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The Role of the Church

Articles and opinions on the role of religion in the fight against corruption

The Catholic Church and the credibility-challenged Comelec
—“Why do these bishops interfere in matters of state and politics?” laments the government executive. “Why not?” retorts his businessman friend, “The people needs protection against government abuses and corruption.”

Pro and con questions regarding Church involvement in politics echo throughout the Catholic world.

The imposing Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) routinely exerts pressure on government to adopt its “anti” agenda on such matters as divorce, euthanasia (mercy killing), abortion, or the use of condoms to prevent the spread of the deadly AIDS virus.

Crowded Sunday masses serve as bully pulpits for priests to sermon for or against government policies.

Church support or withdrawal of support can make or break a candidate for office.

Critics say the Church violates separation of church and state principles.

Should the Church be involved in politics?

Here’s my take on this issue.

For the Church hierarchy and many Catholics—whether or not the Church should be involved in politics is not even an issue. Its mission of carrying out God’s cause on earth pertains to any and all matters that affect men’s souls. Politics and government policy do affect men’s souls and therefore the Church must be involved—notions of separation of church and state principles be damned.

Church involvement in corruption-infested third world countries where cheating in elections is an art form may not necessarily be bad. Many sincerely good Catholic men and women who are political activists wanting only a better world are certainly more trustworthy than corrupt, power hungry politicians.

This does not mean that I believe Church thinking is always right nor that I as a Catholic should surrender to any pope, cardinal, or priest my God-given intelligence and freedom to think and decide for myself.

History has repeatedly shown that Church leaders—even well meaning—can be wrong because they are as human as you and I. Fixated church leaders are sometimes closed to new ideas, new discoveries, and to the changing realities of life and society. Enslaving organizational behavior and vows of obedience often dissuade well meaning rank and file religious from alternative more humanistic choices which reflect Christ’s teaching of love of fellowmen more than legalistic adherence to traditional Church norms.

Still, the Church is often the people’s most effective protector against state excesses and wrongdoing. It played a magnificent role under the leadership of activist Cardinal Jaime Sin to bring down the brutal and greedy Marcos dictatorship.

In this May elections, the people again seek Church protection against government malfeasance. To many, the Comelec, which regulates and conducts elections, is neither impartial nor honest. The public mind bears the scars of “Hello Garci”—freshly wounded by the Ampatuan-Arroyo-Comelec collusion which delivered millions of ghost votes and shocked by Comelec’s blatant removal of credible outspoken opposition governors—remain traumatized by these perceived betrayals of public trust.

The credibility-challenged Comelec has only itself to blame even if the public perception is that it takes its cheat orders from Arroyo. The question for many is: How can Comelec shadow operations be neutralized? With its considerable influence, the Church can utilize various pressures including the threat of people power toward honest and transparent elections. So much for admonishing church-going, communion-receiving Catholic government officials about corrupt practices endangering their immortal souls; if these admonitions were effective, then the Philippines wouldn’t be such a super corrupt nation.

Computer experts like Gus Lagman agree that the best safeguard against secret unseen cheat software is to leave a paper trail at the precincts for auditing comparison purposes. After the ballots are electronically read, a manual count should also be done. The summary results transmitted electronically to the Comelec central office from the precincts may then be compared with the manually counted precinct results, preventing utilization of unseen hidden computer programs which can print out manufactured results. According to Lagman, “dagdag-bawas” (addition-subtraction) cheating methodology will be even more difficult to detect if hidden cheating software is utilized and programmed to self destruct removing any traces of existence after doing its dirty work.

Aside from being an effective safeguard, combining manual count audit with the computerized ballot reading of the ballots enhances important vote count accuracy. Speedy election results compilation will not suffer as the precinct count is still transferred electronically.

Civic-minded information technology experts like Lagman and private agricultural sector representative Ernesto Ordonez and others have strongly suggested this manual count audit. Comelec so far have simply ignored these sound transparency suggestions. Curiously, Comelec recently disabled the electoral machines’ ultraviolet scanners that detect fraudulent ballots and also replaced the clear plastic ballot housing boxes with opaque black boxes. Comelec commissioners repeatedly advise an increasingly leery public to simply trust the system.

The issue is not so much a question of trust but simply structuring a credible electoral system consistent with true democratic principles. How we all wish we could simply trust Comelec. We would not only be fools but be irresponsible citizens if we did. We cannot stake our people’s future in the hands of a few individuals who have not even proven themselves to be trustworthy.

All of the present commissioners were appointed by Arroyo, whose trust ratings are lower than low which adds to the public perception of Comelec untrustworthiness. Arroyo, together with her husband, is perceived as being behind all of the deceptions being played on the public. The antiquated constitutional provision of the president appointing Comelec commissioners is clearly a terrible dishonesty-prone system. The president can extract concessions as a condition for appointments, affecting impartiality. The system should be amended.

