Column: Spanking the bishops

Published on March 25, 2008

It is always a writer’s privilege to receive letters or other feedback. But the comments I got last week, for the column devoted to Manny Pacquiao’s “unconvincing but legitimate” win over Juan Manuel Marquez, were more gratifying than usual, because I got the sense that many of them came from new readers, drawn in by the (largely) non-political topic.

Perhaps they would enjoy this addendum, which I was not able to include last week: AP’s Greg Beacham called the Pacquiao-Marquez rematch a great fight. “The WBC super featherweight title bout is sure to be remembered as one of the year’s most entertaining fights, from Pacquiao’s third-round knockdown to Marquez’s fantastic final rounds, and a career peak for both courageous competitors. By the 12th round, it was close enough to go either way–and that’s precisely why it was so great.” (I am quoting from the version carried by the International Herald Tribune.) And then came Beacham’s money quote from coach Freddie Roach: “The fight was very close, but I thought the knockdown was the difference. If it would have gone the other way, I would have accepted it, because with a fight like that, the difference is almost nothing.”

* * *

The 4th Inquirer Briefing for CEOs and diplomats, which will be held this week, is an attempt to survey the political landscape and scale the “social volcano” that SWS founder and Inquirer columnist Mahar Mangahas has started to describe in his must-read column. I am happy to note that Mangahas himself will lead the expedition.

* * *

Unlike some critics of the Catholic bishops and their recent pastoral letters, I happen to think that the shepherds’ statements have in fact grown steadily less “confusing.” I place that in quotes, because I am under the impression that for these critics “clarity” means nothing less than a call for the President’s resignation. I may be wrong, but I discern a growth–or a hardening, depending on the view from one’s pew–in the bishops’ position.

In a previous column, I called the January statement of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines intellectually dishonest, for making a false distinction between the concerns of Metro Manila and those of the provinces. But the February statement–the result of an emergency plenary session, called less than a month after the regular one in January–forcefully does away with the distinction. It finally, if belatedly, acknowledges that the entire country faces a “crisis of truth.” This, I think, is a useful declaration; it pulls the moral rug from under any continued Malacañang attempt to ignore or evade or undermine the ongoing Senate investigation into the National Broadband Network controversy. (Memo to Lorelei Fajardo: This means the old in-aid-of-grandstanding line is no longer operative.)

The March statement of 16 bishops, who comprise the Metropolitan Ecclesiastical Province of Manila, offers an even deeper analysis of the national political situation. They help “clarify” our options, in both senses. I note in particular that this is the Manila province’s first “political” statement in living memory–an extraordinary development. Could the 16 bishops (including some with impeccable social justice credentials) have taken the unusual step only, as some critics have suggested, to discourage more opposition protests? That seems to me to be a complete misreading of the situation.

Taken together, the CBCP’s February statement and the Manila province’s Palm Sunday letter narrow the Arroyo administration’s wiggle room. I hope that the next scheduled plenary session, in July, results in a pastoral letter forcefully warning against any postponement, or any attempt to postpone, the 2010 elections.

* * *

Ninoy Aquino was assassinated in August 1983; the CBCP did not issue a pastoral letter until November. And when it did, the bishops appealed for reconciliation. After describing the national situation in bleak terms (“Many events have pushed our country closer to the brink of chaos and anarchy”), the CBCP chose to dwell on its role as a “prophet” of reconciliation. “Yet we believe that in the mysterious ways of God the movement towards national reconciliation that tragedy has given birth to is a providential grace from God, the Lord of our history.”

This seems like a world away from the bishops’ epochal Post-Election Statement of February 1986, in which it declared the Marcos administration bereft of any moral authority to govern. But in fact I think the last statement grew directly, organically, out of the first.

* * *

The 1.7 million members of the Knights of Columbus around the world, including the very active councils in the Philippines, celebrated Easter a week early, after Pope Benedict XVI approved a decree on March 15 recognizing founder Fr. Michael McGivney’s “heroic virtue” and declaring him “venerable.” The decree, the Zenit news agency noted, puts Fr. McGivney in line to become possibly the first American-born priest to be made a saint.

* * *

The Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines and Citi organized the first nationwide search for the country’s Most Outstanding Finance Educator. Last February, after an exhaustive process, they gave the prize named after the late Bangko Sentral governor, Rafael Buenaventura, to Ateneo de Manila’s Darwin Yu.

That means the Yu household’s mantelpiece must be groaning under all the added weight. Wife Cathy Vistro-Yu, a math professor at the same university, was herself one of 10 achievers honored last October as The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service awardees.

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