13 February 2008

Corruption and Communion

Fr. Albert Alejo, S.J., EHEM Anti-Corruption Movement initiator and moving spirit, came up with a Lenten reflection that aims at fighting corruption within the Church. His advocacy is anything but unimportant, for we who read the Word of God must "believe what we read; preach what we believe, and practice what we preach."

Though done independently and planned well ahead, the timing of its launching was made more providential after the release of the latest CBCP statement. This is the kind of "rejoinder" that we would like to see after each CBCP Pastoral Statement.

May those who have ears, listen. Ehem!

Struggling for Integrity in Philippine Church and Society

“I propose that we seriously examine ourselves: Do I use God to get money, or, do I use money to get towards God? The gap between the rich and the poor among our people will not be bridged if among us priests, who are configured to Jesus Christ and preach love and sharing, have rich and poor among us.” ---Bishop Broderick S. Pabillo. History and Grace (2004)

“God is personal, but never private. And the Bible reveals a very public God. But in an age of private spiritualities, the voice of a public God can scarcely be heard. Private religion avoids the public consequences of faith. In particular, affluent countries and churches breed private disciples, perhaps because the applications of faith to public life could become quickly challenging and troubling.” --–Jim Wallis, God’s Politics (2005)

Ours is a crippled nation, a wounded Church, because we are crippled and wounded individuals. If we hope to restore trust and credibility in the authorities we must know what is in our power to control. We cannot control another human being, but we can be in command of ourselves…It starts with restoring our broken relationship with God, a return to the Word.” ---Teresa Tunay. Alay Kapwa Lenten Reflection (2006)


In their protest against “Charter Change,” Filipino bishops quickly called for “Character Change” among the government leaders. It’s not the Constitution of the Philippines that needed renovation, the prelates said, but the heart and soul of the politicians that required radical transformation.[1] Equally brisk, however, were ordinary citizens who sent letters to national dailies, challenging the Church leaders to cast the same prophetic critique upon themselves: “They should first address the ‘character change’ message to themselves before they preach it to others.” (e.g. Vitor 2006).

Little did the letter senders know that this sense of exasperation was actually the focal theme of no less than the Alay Kapwa Lenten Reflection promoted by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) that same year. At the heart of the reflection was the topic, “Restoring Trust and Credibility in the Church and Political Authorities.” For Teresa Tunay, who was asked to write this section for Alay Kapwa, the choice of this topic itself implied that “the reputation of two institutions, Church and State, has been soiled and damaged.” She elaborated this general feeling of frustration by taking the cue from the common taxi drivers’ socio-cultural and political analysis:

“With no holds barred [taxi drivers] will tell you what they think is wrong with the government, the politicians, the economy, the labor situation, the educational system, the rising of hospitalization and of burying the dead. And because the bishops and priests have figured in the news lately, they will also tell you what is wrong with the Church, the men of the cloth, the entire country…This is the picture forming in their minds, and which they transmit to their passengers: our politicians are a corrupt lot---liars, thieves, schemers, cheaters, scoundrels all. Our bishops and priests are a disunited bunch---confused, self-righteous, hypocritical. Our political authorities cannot be trusted; our spiritual leaders have lost their credibility. Therefore, Filipinos are a bad people; the country is going to the dogs, there is no hope for the future… (Tunay 2006, 33-34)

It was audacious for Teresa Tunay and the CBCP to have printed such a self-critical description of our communal sentiment. Teresa Tunay, however, exhorted the readers that “rather than harangue and harass our authorities in the hope of straightening them out, we should remember that we are the Church, we are the State.” If the nation is crippled and the Church is wounded, it is not without relation to our own woundedness as a people and as individuals. We must also do our homework, and our homework starts with “restoring our broken relationship with God, a return to the Word.” (Tunay 2006, 36)

This woundedness hits me both as a citizen and as a man of the cloth. I offer the following reflection as my own way of participating in the Church’s socio-cultural and political soul searching. I will try to focus on the social dimension of the central religious worship of the Catholic Church---the Eucharist. And since I have been in Ehem! Anticorruption Movement[2], I will zoom in my presentation on the connection between the Eucharist and injustice, between communion and corruption.

I believe---no, I can clearly see---that some of the problems that we are fighting against in society are also found within the Church. And among these problems, perhaps the most sensitive to discuss, is corruption. I suggest that the profound and authentic renewal of our society requires a corresponding renewal precisely from within our Philippine Church institutions and communities.

