Defending the Indefensible

Photo credit:
Photo credit:

As expected of any politician whose clan members have been in power for decades and who, according to them, have done things beyond ordinary to improve the lives of their constituents, defending their dynastic rule from extinction is as natural as daylight.

One of these politicians is Dick Gordon, who is seeking to reclaim his old Senate seat under the United Nationalist Alliances of the Three Kings–the famous fake ambush master Juan Ponce Enrile, the convicted and pardoned womanizing plunderer, and the allegedly legendary and notoriously corrupt Vice President Jejomar Binay.

To put things in perspective, here is how PDI’s Leila Salaverria reported on Feb. 21:

MANILA, Philippines—Barring a member of a political clan from running for electoral office would be a violation of that person’s rights, according to senatorial candidate Richard Gordon.

Gordon, who is running under the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), said there could be another definition of a political dynasty aside from the widely accepted one, which simply referred to a politically dominant family or clan.

The issue of political dynasties has become a contentious one in this current election campaign because the senatorial race is dominated by candidates belonging to influential, politically entrenched clans, putting other potentially more capable candidates at a disadvantage.

Those who would want to put an end to this cite the constitutional provision banning political dynasties. However, the Constitution has left it to Congress to come up with the implementing law.

Gordon, a lawyer, said it would not be correct to prevent someone from seeking an elective post on the basis of his or her last name or relatives already in government.

“It is a violation of an individual’s rights not to be allowed to run,” he said during a recent dinner with INQUIRER editors and reporters.

In the final analysis, the people would choose the country’s leaders, he said, noting that there have been dynasties “felled by the ballot.”

Gordon said the people, before anything else, must be educated on what would be good for the country, and media would have a role to play in educating voters, he said.

According to Gordon, the term political dynasty refers to something far more sinister than simply being a member of a family of politicians.

“A political dynasty is one where, in effect, you impose your will either by violence or by intimidation and you get yourself elected,” he said.

In any case, this could be how Congress might define the bill, he said.

The 1987 Constitution expressly prohibits political dynasties, but it says that Congress has the task of defining what these are. It states: “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.”

None of the subsequent congresses after 1987, which were all populated by political dynasts, has seen fit to define the term or pass an enabling law.

Gordon expressed opposition to the constitutional provision imposing term limits on public officials as it has resulted in competent officials bowing out of office too soon.

“The people are the term limits. That’s the essence of a democracy,” he said.

Gordon, a member of the 1971 constitutional convention, said he had actually campaigned against the 1987 “Cory Constitution”—promulgated by the revolutionary government of President Corazon Aquino following the first Edsa People Power Revolution of 1986— because he thought it was too “short-sighted.”

“And we’re paying for it,” he said.

He expressed support for Charter change, but said any such move must be guided by a clear agenda. The amendments must also be listed, similar to that of the United States Constitution, which has had 27 amendments, he said.

This would make it easier for people to understand, he said.

Charter change has been a highly charged issue in the country, with the term limits one of the contentious points.

There are fears that sitting officials would use the the amendments process as means to perpetuate their hold on power by removing the provision on term limits.

Gordon’s thesis hews finely to the argument peddled by political families that enjoy undisrupted reign, thanks to a legal loophole and the machinery these families have built over decades of electoral control and manipulation in so many forms.

Education is key? Yes. But it goes hand in hand with measures to ensure that the system and the culture that it is trying to reform is completely rid of defects, chiefly among these the unequal access to political power as, again, guaranteed by the Constitution, which underpins not only the survival but the tactical expansion of these political families’ strongholds.

Ultimately, Constitutional reform would cure all these defects that continue to inflict damage on our political and economic system.

But then again we could no longer afford to be fooled this time, for the nth time for this day–the day the Constitution is finally reformed, at whatever means–may never come at all. We have waited, no, have fought for decades and for naught?

