Warning that government corruption was “a growing social cancer,” the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) in a pastoral letter on Thursday condemned as immoral and an “act of terrorism” against the poor the legislators’ pork barrel system and the “politics of patronage” that it promoted.
“This is not just an offense of malicious unscrupulous citizens or the betrayal of elected public officials. This is an offense against God who commanded us ‘Thou shall not steal’ and ‘Thou shall not covet your neighbor’s goods,’” said the two-page letter signed by CBCP president and Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma.
“Our protests should not just emanate from the bad feeling that we have been personally or communally transgressed, violated or duped. It should come rather from the realization that God has been offended and we have become less holy as a people because of this,” it added.
“Our first response to the pork barrel issue must be not protest but contrition. We are not just victims of a corrupt system,” the 120-strong CBCP said.
“We have all, in one way or another, contributed to this worsening social cancer— through our indifferent silence or through our cooperation when we were benefiting from the sweet cake of graft and corruption,” it added.
The bishops urged the faithful to join Pope Francis in offering prayers and sacrifices on Sept. 7, the vigil of the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
“Pope Francis has asked all Catholics worldwide to offer prayers in atonement for our sins against world peace and in particular pray for the restoration of peace in Syria,” the CBCP said.
Day of atonement
“In union with the Pope, let us also make Sept. 7 our day of atonement for our sins against peace in our country. Stealing destroys peace. Lying harms our peace,” it said.
“Without sufficient government healthcare,” the letter said, “stealing government money has caused the death of the poor.”
“Many remain homeless without dignified government housing aid—unabated government stealing has deprived them of dignified housing,” the CBCP said.
“Many farmers without seeds and fertilizers remain entrenched in poverty—government stealing has kept them enchained to dehumanizing poverty,” it said.
“Many children remain malnourished and stay out of school due to poverty—government stealing robs them of opportunities for the future,” it added.
The bishops said integrity must be restored in the conduct of public office and that every government official from the rank and file to the highest executive must prove themselves worthy of the title “honorable.”
“According to our moral judgment, the present pork barrel practice in government is fertile ground for graft and corruption. Promoting the politics of patronage, it is contrary to the principles of stewardship, transparency and accountability. It is immoral to continue this practice,” the CBCP said.
‘Punish the errant’
“The wheels of law and justice must roll swiftly so that we can immediately punish the errant, restore what has been stolen and return to moral conduct,” it said.
“We call on our pastors of souls to educate our people in their political duties as good citizens. We cannot be good Christians if we are not good citizens, and good citizenship in a democracy calls for participation and vigilance,” it added.
The CBCP said vigilance should be maintained not just during elections but “all the time.”
“It is but right that citizens demand accountability and transparency. We call on all Filipinos of goodwill, especially among our Catholic faithful, not to stand idly by in this moment of truth,” the bishops said.
Assiduous search for truth
“Let us be concerned and let this concern be manifested in our assiduous search for the truth in the spirit of prayer and solidarity. Prayer will make us humble and open; solidarity will make us strong,” it added.
The CBCP said stewardship was “greatly wanting in our country” and that government leaders should be reminded that “positions in the country are public trusts for the service of the common good.”
“As stewards of the people, leaders should be transparent to them and should be open to be held accountable,” the bishops said.
“The political crisis we are facing now is an opportunity for our leaders to show that they are ready to be investigated, to set up radical changes for better governance, and to seek for the good that would benefit all, especially the poor and those who suffer,” they added.