I guess the best statement on this theme has already been said by the Eleventh Synod of Bishops, which adopted the title “The Eucharist, Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church” (October 3 - 23, 2005). In Proposition No. 48, the Synod describes the “social dimension of the Eucharist” in this powerful paragraph:

"Christ's sacrifice is a mystery of liberation that calls out to us. It is in the commitment to transform unjust structures and to re-establish the dignity of man, created in the likeness and image of God, that the Eucharist assumes in life the significance it has in celebration. This dynamic movement opens up to the world: it questions the process of globalization which not infrequently increases the gap between rich countries and poor countries, it denounces the political and economic forces that dilapidate the earth's resources, it reiterates the grave requirements of distributive justice in the face of inequalities that cry out to heaven, it encourages Christians to commit themselves and to work in political life and social activity…Those who share in the Eucharist must commit themselves to creating peace in our world, which is marked by violence, war and, especially today, by terrorism, economic corruption and sexual exploitation. The conditions for building true peace are the restoration of justice, reconciliation and forgiveness."

From the long and heavy list of concerns that call for committed action, I highlight “corruption.” It is identified as one of the new and special problems that confront those who would take the spirit of the Eucharist seriously in contemporary society.

The scandal that rocks the Church today is probably not so much the sexual misconduct of the clergy, but the disconcerting fact that those who lead the faithful are as economically and politically divided as the society it wants to convert. The Christians who cheat in public service as well as the victims of their cheating are probably seatmates in the same parish Church and supposedly receiving the same Eucharist.

There at the back of the Church, a mother is crying to the Lord, because she cannot buy the overpriced medicines for her dying child. Here in the front pew, a regular churchgoer praises the Lord in jubilation for a good pharmaceutical business. Somebody is making a living by literally making a killing! What would St. Paul say to this kind of Church? Probably the same sad and angry words he said to the Corinthians.

But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not… Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” (1 Corinthians 11:17-29, English Standard Version)

I hear from St. Paul that receiving the Eucharist has very serious social and spiritual implications. The social divisions in society (‘those who have their own meal’ and ‘those who have nothing’) are very much reflected in the church and thereby “despise” it. In no uncertain terms, St. Paul exhorts the believers to examine the serious implications of this juxtaposition of social and spiritual disgrace.

Taking cue from St. Paul, I divide the rest of my presentation into two. The first section is the social context of the Eucharist from the perspective of the problem of corruption in the Philippines. The second portion is an attempt at a theological reflection on the issue. (Please take these reflections as coming from an anthropologist, and not from a professional theologian.) Towards the end, I will offer some prospects for pastoral action in living out the meaning of our Eucharistic communion amidst a society and a Church that are both challenged by corruption.

[1] The Editorial of Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines newspaper did not mince words when it ascribed this “national predicament” to the Arroyo administration. “Graft and corruption in the government and its agencies are so endemic and extensive that socio-political integrity in governance has seemingly become a moral impossibility to achieve during the remaining three-year tenure of the present national leadership” (CBCP Monitor June 25-Jul8 2007, p. A4).

[2] Ehem! is the popular name of the Jesuit Anticorruption Program. The program offers seminars to government and private sector personnel, using the Ehem! A Self-Check Manual for Combating Corruption. The program has been adopted by the Office of the Ombudsman as its corruption prevention strategy, and the seminars have been accredited by the Civil Service Commission for officer’s development. Recently, Ehem! also produced the Aha! A Citizen’s Primer on Whistleblowing, the product of long partnership with the Ombudsman’s Office.


The Church as Part of the Problem

For most of the ordinary faithful, the Eucharist---or the Mass---is not simply a liturgical practice. It is also a social and even an economic event. Many things happen during mass. People enter the church and “find their place”: some instinctively stay at the back, while some prominent personalities would insist on occupying the front row even if they come late. And people see this. Parents teach their kids to be silent. People look at what other people wear. The homilist tries to connect the readings to contemporary issues, calls for prayer for victims of disasters, announces leadership training, denounces anomalies in elections, or at times blesses controversial projects. For some, the mass is a simple opportunity to learn how to use the microphone or try their singing skills. The church then becomes a culture bearer, aside from being a sacrament dispenser.

On top of this, there is the circulation of money. Parishioners hear the sound of the coins and see who is donating the bigger amount into the collection pouch. Sometimes, there is even a second collection for a construction project or in support of a missionary abroad. A disturbing silence, though, is the rarity of financial report coming from the church officials.[1] The inclusion of money, among other things besides, places the Eucharist and the Church in general, within the context of the brewing interrogation of poverty and corruption in the wider society: Where does the money go?

