Daily Archives: July 11, 2005

A tongue-twister, or why I think the Vatican did no such thing

I see that my good friend Caloy Conde has already filed a story for tomorrow’s IHT. It is a take off on the scoop by Newsbreak’s Aries Rufo, another excellent reporter, detailing the "tongue-lashing" the Papal Nuncio allegedly gave the bishops last Saturday. (Manolo Quezon had already pointed out this breaking story earlier, as a "partial" validation of his view of the proceedings.) As a result of the Vatican’s scolding, we are told, the bishops held back from demanding the President’s resignation.

I regret to disagree with all three friends. IMHO, I think they got it wrong.

I do not dispute the fact that Archbishop Antonio Franco spoke at the start of the Saturday proceedings; it is a tradition that the Pope’s ambassador address a national conference of bishops every time it meets in plenary.

I do not dispute the excerpts from his speech which ran in Newsbreak; for instance, this one: "bishops are out of their place when they get into direct action, attending rallies on political issues, siding with one group or another, being used by parties with hidden agenda for purposes of grabbing power… I am convinced that this direct action is being exploited for partisan politics and it is wrong for the Church and for the country.”

(To be sure, I do not even dispute the correctness of the Nuncio’s view.)

What I do disagree with, based on my own sources, my reading of the various stories before they went to press, my line-by-line study of the two articles in question, and, not least, my understanding of the workings of the church I belong to, is the assertion that the Vatican caused the bishops to slam on the brakes.

Not true. This afternoon I asked Archbishop of Davao Fernando Capalla, the CBCP president, if what an influential bishop had told me on Friday afternoon (that is, some 15 hours before Franco’s address) was indeed the truth, that the conference was not going to ask GMA to resign. His reply, via SMS: "Yes consensus was always there. What delayed [it] was the precise formulation. Nuncio only reminded us of Church teachings."

The Newsbreak story itself quotes an unnamed bishop as saying "that the Nuncio’s speech ‘was not a factor’ in the CBCP’s pastoral statement. The CBCP position on the political tempest was done, except only on how the statement should be presented. But the bishop stressed that the basic substance of the pastoral statement was already the emerging consensus even before they sat down for the plenary."

The IHT story also includes the following: "Archbishop Oscar Cruz, one of those who attended the meeting, denied on television that they had been pressured by the Vatican to go soft on Arroyo."

So that’s three different and high-level sources (assuming the Newsbreak source is neither Capalla nor Cruz), all saying the consensus preceded the Vatican’s alleged intervention. (There are other such positive denials, so to speak, in tomorrow’s papers.)

But doesn’t the Newsbreak story quote two bishops saying otherwise? Actually, no. The relevant paragraph begins: "Two bishops confirmed Newsbreak’s information that Franco scolded them Saturday (July 9) morning over what he described as excessive political meddling of some bishops."

I would argue with the use of the word "scolding," but essentially that sentence got it right. At least, as far as it goes. In my reading, what the bishops actually confirmed was the fact of the speech, and the essence of that speech. But did they actually confirm that (a) the bishops were all set to make the demand for resignation and (b) by speaking, Franco stopped them from doing so? No such thing.

Doesn’t the IHT story assert that the Apostolic Nunciature chose not to issue a denial? Yes, but what exactly did it not deny? That "the envoy, Antonio Franco, had conveyed the displeasure of Pope Benedict XVI in a speech delivered to the bishops Saturday."

Again, I would argue whether it was in fact the Pope’s displeasure that was conveyed, but even if it were, would this fact support the story’s main assertion: that the Vatican caused the CBCP to temper its position?

The Newsbreak story itself suggests the true intent of the Nuncio’s speech: the handful of bishops who had taken a high-profile role in politically radical initiatives. "Instead of being the prophetic voice that urges institutions of State to work for the good of the people, bishops become the ones who prevent institutions to work," Franco said (quite calmly, according to some bishops, with no whipping and lashing of the tongue). "While some joined rallies versus change of Constitution in the past, now some are advocating total neglect of it. It is the perception people get because of some confusing statements.”

He was, of course, referring to Bishops Labayen, Tobias, and Iniguez, who have called for non-constitutional solutions to the present political crisis. ("Total neglect" of the Constitution; that is some phrase.) Were these three prelates able to convince the rest of their brethren that their position was the right one for the conference itself? I don’t think so. Their position did not stand a chance of being adopted by the majority.

