Monday, July 3, 2006

Bishops treated as hacks?

If it is true that someone had been distributing money envelopes, supposedly from Malacanang, to members of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) during their retreat and plenary assembly I hold the bishops partly to blame. How could this have happened?

According to an Inquirer news report yesterday by Christian V. Esguerra, a bishop (described as “soft-spoken” and “low-key”) admitted having been handed an envelope by a “casual-looking” man who had introduced himself as a messenger “from Malacanang.”

How could the bishops or their personnel allow in an outsider during their retreat and deliberations on a much-awaited statement? Why was this Mr. Moneybags allowed to walk around and distribute envelopes containing between P20,000 and P30,000? If this indeed happened or was allowed to happen, then one could only conclude that the bishops were caught unawares or “tatanga-tanga”. Sorry, but that is the translation in Filipino and its root word does not sound nice.

If they were in conclave electing a pope, word would have gotten out before white smoke could come out of the chimney.

And why didn’t anyone raise a howl right there and then? The bishops were after all in their territory. They were not guests in a place where decorum would have dictated that they did not embarrass their host with an uproar. If I were on the receiving end, I would have roared, “Who the devil sent you?!” or “Begone, Satan!” then called security and staff to help investigate who the uninvited guest was.

This was an incident that would have merited wrath not so unlike the wrath Jesus displayed in the temple when he saw it being defiled by those trying to earn a few bucks in a sacred place. There was a proper place for such activities, Jesus said, in the same way that there is a proper manner to send donations to bishops.

Whoever was the devil who sent the money envelopes during that occasion, one thing is evident—that person/those persons had no respect for the bishops. The bishops were looked upon and treated as mere hacks that could be paid, bought, bribed and made to look like spineless fools lacking in virility—which they are not. Try saying that in Filipino.

One could say, well, that goes with forays into political territory where money talks. This is not to say that those in the church hierarchy have no business speaking on secular and political issues. But how have some individual bishops been comporting themselves in relation to the unending political fracas? Hmmm, one too many trying-hard wanna-bes, if you ask me. But this is my own biased perception.

“It was revolting, I felt insulted.” the bishop who comes from a poor diocese said. “Medyo garapal.” (Quite brazen.) I wish the bishop had allowed our reporter to name him.

The envelopes were reportedly inserted into bishops’ pockets and when they returned to their rooms they were surprised to find money inside the envelopes. Some said they were going to return the money.

To whom?

Yes, beware of strangers inserting anything into your clothing, books, bags and other personal belongings. In airports, stations, malls and even hallowed places where bishops pray and meet.

The news report said that as early as Monday, last week, the eve of the CBCP retreat that was to be followed by a plenary session, some Malacanang representatives (okay, plural now) were already seen loitering at the Pope Pius XII Catholic Center. This was according to a bishop who had rejected an envelope offered to him. The “messengers” approached bishops during break time and offered “livelihood” money.

Livelihood? What could P20,000 to P30,000 do for livelihood? The bishop-informant was right—the amount was not for livelihood projects but for the individual bishops’ personal use.

Malacanang merely laughed off the report about the messengers who offered envelopes. Were they impostors then? If Malacanang didn’t send them, who did?

Now presidential chief of staff Michael Defensor is saying that henceforth donations would be directly given to bishops or the diocesan social action centers (SACs). This was supposed to be the suggestion of governors, mayors and NGOs. This was supposed to prevent jealousy among local officials and NGOs.

At least one bishop, Paranaque’s Bishop Jesse Mercado, has said that he has rejected offers of medicine, rice, noodles and other stuff offered by the Arroyo administration. Indeed, why give these to the bishops when there are government agencies that could handle these? Sure, in a disaster situation, the diocesan SACs could act as conduits, but nowadays when the color of money is the color of politics, the church should be more circumspect and safely suspicious.

On the other side of the globe, Pope Benedict XVI did not mince words when he spoke at the huge two-day family rally in Valencia, Spain. He repeatedly condemned threats to the so-called traditional family, among them, same-sex marriage and fast-track divorce. Alas, nothing was heard about the clear and present danger that is the physical fragmentation of families as a result of parents leaving home to work in foreign lands. Global economics have taken a toll on poor families. Disparities in the wealth of nations have forced millions of parents to leave the children they have brought into this world in order to give them a better life.


Inquirer’s topnotch sports columnist Recah Trinidad will launch “Pacific Storm”, his book on the life and rise of boxing champ Manny Pacquiao, at 6 p.m. at National Book Store in Shangri-la Mall on EDSA.