This question is raised in a recent television special. Very respectable TV journalist Howie Severino aims his lenses and his analysis on the use of the faithful’s contribution to the Church. The video-documentary originally entitled “Banal na Barya” or Holy Money is the first of GMA7’s 6th anniversary month-long series of hard-hitting, investigative documentaries, and was aired on April 4, 2005. The blurb on this episode describes the problem: “Few parishioners ask where their money goes. I-Witness asks the questions for them. From collections at church masses, I-Witness dares to follow the church money trail and learns that while priests are sources of spiritual comfort, they do not always inspire confidence in their financial management. Sometimes, they are accused of - gasp! - stealing. Bishops frequently denounce government corruption and social inequalities. But some priests are starting to look in the church's own backyard and do not like what they see. Several thousand priests surveyed recently said that material extravagance was the number one problem of the church. Sex scandals only came in second.”

Perhaps the more controversial segment in this I-Witness episode is the case of the Archdiocese of Manila who owns commercial buildings, rents out its land to banks, and even runs a hotel -- all of them generating profits, but for the past several years, has refused to pay tax. Howie Severino openly reveals that his source for this observation is Aries Rufo’s article “The Untaxable Church” (Newsbreak October 27, 2004). Rufo exposes many details about the expansion of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Manila (RCAM) commercial properties which, according to government officials should have been paying several millions of local and national taxes.[2] But apparently, the hotel does not even have a proper building permit. For the record, both Bishop Oscar Cruz and Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales admit that some of Church’s commercial properties must be taxed, and that they have been doing that in their own dioceses. But when we look at the trend in print and internet opinions, this will continue to haunt the Church. While church tax may be small compared to that of huge corporations, the stigma of being a “tax evader” certainly weakens the Church’s prophetic role in social transformation.

One obvious conclusion here is that the Church, in its social existence, is also very much part of the problem. According to a familiar columnist, Conrad de Quiros, “There’s a whole history to show that the Church, though part of the solution, is also part of the problem. As with the society itself, the pocket of wealth and opulence at the top is matched by breathtaking deprivation below, a spectacular divide that doesn’t suggest it holds on to values conducive to honesty, or indeed Christianity.”

What does the Church say to this?

The Catholic bishops very well know the ‘evil of corruption’. In 1989, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines condemned it in a pastoral letter appropriately entitled, “Thou shalt not steal!” This was followed in 1997 with CBCP’s comprehensive social treatise called “Pastoral Exhortation on Philippine Politics.” In these and other documents, the bishops decry the foulness of corruption that “plucks food from the mouth of the starving” and “weakens the moral and spiritual fiber of the people.” The Pastoral Letter on Graft and Corruption in 2003, poetically entitled “Let Integrity Flow Like a Stream” continues the same condemnation, but this time with a totally different tone, one which is both confident in its condemnation of corruption as well as repentant of its own collusion to the problem. On its third paragraph, the bishops make a public confession:

“Today we once more point an accusing finger at ourselves. The entire Church in the Philippines is suffering in great anguish as its integrity is raked over the coals with cases as actual or alleged sexual misconduct of some of its shepherds. We are aware, too, that in other areas of Church life as in parish financial management, some Church members and leaders, through loose and dishonest stewardship, stray from the path of righteousness and integrity and we all suffer from the pain when one part of the body of Christ, that is the Church, does wrong.” (CBCP, “Let Integrity Flow like a Stream.” Pastoral Exhortation on Graft and Corruption, 2003)

This confession is matched by empirical data. In 2004, as a response to the sex scandals that hit the Philippine clergy and hierarchy two years previously, the National Congress of the Clergy was convened. Some four thousand priests and bishops gathered together in one roof. It was a very touching and very moving experience of renewal of commitment to the life and mission proper to “men of the Eucharist.” Part of the program was the conduct of a survey on the “Traits and Behaviors Incompatible with Priestly Ministry and Spirituality”. Out of the 2,911 respondents coming from 85 dioceses of the country, 76 were bishops.

On the question of “indecent lifestyles” of the clergy, 1363 or 46% of the respondents identify “material attachment and extravagance” as the number one lifestyle that mars the image of the Filipino clergy today. Such materialism, according to the interpretation of Msgr. Manny Gabriel, breeds “arrogance” and “inconsiderateness,” with no sense of sacrifice” and “discipline.” Far second is sexual relations with women or homosexual liaisons and activities” at 25.9%, third is “habitual recourse to worldly good time” at 10.6%, and fourth is “closeness to the rich and powerful” at 9.1%.