For 26 years, all our legislators did was sat on their pork barrel-fattened asses Article II Section 26 of the Constitution, with occasional discussion that hardly qualify as debate to once and for all define what constitutes political dynasty.

And where was education?

To ask the we educate voters and leave the business of defining political dynasty to Congress alone is like leaving steak on the floor and ask your puppy not to lick it, ever. It is impossible.

So how do we deal with an impossible? In the world of espionage, nothing is what it seems. It is disbelief.

So, if you don’t believe him, will you vote for him?


Why Tax the Church(es)?

The continuing mindless discussion on the demerits of the RH Bill once again put the spotlight on the most vocal sector and the primary source of moral scare tactics against its passage–the Roman Catholic establishment bannered by the CBCP. The bill is now officially a law after 14 long years of back and forth in the Philippine Congress and after thousands of maternal deaths resulting from deliberate medical non-attention due to ethical unreasons.

Photo credit:
Photo credit:

The CBCP, unsurprisingly comprised of future-proof ultraconservative super majority somewhere in the north of 95% and morally coward liberal and moderate minority that makes up the balance of five per cent, has been for the last 14 years very successful in failing the large segment of the population that would mostly benefit from the measure—women and mothers, especially the poor among them who have either less or no access at all to a readily-available and comprehensive information on planned, responsible parenthood and the accompanying contraceptives that best work for them. For this, the CBCP owed much of its ‘success’ to its rabid lapdogs in both houses of Congress. For the 15th Congress, the CBCP finds its ally in Roilo Golez, Lucy Torres, Lani Mercado and, unsurprisingly, Gloria Arroyo though she was not as vocal and as visible unlike her factotums during her reign in that stinking kingdom by the Pasig.

Thanks to the CBCP’s powerful lobby and ‘divine intervention,’ previous attempts in Congress, notably during the Ramos administration, to move the RH bill discussions forward proved futile. Not that both houses of Congress had lost their most reasonable men to divine entreaties; nor these rare and gifted species surrendered their independence to the House of Sin. Rather, the status quo was too good to come to an end. As an old saying goes, ‘don’t fix it if it ain’t broken.’ And fix they didn’t for they were not broken; it took two to tango. Look at where these survivors are these days!

The succeeding administrations, especially Arroyo’s, were no different. In fact, the powers that be found comfort consorting and cavorting with and pandering to the heavenly whims and caprices of the princes of the Catholic Church. Arroyo is especially disappointing as she gloriously proclaimed the inclusion of the RH program in her 6-point agenda that she presented at her first SONA. But like her ‘bangkang papel’ project, the population management program as it was billed got lost in the sea of murky wheeling and dealing that hastened the decline and the eventual demise of her credibility, or whatever is left of it. It was easily pulled out as it was easily written on Powerpoint. We were taken for a ride!

As history now reminds us, the CBCP gave its most powerful parishioner no more than a slap in the wrist after a series of her now (in)famous, world-class indiscretions, to be kind to one who is apparently ill. In all humility, she had to return the favor to maintain a harmonious coexistence between the government that she heads and the church and the bishops that she obey. Indeed, with Gloria and God, duly represented in the Philippines by the CBCP, ‘impossible is nothing’ to borrow a sporting brand’s famous slogan.

The Pajero bishops easily came to mind. But there, too, were the aborted NBN-ZTE deal, the fraudulent election in Maguindanao, the PCSO fund mess, and the overlfowing grace and abundance in favoritism enjoyed by the men in uniform during Arroyo’s tenure, to recall a few. It should be noted, however, that the aforementioned anomalies were not designed as an exclusive feature of the immediate past dispensation; to a certain uncomfortable, disturbing and disgusting degree, the present administration cannot forever be unperturbed by its guilt knowing that in fact it enjoys indulging in the very same vice that it promised to eliminate, thus failing delivery of the very promise that catapulted it to power.

