Saturday, September 24, 2005

What do Bishops say about the Political Situation?

Last Tuesday, September 13, 2005, the Permanent Council of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines headed by the CBCP President, Archbishop Fernando Capalla, issued a statement on the present political situation. Media interpreted the statement differently by giving a variety of focus. Some emphasized the search for truth. Others the economic problem of the country.

The variety of emphasis in media reveals the lack of standard and objective perspective. Each newspaper, radio station, and television network had its own perspective. This perspective may have depended on their varied position regarding the situation. In correctly reporting the Bishops’ Statement, the CBCP perspective should be used. May I offer a personal interpretation of the statement and its perspective. A simple question and answer primer should provide a better understanding.

What is the Bishops’ core message?

The core message is this: While the search for truth must continue, the main problem that now faces the greatest majority of our people is economic survival. All politicians have to face this problem squarely. They have to act together to resolve the problem. To do this they have to stop their political bickering and division.

Why do the Bishops say that the economic problem is now the main problem?

The Bishops know this firsthand from their pastoral experience and also from what people in the town and barrios of their dioceses tell the. The Bishops themselves see the problem as a fact. The problem in the provinces is the rising cost of basic commodities, the lack of adequate income, the inadequate delivery of basic services, the poverty and hunger of people. In short, the main problem is economic survival. Their people complain that instead of focusing on the economic problem politicians are busy arguing with each other about “the truth” they are “weary and tired” of all the politicking that is going on. They fear that continuing the debate about the truth in Congress or in the streets will simply worsen the economic situation.

So, what do the Bishops recommend?

All of us are indeed accountable to the truth. The truth has to be pursued. But we are also accountable to the poor. This accountability to the poor has to be demonstrated in our full concern for the economic hardships of our people. This is the more immediate and more urgent problem facing the whole nation. Full and undivided focus on the economic problem that requires the total cooperation of all our political leaders and representatives is the main recommendation of the Bishops. Media has not generally picked up this message. Instead some of the media focused more on the bishops’ position to pursue the truth.

With regard to this search for truth what do the Bishops believe?

The constitutional and legal processes have to continue even as our legislators must tackle as a first priority the more urgent problem of the economy. To search for the truth “in the streets” or through the so-called “people’s court” seems to be mere political and even ideological ploy. The many failed efforts to get people out into the streets demonstrate the weariness of people regarding the mixed political and ideological agenda of organizers and sponsors. People are indifferent and do not respond to the call of the opposition to go out into the streets. Their indifference may also mean that they may not totally believe in the so-called “truth” presented by the opposition. Hence, Bishops would rather urge that legal and constitutional luminaries come together and reflect on possible but creative ways by which the search for truth could be pursued in accordance with the rule of law and the constitution.

Do the bishops endorse People Power?

No, the bishops do not encourage people power. Archbishop Capalla commended that People Power is the people’s prerogative. But he neither encouraged nor endorsed it as the proper course of action in the present circumstances. His comment was simply a statement of fact. But the perspective of the Bishops’ statement is that further attempts to “induce” people power would simple worsen the economic situation.

+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
September 14, 2005

Are the Bishops Divided?

The answer is no. To understand this we need to use a common sense perspective. Let us give an example of perspective. When one or two of the Supreme Court justices dissent from the majority vote, do we normally describe the Court as a “divided court”? No. Because from common sense, the term “divided Court” would describe a vote that is rather substantially divided between for and against, even though one side might have a slight numerical superiority. Dwelling on the fact that one or two of the justices have dissented in order to portray a “divided Supreme Court” simply projects the wrong image. It is not the common sense perspective.

In like manner, when three or four Bishops are known to have a different opinion from that or more than 85 active Bishops, it would be against common sense to describe the Bishops’ Conference as a “divided hierarchy.” The term is not accurate and is misleading. Some opinion writers even to the extent of saying that the Bishops are “clearly divided.” This is an erroneous judgment. And to dwell continually and even editorialize on this matter simply projects the wrong image to the nation. It fails against common sense.

One can apply this common sense perspective to other examples. Is it correct to say that “business” is for this or that issue when only a few members of the Board of Directors of one business organization, no matter how prestigious, hold one view while most other business organizations nationwide hold the other view? Is it correct to say that Religious Sisters, Brothers, and Priests in the Philippines are against this or that, simply because some members of the Board of Directors of the Association of Major Religious Superiors voted against it, while other religious congregations do not hold the same view? Is it correct to say as a consequence that the Religious are against the Hierarchy on this issue? Is it correct to say that the Church is polarized, when two or three priests are out on the streets protesting against a CBCP position? All these examples mistake the trees for the forest. Unfortunately, this is how some reporting is being done about the present situation.

Moreover, why would media focus on the few that dissent and ignore the many that do not? Would not such reporting give the wrong impression of the “big picture”? When some cities in Mindanao are “paralyzed” by a transport strike, would it not be wrong to report that Mindanao was paralyzed? By the same token would it not be wrong to say that the Philippines is not safe for tourists when only a few places may not be safe for them?

One newspaper claims that there is a “militant faction” within the CBCP. Is this True? This information supposedly came from a “Church insider.” The information is absolutely false. Beware of so-called “church insiders.” Beware, too, of the information they give. So often have such informants given inaccurate and wrong “reports” as to make the term “hearsay” almost synonymous with “falsehood.”

What is the nature of a reflection group? The truth is this: now and then, a group of bishops would come together and reflect on the pastoral situation so that they would be personally guided by their reflection. It used to be just the Mindanao bishops that would gather. Now some other regional bishops do so, such as the Northern Luzon Bishops. In time such a “reflection” group expanded such that Bishops from various parts of the Philippines would come together and reflect on the “Church of the Poor.” It is by invitation so that the reflection process would not be unwieldy. Participation is by region, from North to South, so that the pulse of the country would be known. It is by no means a militant group. It is far from being a pressure group. The result of reflection are usually only for personal guidance of the participants. It might surprise media that the President of CB CP, Archbishop Capalla, encouraged the holding of the most recent reflection and asked that the results be given to him. He knows the value of such reflection since he himself had been a member of past reflection groups. Thus the media report that there is a “militant faction” within the CBCP is absolutely false and absurd. At a time of political divisiveness, would the Bishops insanely add fuel to the fire? That would be an extraordinary lack of common sense.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a lack of common sense perspective in some media people. Hence, the bishops would agree with the complaint of Cardinal Vidal who was reported as saying that it is media that is creating the image of division among the bishops.

This brings up the question: What really is the task of media? The Church has a whole body of social teaching with regard to media and all the other tools of social communications. Suffice it to state the following. It is our belief that media does not make its own truth. The Church teaches that the means of social communication are instruments, not creators, of goodness and truth.