As to the question on the “factors that weaken the Institutional Church,” the results are equally disturbing. The delegates gave a very high 52.2% on “lack of transparency and honesty in the management of Church resources.” This “problem from within” is felt as “more disturbing.” Again, according to the somber reading of Msgr. Gabriel:

“The clergy’s inability to manage the Church resources due to plain and simple dishonesty militates against very basic human and Gospel values. It brings to the fore the Gospel’s battle cry against sin and corruption, the moral imperative of honesty and truthfulness in the presence of the Lord and His people, the demand for responsible stewardship in the governance of the earth’s resources. And in a country where corruption is woven into every fiber of its societal institution, people expect the Church to lead the moral crusade, to witness to responsible governance and pastoral care. Should this Church be found wanting in this transparent, Gospel-inspired stewardship of resources, because the leaders themselves have failed to practice what it preaches, the institutional Church weakens its moral foundation and credible leadership?”[3]

“Clerical intrigues and politics” comes second at 33.3% and “arrogance and abuse of power” third at 13.9%. The survey was conducted by the social research office of the Pontifical University of Santo Tomas, and published as part of the book called History and Grace, also published in 2005 by the University of Santo Tomas Press. The book contains the speeches and the activities as well as the proposals for a renewed clergy for a renewed Church in a renewed Philippine society.


I heard that among the many speeches and homilies delivered during the National Congress of the Clergy, probably the most moving was the sharing of Father (now Bishop) Broderick S. Pabillo, who spoke from his experience of being a poor priest living with the poor. One of his paragraphs, I think, can really take us from the sociological observation and statistical computation to spiritual reflection:

“I propose that we seriously examine ourselves: Do I use God to get money, or, do I use money to get towards God? We who so preach to others to share, even to give tithes ... do we also share? Do we tithe ourselves? The early Christian community in Jerusalem had no one in need among them because those who have would sell whatever they have and give them to those who have none (cf. Acts 4:34). Therefore many were added to the number of believers. Their life of sharing was a great factor to this increase. Is this also so among us, even at least among us brothers in the priesthood? I dream of the time that there would be no priest in need because we share with each other. Whether one is in the city or in the provinces, whether one is in a big or a small parish, we all share among us. The gap between the rich and the poor among our people will not be bridged if among us priests, who are configured to Jesus Christ and preach love and sharing, have rich and poor among us.”

Fr. Pabillo is echoing Conrad de Quiros’ indictment of the Church, but Fr. Pabillo transforms the social condition into a prophetic call for conversion. Anyone who wants to be enriched spiritually by listening to an account of ministry to the poor would better read the rest of his sharing. What I notice in Fr. Pabillo’s sharing is that scripture passages seem to naturally bubble from experience and then flow very gently into new insights. The rich young man of Mark suddenly leads to Moses of Exodus. Matthew 6:34 “Tomorrow will take care of itself” blends easily with the anecdote on “may awa ang Diyos” (God will show mercy). The issue of some people being “mukhang pera” (literally ‘money-faced’) becomes a jumping board for understanding the Eucharistic sharing in Acts 4:34.

[1] This lack of transparency within the parish apparently flows from the temporal nature of the Church itself. Bishop Leonardo Y. Medroso, explains: “The Church is not a democratic institution. It is a hierarchical (Cf. Canons 204, §2; 336; 375; 753). In a democratic institution, the power of the official basically emanates from the people and is therefore accountable to the people. In a hierarchical Church, the power of the officials (the clergy) emanate from Christ who entrusted the government of the Church to them in a hierarchical order. In consonance with this order pastors are accountable to their bishops as the bishops are accountable to the Holy See or the Pope. Hence, just as no pastor should allow his parishioners or a ‘self-appointed group’ thereof to dictate that he submits to them the parish financial report, similarly neither the bishop should submit to the priests the diocesan financial report. It is, however, the responsibility of the pastors to submit the parish financial report to the Bishop (Can. 1287, §. 1) as the Bishop in turn has the responsibility to submit to the Supreme Pontiff all matters, including financial, of how he administers them in his diocese (cf. Can. 399).” “Transparency in the Church” Impact: Asian Magazine for Human Transformation. Vol 40: 13-14, 22.

[2] “Church sources disclose that the center has been operating the lodging inn for years and charges commercial rates. BIR officials say the inn, which is a commercial business, is taxable. They explain that tax exemption covers only the income derived from religious, charitable sources. They say that area on which the lodging inn stands should be imposed with realty tax. In 1999, the center opened a five-story, 74-room hotel at the back of its compound. Documents submitted to the BIR showed the center’s gross income for 1999, 2001, and 2002 reached P32 million, P46.24 million, and P44.718 million respectively. The center did not submit its income tax return (ITR) for 2000. For 2003, the center surprisingly declared zero income.” Aries Rufo, “The Untaxable Church” (Newsbreak October 27, 2004). On 17 April 2005, the banner headline of the Philippine Daily Inquirer read “BIR to Church: You’re next.” According to the article, “Church leaders, including priests and ministers, and religious organizations will not be spared in the government campaign against tax cheats.”