The country is on the verge of social and political chaos because the electoral process has no credibility and failure of elections is a very real probability. If the elections fail because it was intended to fail or the perception is that it was rigged or for whatever reasons, dire circumstances could come into play where a military supported presidential holdover can take place or simply a military takeover. The Church has a sacred role to play. The people’s cause is God’s cause.

Union of Catholic Asian News - September 15, 2010

Church silent on bishop betting pay-offs claim


Church leaders in the Philippines are refusing to comment directly on allegations made by retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz that at least eight Catholic bishops received money from operators of an illegal numbers racket called jueteng.

“It’s not good to hear,” said Archbishop Leonardo Legaspi of Caceres. He said the Church should not benefit from gambling.

“Gambling will not buy off sin,” he told Church-run Radio Veritas.

Archbishop Cruz on Tuesday said at least eight bishops of receiving money through donations from jueteng operators.

“There are about 12 dioceses we are looking at but we are certain about eight,” he said.

He refused to name the dioceses, saying he is no longer an active member of the bishops’ conference.

“That is their command and responsibility…. They know who they are,” he said.

“[Jueteng operators] want the goodwill of Church people and want to save their own souls so they are willing to pay for it,” Archbishop Legaspi said.

“That is buying salvation,” he added.

Several Catholic bishops earlier voiced support for Archbishop Cruz’s call for a probe into alleged jueteng payoffs in government.

The archbishop last week accused several top government officials of receiving money.

A campaign against jueteng has failed because there was no serious implementation of the law, former CBCP president Archbishop Angel Lagdameo of Jaro said.

Even the government-supported small-time lottery has been used as a front for jueteng operations, said Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa.

“Gambling per se is not wrong. What makes it wrong are the circumstances connected with it,” said Archbishop Legaspi. But jueteng, he said, is illegal and has become a source of corruption.

A Catholic bishops’ conference statement in 2005 denounced all forms of gambling in the country, both legal and illegal.

Candidates for the vice presidency left a Catholic Church official dissatisfied with the kind of commitments they made to eradicate graft and corruption.


Rosales to new leaders: Address corruption

MANILA, May 13, 2010— The head of the Manila’s Roman Catholic Church is asking the country's next president to address issues of “corruption” that worsened under the Arroyo administration.

Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales who had lived and worked for the poor Filipinos said one hopeful solution to corruption which further aggravates poverty in the country is “good leadership.”

Yet, he said, many leaders who have made good promises during elections have “failed” to do their mandate.

“Now we have a new set of leaders but what do we expect from them aside from service… leadership. We want our leaders who will give (good) example,” stressed Rosales.

Hong Kong-based Political & Economy Risk Consultancy Ltd. (PERC) disclosed that in a recent corruption poll the Philippines is Asia Pacific’s fourth most corrupt economy.

The findings showed that the Philippine standing has slipped by two notches amid political mudslinging before the May 10 elections.

The country got the worst score of 9.82 in system effectives “in prosecuting and punishing individuals for corruption” out of 19 sub-indices.

The Philippines, however, got its best score of 5.75 in the ease of building “an internal culture” organizations to ensure anti-corruption standards are met.

"Bodies like the Catholic Church and volunteer election watchdog bodies will try to mobilize the masses to fight corruption when they encounter it, but there is no reason to expect them to be any more successful than they were in previous elections," it added.

The survey conducted from December to February involved 2,174 mid-level and senior Asian and expatriate business executives working in 16 economies.

Indonesia remained the most corrupt this year with a score of 9.27 from 8.32 in 2009. It was followed by Cambodia with 9.10 from 7.25 and Vietnam with 8.07 from 7.11.

Aside from corruption, the cardinal urged the country’s new set of leaders to address other issues such as “poverty, unemployment and peace and order.”

“We want leaders who will be simple. We want our leaders not to be arrogant. We want our leaders to be humble,” he said.

“Give service to the people and when that happened… you know they will love their leaders,” Rosales added.

Arroyo misses chance

Cardinal Rosales earlier said President Arroyo missed out opportunities to be “great leader” when asked to comment on the nine-year rule of the latter.

He said the outgoing president’s unpopular image brought by various allegations of election fraud, corruption, and human rights abuses have taken its toll on her government.

“She did not face the challenges that well. She missed a great chance to be a good leader,” said Rosales.

Arroyo, who has just been proclaimed as winner of the congressional seat in Pampanga’s second district yesterday, was tagged by analysts and surveys as the most unpopular leader since the fall of the dictatorship in 1986.

Some quarters even branded her as worse than the late strongman and ousted Ferdinand Marcos for the crimes she allegedly committed while in power.