So the Nuncio spoke about drawing the line between serving as prophets and acting as politicians. What else is new? This is a perennial concern of the Vatican. It was a concern throughout most of the papacy of the famously political Pope John Paul II. It was a concern even during the CBCP’s finest hour, on February 13, 1986, when the bishops declared that Marcos’s new government had no moral basis. As Newsbreak itself recounted last year: "Reuter recalled that shortly after the 1986 snap elections, Rome warned Sin and Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, then CBCP president, against issuing a pastoral statement condemning the irregularities in the elections and calling Marcos’s victory a fluke. [Later,] Sin and Vidal were both summoned to Rome to explain their defiance of the Holy See’s order."

What do I read in that? That nothing will stop the bishops from thundering against the political order — if, that is, they are led to do so by their discernment.

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Local power

The indefatigable Jojo Abinales was kind enough to point out "one crucial element" missing from Edsa I and only emergent in Edsa II: "provincial and local power."

I think he’s right on the money. I do remember that, when I visited Cagayan de Oro soon after Edsa I, I was told that the central plaza in Divisoria had its own version of the Edsa scene, at least on the day the Marcoses fled (complete with, if memory serves me right, an endless loop of Madonna’s "Material Girl" blaring from the loudspeakers; each time it played, I was told, the crowd sang along, merrily and effectively indicting the original material girl, Imelda).

I believe similar scenes happened in other places, although now that I think of it, I have no proof except ill-remembered anecdotes.

But the local governments then? They had no real power. I remember Nene Pimentel, once mayor of Cagayan de Oro, complaining more than once that in order to change a light bulb in City Hall, he needed to seek permission from Metro Manila. Now that the Local Government Code he authored has given local governments real money and, therefore, real power, will he come to regret the rise of power brokers (and Arroyo supporters) like Chavit Singson and Rudy Duterte?

"This is the source of GMA’s renewed confidence," Jojo writes: "the loyalty of Cebu, Davao, the Ilocos region and Central Luzon."

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The Edsa framework

I had occasion to raise the following in a meeting with fellow journalists last Wednesday: Is it possible that, in analyzing the present political crisis, we are like generals fighting the last war?

For the longest time (that means all of a month, since the tapes first became public on June 6), we have been using the People Power paradigm to understand the strength of the opposition to President Arroyo and gauge the threat to her presidency. (And by "we" I mean not only journalists or the political analysts who appear in our pages or fill our airtime, but the political class itself.)

The assumption was that, to force the President from office, the same confluence of factors behind Edsa I and Edsa II would need to come together. We are all familiar with the logic of change: moral outrage implies massive street protests, popular discontent implies regime implosion and the withdrawal of support of the military. If p, then q, then (eventually) r.

Central to this assumption was the role that the so-called middle forces would play. The events of the last four days have been dramatic, with leading icons of the middle forces calling on Arroyo to resign. But other leaders in the political center have stood fast behind the President. The crowds marching behind the heirs of Joseph Estrada and the usual phalanx of red banners continue to be paltry, inspiring pity rather than awe. And Gloria herself seems ready to do battle until the inglorious end.

Can the Edsa framework explain this strategic stalemate? I suppose it still can, especially if the main effect of the bishops’ statement was only to buy the President more time and thus, as others have said, delay the inevitable.

But a related perspective, an improvement on the framework, seems to promise more explanatory power. This holds that the key factor is internal dissension. In this view, the noises from the traditional opposition are nothing more than static; what we should be listening out for is the sound of cracks appearing in the Palace wall.

This best explains, if not all the events surrounding the resignation of the Hyatt 10, then at least the political analysis that led to it. As many others have already pointed out (I’ll include myself here), the dramatic resignation was calculated to force the President’s hand.

But does this tweaked version of the People Power paradigm help us to predict the next stage in this high-stakes political chess game? It, too, relies on the central role that the middle forces play. But if, for the sake of argument, the business community, the church, and the leaders of Edsa continue to be divided, and the soldiers continue to remain in their barracks, what happens then?

It is quite possible we haven’t seen this particular end-game before.

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