In those uncertain times, everything went up, including of course the US dollar, commodities, and most significantly, every single living Filipino’s blood pressure, which transformed into a collective outrage against the Arroyo administration. The outrage was sustained by anomalies after anomalies and in the last five years of her tenure, Arroyo had to stare daily the unmistakable, univocal writings on the wall and even in her dreams (assuming she got some sleep): except perhaps for the CBCP, her people are fed up with her shortcomings and she should just step down and call it a day.

Amidst public outrage and the overwhelmingly common sentiment calling for her resignation, Arroyo found refuge in the protective care of the CBCP, supposedly the missing link in a smooth power transition, whatever that means today. For that, the CBCP not only looked the other way; it shut its eyes and ears to the pleadings by its very flock, by the mostly Catholic faithful that seemed to have a better appreciation of what is a morally untenable position (of power) than their leaders. For this, Arroyo and the rest of the Catholic faithful may not be held morally liable all to themselves. The CBCP rightfully must partake its just share of shame and blame.

The CBCP’s official silence, at a time when the public, nay, the faithful, demanded no less than an uproar, an outrage of the highest and strongest degree, speak volumes of both its consistency in propagating and safeguarding the Catholic faith and its shrewdness and political trickery. And rightly so for apart from religion the only other entity that survives millenniums of changing civilizations are the governments of men that employ all forms of corruption and deception, theirs and ours included.

The size of the Roman Catholic economy, both globally and locally, is difficult if not entirely impossible to measure for one reason: there is no formal, official public disclosure. In the Philippines, except for a handful of accountants and bookkeepers who enjoy the rare privilege of tweaking the sacred numbers, not one among the 97 million Filipinos know exactly how many billions church-owned enterprises guised as social apostolates make every year, among these the country’s elite universities and premiere medical institutions. And not one of these mortals know where and how much religious enterprises spend their money on what and where, and rightly so, as it is none of their business.

While the Catholic enterprises take the lion’s share of the divinely-inspired economic pie, it must be pointed out that the Presbyterians and other smaller denominations are also raking in profits from their numerous so-called social apostolates in education, health, and mass media while their ‘poorer’ evangelical peers mostly rely on the generosity of their members, sans audit and accountability as their contribution is an act of love and made in the name of the Lord. Is it the same thing when one donates to Red Cross or Bantay Bata?

Religion is such a huge business, with a very tiny rate of return, if any, for its investors, except for the promise of a slot in the limited capacity of Heaven. Unfortunately, except for some psychic benefits and inner peace, there is no guarantee of a divine one-on-one when one gets up ‘there.’ Wherever that is, no one knows for now.

Catholic capitalism aside, successful religious CEOs have built palatial estates in the country’s most expensive neighborhoods, bought private planes, put up their own media empires, finance their electoral adventures every election like their coffers never run dry, and more importantly, peddle their membership as a leverage in the voting. And the list goes on. And while the rest of the corporate world is enmeshed in financial turmoil and face the ever-increasing income taxes, the religious enterprises are doing brisk business, Catholics and otherwise. That’s the beauty of a religious enterprise: it is immune to recession and the changing and shifting mood of the market. In theory, many suspect that religious revenues spike during recessions and in times of calamities, both natural and artificial, as people tend to turn to the altar to seek refuge, guidance, meaning and inspiration to get by. And it feels good to slip in a few hundred bills after each church visit. Isn’t it?

Obtaining complete financial information and demanding transparency and accountability from church-owned enterprises is difficult if not entirely impossible. Even Julian Assange and his erswhile friends in the Hacker Anonymous could only manage to obtain classified CIA documents but not files from the Vatican! But of course, he could have enlisted the help of the Pope’s butler. The secrecy that blankets the church’s financial documents speak volumes already. For its part, while the state honors its separation from the church, any church, as guaranteed by the Constitution, it willingly provides information to the clergy and to anyone else, especially now with the FOI Law in the horizon. Yet the CBCP feels no shame in its compulsion, nay, make that convulsion, in its brazen disregard of the same guaranteed separation as it meddles unabashedly in the secular affairs of the state. The ecclesiastical meddling and political muscle flexing come in consistent regularity, akin to the daily devout Catholics’ supplication of the divine mercy and mystery of faith when they pray the Rosary.