Cardinal Rosales made the statement on Thursday while delivering his homily at a Thanksgiving Mass held at the Manila Cathedral for the “successful and peaceful” conduct of the automated polls.

The liturgical celebration was attended by Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Gen. Delfin Bangit and Philippine National Police chief Gen. Jesus Verzosa and other ranking military and police officials.

Also in attendance were Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Rene Sarmiento and Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) chairperson Henrietta de Villa.

Rosales said what happened last May 10 is worth thanking because many people from various sectors took part to ensure “clean and peaceful” elections.

From the voters, Comelec officials, PPCRV volunteers, military, police and even the media, they are all part of the “great things given by God.”

“How do you call these people? We will call them by one word. They are gifts,” he said.

“Yes, we have to admit there were flaws… it wasn’t perfect and I don’t think (there’s such one) but by and large it was a successful election… peaceful, honest, and truthful,” added Rosales.


Muslim Organizations Denounce Corruption, Say Thieves Won’t Be Admitted to Heaven

Indonesia’s two main Muslim organizations decreed on Wednesday that corrupt officials were “infidels,” or a person without faith.

The stance was laid out at the launch of book titled “Corruptors Are Infidels” by the nongovernmental organization, Partnership for Governance Reform. It features theological studies by both the Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah.

“Corruption is against the Muslim faith. In the saying of Prophet Muhammad, a man would not steal if he is faithful to God,” said Malik Madany of the NU. “In no way is corruption justifiable in the eyes of God.”

Abdul Malik Gismar, the NGO’s chief researcher for the book, said that in Indonesian society today, there were virtually no psychological and social consequences against corruption.

“We need to reorientate society’s value and place corruption as not only illegal but also immoral. Corruptors have acted shamelessly by swindling people’s money as if they have no responsibility at all,” Gismar said.

Gismar added the book was a continuation of a similar book released by Partnership in 2006 called “Corruption from an Islamic Theological Perspective” and repackaged this year with a much stronger message.

Bambang Widjojanto, a legal analyst from Trisakti University in Jakarta, said that there were countless examples where corruption was not socially frowned upon.

Former Bank Indonesia governor and former corruption convict Burhanuddin Abdullah received a hero’s welcome upon his release from the Sukamiskin Prison in West Java this year after serving two years imprisonment for embezzling Rp 100 billion ($11.1 billion) from a central bank related foundation.

And hundreds of supporters welcomed Abdillah after he was paroled from his three year sentence this year. The former Mayor of Medan, North Sumatra, was paraded across the country’s third largest city, despite the fact that he was sentenced for embezzling more than Rp 50 billion from the city’s coffers.

Muhammadiyah scholars say in the book that corruption contains eight different sins known to the Muslim faith, including greed, betrayal and theft, which according to Islam carries sanctions ranging from the severing of the hand to the death penalty.

NU scholars meanwhile, highlighted, judgment in the afterlife for corrupt officials. “Every flesh and bone that grew from illicit fortune shan’t be accepted in heaven,” the book quoted a saying of Muhammad.

The organization also forbids blessing the remains of a corruptor and warned that none of a corruptor’s deeds would be accepted unless the person repented.

Wicaksono Sarosa, executive director of Partnership, said that through the book the message of anticorruption should resonate well in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country.


Corruption and Christianity
Philippine Daily Inquirer - 08/06/2010

IF YOU steal small, you land in jail. If you steal big, you immediately qualify to run as a candidate for an elective government position. And when in government, if you steal bigger, you are promoted to a higher government position. In the meantime, look at the ongoing investigation of crimes committed by public officials. The investigation is not being done by policemen or by NBI agents, but by fellow criminals in or out of the same corrupt government.

Usually, the investigation goes on endlessly; except for one beautiful development. Via the priesthood industry, the criminals under investigation are forgiven by God for their sins and crimes. This is otherwise more known as Christianity than as a way of life in the Philippines.


Repentance root cause of corruption

Philippine Daily Inquirer - 08/20/2010

LET ME add to Poch Suzara’s letter on the connection between corruption and Christianity. (Inquirer, 8/7/10) If you look at Transparency International’s 2006 survey on corruption worldwide, it shows that Roman Catholic Italy and Jewish Israel are more corrupt than the rest of their NATO allies in western Europe.

Here in Asia, Christian Philippines and Islamic Indonesia are more corrupt than Buddhist Thailand and even “godless” communist China. These monotheistic religions share common origins and core beliefs such as repentance. One can commit sins (corruption) and be forgiven and still go to heaven. I think repentance is the root source of corruption in God-fearing countries.

In recent years, it has been a common practice to put up prayer-rooms of both faiths in government and private buildings. And yet corruption went from bad to worse.


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