used by Kontra Daya which is a very dubious organization?” Marcoleta asked. “These kinds of groups have suddenly sprouted and we don’t even know who they are and who they are representing. They should come out,” he said.

“How can my goals be questionable? What’s questionable about my goals? Well, they will all be disappointed because I will be re-elected,” the two-term congressman, who is seeking re-election in the May 10 polls, said.

Marcoleta was the congressman who endorsed in 2005 the alleged bogus impeachment complaint of Marcos loyalist Oliver Lozano against President Arroyo, which prevented the filing of a stronger and more legitimate complaint. He has since denied this, however.

Last February, before the campaign season started, Marcoleta complained that Comelec had been showing its bias toward militant or left-leaning party-list organizations.

Marcoleta of Alagad, who represents the Iglesia ni Cristo bloc in the House, said even Comelec sample ballots – such as one posted on its website – included the names of leftist party-list groups like the Anakpawis.

“I’m asking why? Not once, not twice, not thrice, but four times. Is this not bias towards a particular group?” he stressed. He disclosed that this sample ballot can be seen in the Comelec’s website, which only gives other groups undue advantage over the rest of them.

Marcoleta also observed that the presidential candidates in the sample ballots are all members of the Aquino clan – Benigno Aquino Sr., Benigno Aquino Jr. and Corazon Aquino.

“Is this not obvious bias in favor of one candidate? And this can be seen everytime, or whenever people open the Comelec website,” the administration lawmaker pointed out. Liberal Party standard-bearer Sen. Benigno Aquino III has been a consistent survey topnotcher.

Resign

As many of the country’s 190 party-list groups scrounge for nominees, Rep. Teodoro Casiño of Bayan Muna said government officials who are party-list nominees have to resign or face disqualification, as stipulated in a recent Supreme Court ruling.

An ABS-CBN-Newsbreak report showed that there are at least 25 bureaucrats, aside from elective officials, who want to enter Congress through the backdoor – or through the party-list system.

Casiño also urged the Comelec to immediately disqualify nominees who are not fit to represent the groups they want to speak for in the legislature.

Bayan Muna and Akbayan have filed separate disqualification cases against presidential son and Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo, the first nominee of a party-list group called Ang Galing Pinoy (AGP), which is supposedly composed of security guards and tricycle drivers.

The Comelec has required Arroyo and other nominees to submit speeches or articles proving their advocacies for the groups they want to represent.

But according to Akbayan, Arroyo has failed to comply with the Comelec requirement.

Akbayan said it is not aware of any speech or article President Arroyo’s son has made to advance the welfare of security guards and tricycle drivers.

Other groups are seeking the disqualification of former Energy secretary Angelo Reyes, first nominee of the group 1-Utak (United Transport Koalisyon).

Meanwhile, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Raoul Victorino clarified yesterday that he has withdrawn his nomination from a party-list group immediately after his appointment to the Palace “out of delicadeza.”

“The records in the Comelec will bear me out,” Victorino told The STAR. “I don’t want any misimpression to be created by this (Newsbreak) report,” he said.

Victorino said his name was included among the nominees of the party-list “Ama” when he was still “jobless” after his retirement as associate justice of the Sandiganbayan.   – With Paolo Romero and Jess Diaz