Monday, May 31, 2010


President-Elect Noynoy Aquino ran his campaign with this catchy slogan. Like all slogans, it has both an element of truth and an element of oversimplification.

Corruption indeed is a cause of poverty. But it is not true that if there is no corruption, there would be no poverty. Poverty may also be due to misguided economic philosophies and development programs. Poverty may also be due to some extent to some cultural factors. Imbalances in the political sphere can also cause poverty. Destruction of the environment causes poverty.

Thus the campaign slogan is only partly true. As such it is unrealistic. It offers false hopes for a long suffering people.

Why is corruption so difficult to eradicate?

Corruption is a sinful attitude of the heart. It is the surrender of the heart to the temptation of power and wealth. Once the heart succumbs to a first temptation and gains access to some amount of money without being punished, it is easier to surrender to the next temptation. This is even more so when the gains in wealth and power are incredibly huge. The repeated acts of sin become an attitude of the heart. God is sacrificed on the altar of mammon.

But corruption is also embedded in social, economic, political structures. It is a social sin, a structural injustice, built up by repeated personal sins. The many personal sins of corruption build a structure within the economic, social, and political structures, embed corruption in it, and facilitate continuing corruption. The structure of corruption is also built up by imbalances in economic and political power. While powerless people can be easily convicted and jailed, this is not true for the powerful. Bribery, threats to life, and extortion are bedfellows in the structure of corruption.

Because it is both a sinful attitude of the heart as well as an unjust social structure, corruption in the Philippines, as elsewhere in many Asian countries, is firmly entrenched. It is also endemic in private and public life. It infects the whole social ladder, from top to bottom or from bottom to the top. Even elections for kabataang barangay positions are now afflicted by extravagant spending because of the promise of more money gained through one’s position.

No Philippine President has ever made a serious dent on corruption. Each presidential regime has its own anecdotal illustrations of corruption incidence, even if only two suffered legal consequences, sequestration of alleged ill-gotten wealth for one and conviction of plunder for the other. For others, various alleged scams were subjected to grandstanding investigations “in aid of legislation” but for this very reason there has been no conviction.

We are a society that in fact turns a blind eye to past grievous lapses of corruption. A quick scan of election winners will reveal how short our memories are and how easily we put aside moral judgments.

Given the nature of corruption as a personal sin and as a structure of sin and given our own propensity to disregard moral judgments, it is clear that corruption is not going to go away easily.

The President-elect needs all the help he can get to make good on his slogan. He would need a miracle to get rid of corruption in his six years of office. Good intention and good example are not enough. We have the example of the Cory Aquino regime to demonstrate this. Will her son have the same experience? He should have people around him who are incorrupt and who can personify his slogan: Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap. The first question then is: who will serve as his cabinet members, his closest advisers? Do they pass the test of integrity?

Of course we believe that with God everything is possible. That is our faith. In Church language, we need contemplation and solidarity, prayer and cooperation.

Solidarity would dictate that in the battle against corruption, all of us have to be united, striving to be persons of integrity in our areas of responsibility and refusing to connive with others in acts of corruption. In solidarity we need to denounce what we see are corrupt systems in public and private life that ensnare and trap people into corruption. In solidarity we need to work with our leaders who want to establish structures of integrity and justice.

If we believe that with God all things are possible, then prayer for wisdom, guidance, and courage and integrity would be necessary. Through solidarity and prayer miracles do happen.

+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato
May 30, 2010

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Peace in Southern Mindanao: Beyond the Rhetoric, Hope

Christian politicians generally have a skewed view of the peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Their view reflects that of the great majority of Christians all over the country. It consists of the following:

(1) The ill-fated MOA-AD sacrificed national sovereignty and territorial integrity for the sake of peace;
(2) The present peace negotiation between the GRP panel and the MILF is a repeat of the same;
(3) Like the previous peace talks, the present attempt is characterized by lack of consultation and transparency;
(4) Any “midnight” signing must be forestalled;
(5) The fundamental solution to the conflict in southern Mindanao is not a peace agreement, but a comprehensive no-nonsense economic development program.

Such a view, no matter how skewed and incorrect, has been used in the election campaign by politicians at the local and national level as an issue to gain votes from Christians in Mindanao. At the national level among the more prominent were Senators Noynoy Aquino and Mar Roxas. The rhetoric was strident and shrill. No Christian politician dared to go on a limb to defend the present peace talks for fear of losing Christian votes. The rhetoric has successfully glossed over the truth, despite some clear presentation of the government position by the GRP group.

Under the Noynoy Aquino regime, will the peace process progress despite the election campaign rhetoric? There are signs of hope:

(1) Instead of biding his time and even before he takes his oath of office, the president-elect has chosen his primary peace negotiator;
(2) Ging Deles, a person-oriented but hardworking technocrat basically known for her peace advocacy, is familiar with the peace-conflict terrain in southern Mindanao.

These are signs of good will and good intention on the part of the incoming chief executive.

On the part of the MILF, that it has reportedly established a common ground with the MNLF is promising. I also hope that the wisdom of the late Chairman Hashim Salamat who wanted, I believe, to establish peace within the parameters of what he realized as irreversible historical and geographical developments would continue to influence the Bangsa Moro leaders who carry on his legacy.

But the pitfalls regarding the peace process are legion. The incoming Congress (Senate and House) is filled with personalities that generally opposed the MOA-AD. The temptation is strong for the incoming administration to start from zero and not to follow in the footsteps of a peace negotiation that it perceives not only as a “failure” but also a “betrayal” of the Constitution. The primary government negotiator might want to hew closely to the bidding of principals who have expressed mistrust regarding previous peace talks and even tried to discredit them in favor of economic development. It would seem that there is a wall of negative perceptions and feelings that the primary negotiator might have to break through. Her courage to stand up for her convictions is a great asset.

My unsolicited advice to the next GRP peace panel would be the following:

(1) Be open to the positive gains of previous negotiations and do not start from ground zero;
(2) Internalize the results of the wide consultations that have been conducted and be guided by them;
(3) Be open to the principle of self-determination and probe how such a guiding principle could be implemented in fidelity to the spirit of the Constitution while transcending or amending its letter;
(4) Consult the people and political decision makers whenever necessary and always be transparent;
(5) In the face of possible provocations, be persevering, patient and resolute until a fair and just final peace agreement is done;
(6) Both groups in the peace process are believers in the one true God of Peace; while working for peace, do not forget to pray for peace.

+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato