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Neither hot nor cold

Greg Castilla

Sala sa Init, Sala sa Lamig Greg S. Castilla  – The tension that has been created over the years between President Noynoy Aquino and some Filipino bishops was on display on the very first day of Pope Francis’ visit in the Philippines. Speaking before a group of dignitaries in Malacanang that included the pope and some Filipino clergy, President Aquino complained that some church leaders had been critical of him but silent about the alleged corruption committed by the previous Arroyo administration.

“There was a true test of faith when many members of the church, once advocates for the poor, the marginalized, and the helpless, suddenly became silent in the face of the previous administration’s abuses, which we are still trying to rectify to this very day,” the president said.

The Aquino government arrested Gloria Arroyo for election fraud in 2011 and later for plunder for diverting $8.8 million from the state lottery for her personal use. Arroyo is currently under hospital arrest.

The president continued, “In these attempts at correcting the wrongs of the past, one would think that the church would be our natural ally.”

But the president felt that instead of supporting him, some bishops criticized him.

He pointed, “In contrast to their previous silence, some members of the clergy now seem to think that the way to be true to the faith means finding something to criticize, even to the extent that one prelate admonished me to do something about my hair, as if it were a mortal sin.”

PNoy was referring to a remark made in 2012 by Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, who said that the balding president “should wear a wig.”

For speaking his mind before the pope, PNoy was harshly targeted by his critics for his negative comments and for his inappropriate remarks. The cynics have called him “uncouth,” “immature,” “low sense of civility,” and other descriptions, some of which can be labeled as ad hominem attacks. Simply put, he was demonized.

Renato Reyes Jr., secretary general of Bayan, criticized PNoy for turning the event “into a gripe session” where he conveniently omitted the exclusion and inequality that pervade the country under his watch.

There is no difference between what Aquino did and what hundreds of Bayan followers did when they welcomed the pope carrying signs that had nothing to do with religion, but with political and social issues. Even Bayan’s statement welcoming the pope talked of militarization, extrajudicial killings, and human rights violations.

I am glad that Bayan did what they did. But why can’t PNoy do what he did? Double standard perhaps when it comes to judging the president?

There is nothing “negative” or “inappropriate” in PNoy’s speech. Everything he said was true. What is more appropriate than to tell the pope the present state of affairs between PNoy’s administration and some bishops?

In my mind, what PNoy did resonates with the pope’s call “to reject every form of corruption, which diverts resources from the poor, and to make concerted efforts to ensure the inclusion of every man and woman and child.”

“It is now, more than ever, necessary that political leaders be outstanding for honesty, integrity and commitment to the common good,” the pope added.

But fighting corruption is not just the work of government. The government cannot do it alone. It is the responsibility of every citizen, including the clergy, to fight corruption. And when the clergy fails in its mission to fight corruption, even indirectly as in the case of the “Pajero bishops” who remained tightlipped in the midst of the Arroyo investigation, they need to be exposed. Sanitizing them for the sake of peace and convenience is contrary to the pope’s own fight against corruption.

It would have been worse if, for the sake of delicadeza, PNoy painted a rosy picture of the clergy in general, and the bishops in particular. It would have been the height of hypocrisy. And PNoy would have been criticized just the same.

So it was not inappropriate at all but rather timely that the president made his comments before the pope.

Some critics pointed out that it was not the proper venue for PNoy to criticize the bishops. He should have done it in his personal meeting with the pope. But hindsight is always 20/20. What is important is the message.

A few weeks before Pope Francis visited the Philippines, he criticized the members of the Curia for making careers out of their positions to grab power and wealth, and of living “hypocritical” double lives. It was a strong indictment of the members of the governing body of the Vatican never before done by a pope. The pope could have made it an internal “dressing down” of his top officials, and kept it private. But he did not. He made the world know it. There was a sense of urgency in his message and no one could stop him.

PNoy must have felt the same way as the pope. He would not allow anything or anyone to stop him from delivering his message. If he did, the same cynics would have criticized him for being a weakling and with no moral leadership just the same.

A clear case of “Sala sa init, sala a lamig.”