One of President Arroyo's staunch defenders on Wednesday lashed out at five bishops, led by Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) President Angel Lagdameo, who condemned the supposed unabated “top-to-bottom” corruption in government and asked the public to shake the status quo.
Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez said the statements of the Catholic church bishops were clearly political and were already outside the responsibility of the religious leaders to teach on faith and moral principles. The justice secretary said that the statements could even be considered seditious.
"They were talking about removal of president, sweeping statements about graft and corruption. They’re doing clearly political statements. They have crossed the line on separation of church and state," said Gonzalez.
The justice secretary even challenged the bishops to have one of them run for the presidency since, he said, they are already interfering in politics.
"The best test I think is that one of them should run for president,” said Gonzalez.
Gonzalez, in particular, hit Lagdameo, who is Archbishop of Jaro in Iloilo.
He also disagreed with Lagdameo's view that people are angry because of extreme poverty.
Gonzalez was a former congressman of Iloilo City’s lone district. His son, Raul Jr., is the present Iloilo City representative in Congress.
The justice secretary also dismissed the four others with Lagdameo in the forum organized by the CBCP who, Gonzalez said, were “unknown bishops.”
"What to me is important, this is not CBCP. Unknown bishops ‘yung iba,” said Gonzalez.
Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, meanwhile was more reserved in his comments on the five bishops..
“We respect the views of bishops who made the statement, especially Lagdameo, as well as other religious leaders. We have made significant action and scored successes versus corruption,” said Ermita in his regular Wednesday press conference in Malacañang.
Ermita, however, also downplayed the bishops’ statements as not necessarily reflecting the view of the CBCP.
"Well, for one thing, we must qualify that this is not the statement of majority of bishops. There are a few who made such statements and I do not wish to think it is the statement of the CBCP,” said Ermita.
Ermita insisted that the Arroyo administration has been undertaking steps to stop corruption in government which, he said, was the main issue raised by the bishops.
He cited President Arroyo’s anti-red tape policy, cases that have been filed at the Ombudsman and Sandiganbayan as well as “lifestyle checks to look at excesses of officials.”
He said they can no longer do anything if the five bishops remain unconvinced of the administration’s steps to curb corruption, especially since they have already chosen to be against the Arroyo administration.
Ermita said that the morale of Arroyo’s Cabinet remains high and that it is unperturbed by the bishops statements.
In its strongest position yet indicating that they are ready to give their blessings for what may be a drastic change in government, five bishops, led by Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president Angel Lagdameo, condemned the unabated “top to bottom” corruption in government and asked the public to shake the status quo.
Lagdameo went as far as assuring the public that “liberators” may be just around the corner.
“In response to the global economic crisis and the pitiful state of our country, the time to rebuild our country economically, socially, politically, is now. The time to start radical reforms is now. The time for moral regeneration is now. The time to conquer complacency, cynicism and apathy to prove that we have matured from our political statements is now. The time to prepare a new government is now,” Lagdameo said in a forum organized by the CBCP.
It is hoped that these “liberators,” Lagdameo said, “will in a courageous peaceful way effectively and uncompromisingly reform our country.”
Also present in the forum were Lingayen Archbishop Oscar Cruz, Bataan Bishop Socrates Villegas, Masbate Bishop Joel Baylon and Bishop Emeritus Jose Sorra. Seven more bishops reportedly would have attended the forum but cancelled for some reasons.
The bishops’ statements came on the heels of the arrival of former agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-joc” Bolante from the US following futile efforts of seeking asylum there. Bolante, tagged as the main architect of the P728-million fertilizer scam, had claimed political persecution but US immigration junked his alibi.
Also providing backdrop was the current “euro” scandal in the Philippine National Police where four police officers, including one retired, are set to be charged with unauthorized release of intelligence funds, and the fresh impeachment initiatives against the President.
Church leaders have been criticized for just waiting in the sidelines and giving mixed signals on its verdict on the Arroyo administration. At the height of the wiretap scandal, where the President was caught on tape giving orders to disgraced poll commissioner Virgilio Garcillano during the canvassing of the results in the presidential elections, the CBCP sought for truth but withheld passing a guilty verdict. Lack of active Church support has been cited as one of the major dampeners on attempts to oust Arroyo. -- with a report from WILLARD CHENG, ABS-CBN News; ARIES RUFO, abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak