The Cardinal wept

Corporate Watch
Amelia H. C. Ylagan

Posted on August 19, 2013

“WHAT FILIPINO who loves his country would not be bothered,” Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle rhetorically asked the nine million Filipinos, who, regardless of religion or political inclination, must be admittedly or at least subconsciously “horrified” at the unfolding “machinations” of “a very intricate web” that has allegedly amassed a staggering “magnitude of money” from dishonest dealings with government. Cardinal Tagle clutched at the more careful words as he stammered to desperately hold back disobedient tears.

“Could those behind this stomach the damage to the nation? That is why it is only right that this should be investigated. We have heard many other big scandals in the past but these were buried and forgotten when a new issue came up,” Cardinal Tagle then said to the 75.5 million Filipino Catholics, or roughly 80% of the population. There was a hush at the live TV coverage of Cardinal Tagle’s speech at the investiture on him of a Doctorate in Humanities, honoris causa, by the University of Santo Tomas on August 13, 2013. And a ripple of reverent silence spilled over the rest of those who later knew of what he had said. It was the first time the very low-key Cardinal ever openly, and so surprisingly forcefully, commented on the mundane aspects of politics and possible economic crimes.

Cardinal Tagle clearly spoke of the supposed 10-billion Priority Development Fund or PDAF (pork barrel) scam revealed by whistle-blower Benhur Luy to have been allegedly orchestrated by his former employer, Janet Lim-Napoles of JLN Enterprises. Perception is growing that this is in collusion with government officials who have grabbed a front-end “commission” from the discounted proceeds to some mostly non-existent NGOs (nongovernmental organizations, foundations), some as unaware “beneficiaries.” The Cardinal called on the culprits to repent, sin no more, and obliquely suggested that for their penance, a night walk through the slums of the country -- seeing how the poor half of the people mostly live in carton boxes -- might complete the act of contrition.

And tears ran down the Cardinal’s cheeks in poignant pursuit of that innate “goodness in every person... which comes from God.” “Just let it come [out] and you will be free and happy,” he pleaded to whoever might be in connivance in this giant deception of the Filipino people. But pathetically, it is precisely the burnished halo of deceptive piety and advertised altruism that may have been the perfect cover to make the whole mess of the 10-billion (maybe more) pork barrel scam happen -- as the outward credentials of saintliness always tempt both trust and betrayal.

A few days after Cardinal Tagle spoke against the condemnable scam, Napoles’ legal counsel fed the press copies of the affidavits of six priests that seemed to disprove the claim of whistle-blower Luy that he was abducted by Napoles in December 2012 and “imprisoned” in the priests’ residence in Magallanes Village. Msgr. Josefino Ramirez and five young priests from Mainland China taking up post-graduate studies in Manila signed the joint affidavit dated April 15, 2013. In that earlier abduction case Napoles alleged that Luy was magnanimously given a chance to go on a three-month spiritual retreat under the care of the priests, to repent his sins against her of running away with 300,000 of JLN’s money, and an unauthorized loan of 5 million from the corporation.

Of course Luy’s change of heart and decision to rat on Napoles might have been from the pressure of his own little scam having to be rectified, and from the instinctive self-preservation coming from the thought of Napoles’ bigger scam blowing up in public -- which he decided to preempt. And now Luy has to appear to be the repentant sinner, who has seen the light in what is right, and who must now be the Joan of Arc (genderless, in respect of sexual preferences) who will champion the truth. And his spiritual advisers must be silent on confidences in the confessional, regardless of Napoles’ lawyers’ clever exploitation of the priests’ evidently innocent and true affidavits, albeit perhaps based purely on the circumstances presented to them by Napoles.

And it appears that the retreat house at 52 Lapu-Lapu St. in Magallanes Village, owned by Napoles, and the scene of Luy’s ambiguous detention has all along been supported by Napoles’ corporations, as revealed in a printout of a computerized listing presented by Luy. He was the trusted chief of staff/executive assistant of Napoles, his distant relative. In the same document, shared with dzMM/Channel 2, Fr. Peter Lavin, head of “Alagad ni Maria Formation House” in Antipolo City, was allegedly named board member and stockholder of Napoles’ JLN Corp., identified by Luy as the main corporate vehicle for the 10-billion pork barrel scam.

Fr. Lavin might not have known anything beyond the benevolence of the Alagad ni Maria Foundation, nor Napoles’ alleged involvement and participation in maneuverings to steal taxpayers’ money in conniving legislators’ pork barrel allocations. He has still to clarify this. Neither must have Msgr. Ramirez, former rector of Quiapo Church, and the rector of the Magallanes house, suspected anything beyond Napoles’ caring and giving to church leaders like him, who could only respond in kindness for kindness for her generous, and presumably proffered financial support. Even Bishop Julio Labayen, now 90 years old and retired, supposedly benefitted from Napoles’ largesse in various donations before he immigrated to the US in 2011.

Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, like Cardinal Tagle, called on Filipinos to demand “a thorough investigation of Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged mastermind of the 10-billion pork barrel scam, just like the Senate investigated former Chief Justice Renato Corona (found guilty of misdeclaration of his Statement of Assets and Liabilities [SALN)]); retired Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia (found guilty of plunder of military funds); and former Armed Forces Chief of Staff Angelo Reyes (who committed suicide at the height of Senate investigations for unexplained wealth and possibly plunder).”

Over Church-run Radio Veritas, Fr. Ranhillo Aquino, Dean of San Beda Law School, proposed to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) that an independent legal group in the CBCP should be created that would serve as a watchdog against corruption in government as part of the Church’s advocacy for good governance. “After a while, this issue [on the pork barrel scam] will slowly end and we don’t want that to happen. Even in the Church, the advocacy against corruption is not sustained so why not the CBCP have a legal luminary study the issue [and] investigate?” Fr. Aquino said.

Just as the pork barrel scam came out in the news headlines, Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan, Socrates B. Villegas, incoming president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (December 2013) issued a pastoral letter to the faithful, with a preamble that “the separation of Church and State does not prohibit moral ethical values from influencing public policies. If governance were conducted from a platform that disregards ethics and morality, we only expose our nation to greater peril.” His first salvo was, “even before the recent exposé, the pork barrel has long had a bad reputation. How many traditional politicians have run and overspent and even killed for the sake of millions they will get as pork barrel once elected?”

To the laity, Bishop Villegas urged activism against immoral support systems that abet graft and corruption in public office, warning against the “politics of patronage (not stewardship an accountability), that cascades from top to bottom.” To the priests and bishops hungry for funding for their various apostolates, Bishop Villegas suggests one strict rule, “Walang hihingi,” meaning no outright solicitations for donations -- the end does not justify the means, ever.

Cardinal Tagle indeed has reason to weep.