The idea of taxing the churches, including all church-owned enterprises that make money, is nothing new and therefore has to be understood within the context of accountability, to which the Catholic Church through the CBCP demands highly from the state and its elected and appointed leaders. But how does the CBCP understand accountability? Obviously, to them it is static, one-directional/dimensional and exclusive, meaning that the CBCP can demand it from the state while the state cannot demand it from the CBCP, making the relationship between the two imbalanced, untenable, unsustainable and therefore needs overhauling via reforms in the very Constitution that guarantees this anomalous power relations.

By taxing the churches, the churchmen will for the first time find how gloriously satisfying it is to pay for their real, concrete, tangible, and auditable share in nation building where they can fully participate and even further enrich the democratic political processes without moral inhibition and hangover. By paying their due share, these freeloading species for the longest time would now better appreciate the value of each centavo and what it means to make a living off the pulpit and partaking a portion of it not to some unseen divine spirits that promise heavenly uncertainties but to the national treasury of the republic. Yet these are all premised on a state whose institutions work, a state whose leaders are truly responsible and accountable to its citizens. And when things don’t go as planned, the would-be erstwhile churchmen can always revolt at the gates, or better yet, past the gates, of Arlegui and into the doors of that house by the Pasig, which is one thing they couldn’t do at St. Peter’s, much less in purgatory?

Surely, the religious sector will decry secularization. But there is no cause for alarm as the global mood has started shifting to secularization as nations came to a painful realization that centuries of religious meddling in their state affairs have done little or nothing at all to improve their lot. Worthy of note is the move ironically by Italy—where the popes of antiquity carved out their sanctum and turned it into a state within a state—to start taxing all churches within its jurisdiction starting next year, 2013. But already, western states have maintained a policy of non-automatic tax exemptions to churches, where these are regarded as regular, non-special institutions with the peculiar business of human salvation.

If Italy’s move is any indication of a growing sentiment that favors taxing of churches, then we can look forward to a long period of accountability wherein the resources pooled, nay taken, and recklessly and exclusively distributed flows backs to its source communities and not to the central account stored in some vaults in the Vatican or somewhere in the Caribbean to enhance the lives of the faithful.

In times like these, and in times even before these, and as bankers would advise every depositor, every centavo counts.

In closing, it would not be too much to ask for the rational in us to be enraged by these continuing ecclesiastical extramurals, by the arrogant flexing of the hierarchs withering and wilting muscle (thankfully) in an apparent rehearsal for some medieval regression (thankfully, again, it’s not aggression, but who knows?).

Remember we have been taken for a ride.

Remember the hierarchs have been freeloading for five centuries, and counting.

Remember it’s long overdue that they return what is not due them.

Remember to tax the churches now!

When Memory (Nearly) Fails, Again!

I have been trying to access this blog since around the third quarter last year but as fate would have its unlucky turn I could not remember my login password.

Finally, after nearly giving up accessing this blog, I did it! Though I didn’t give much thought to it, I luckily typed the right combination which I almost forgot the moment the my screen displayed a familiar interface.

What happened a few minutes ago happened for a reason: that I should be posting here rather regularly for the simple reason not to forget my login password again. I promise that if that occurs again, I’ll give up blogging, at least with this account.

But I suspect that my luck has to do with the resignation of Benedict whose final reign as pope ends tomorrow, February 28. Benedict is at the center of  a global sex scandal involving priests and their bishops who tried unsuccessfully to cover up thousands of cases of child molestations, resulting in huge settlements with victims in the United States.

But before this joyful post gets toxic with papal waste, let me end here by singing Aleluiah to my lucky fingers for pressing the right buttons.

Miracles really don’t happen.