[3] More recently, TIME magazine (26 February 2007, pp. 34-35) created quite a stir when it published a disturbing article on what it termed as “Pilfering Priests”. The sinister looking prelate in the illustration is caught with money inserted into the pages of his prayer book. The statistics, however, is more disconcerting. Highlighted in the article is that 85% of the dioceses in one survey reported embezzlement cases; 11% had scandals of $500,000 or more. A number of readers reacted to the presentation, but it is inevitable that this kind of expose will be replicated soon in Philippine media. A casual monitoring of the national papers will reveal that this season has actually started.


Corruption as betrayal of communion

Let me now go back to my main focus, that is the call for internal renewal within the Catholic Church and Philippine society. In this section, I would like to pursue a couple of biblical reflections based on my experience in Ehem! Anticorruption Movement. I would just like to share with you how I “discovered” some Biblical texts that, for me at least, have transformed my political action against corruption into a more pastoral ministry for communion.

When I was reading the account of the institution of the Eucharist in the Gospel of Matthew, it dawned on me that right at the very beginning, during the Last Supper, on the first Maundy Thursday, Jesus became the victim of bribery and extortion, as Judas secretly accepted the thirty pieces of silver paid by the religious authorities. Imagine the pain of Jesus, sharing bread and wine with somebody who will betray him?

I am sure that a trained scripture scholar or a biblical spirituality expert can expound on this angle in more detail and probably more poignantly. But to me, the impact of this vision of that dark night dinner came with the death of a whistleblower, Marlene Esperat of Tacurong, Sultan Kudarat.

Marlene was a chemist who turned journalist. While she was monitoring the Depart of Agriculture, she uncovered many anomalies. Her expose later on became the notorious Php 728 million fertilizer scam. She filed dozens of cases touching on overpricing of farm inputs, spending millions of government funds on ghost irrigation projects, and even smuggling of chicken wings. Marlene was aware that she was threatening powerful people, but she was fearless. All she was thinking of was the injustice that a handful of people were inflicting on the farmers and the government. Her family simply had accepted and respected her crusade for justice.

When Marlene died, her sister knew exactly what Psalm she would use for the paraliturgy---Psalm 17. They requested me to lead the prayer that her sister had prepared. I was astonished at the beauty and power of the song of the righteous person seeking protection from God, and yet ultimately expressing inner joy if in the end she can simply “behold your face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with your likeness when I awake.”

“Hear a just cause, O LORD, give heed to my cry;
Give ear to my prayer, which is not from deceitful lips…
Keep me as the apple of the eye;
Hide me in the shadow of Your wings

From the wicked who despoil me,
my deadly enemies who surround me…

They have now surrounded us in our steps;
they set their eyes to cast us down to the ground.
He is like a lion that is eager to tear,
And as a young lion lurking in hiding places.
Arise, O LORD, confront him, bring him low;
Deliver my soul from the wicked with your sword…
As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;
I will be satisfied with your likeness when I awake.”

Corruption is violence. Corruption kills. But what the Eucharistic passages in the Gospel seem to imply is that corruption, moreover, is a betrayal of trust, of divine trust. The person of integrity, however, clings to the friendship with truth---and therefore with God---even at the risk of one’s life.

Thank God, not all whistleblowers get killed, although they continue to be persecuted through harassment and continuous death threat. Ruben M. Manatad understands this perfectly well. He exposed the “rice-for-sawdust scam” in the National Food Authority, where somebody replaced four tracks of rice with sawdust, and threatened him when he refused to sign the delivery receipt. His continuing struggle has inspired him to write his own psalm, “A whistleblower’s prayer”:

“Dear God, please make me strong
In the midst of threats and enticements.
Powerful people are determined to break my will
and compel me to retract my statements.
If they fail, they will see to it that my reputation
is tarnished and my credibility demolished.
I am emotionally burdened.
People close to me may be involved in this wrongdoing.
I just exposed an anomaly that is detrimental to the nation.
But I am prepared to face the consequences of my action.
Please shield me against ill motives and retaliation.
My belief is powerful. My faith is formidable.
I cannot forsake Young people whom I am sworn
to serve faithfully. Help me. Amen.” [1]

Communion as liberation from corruption

During one of our Ehem! seminars for the regional office of the Land Transportation Office, I had a clearer hint on what Jesus did when he visited Zacchaeus, the notorious tax collector. The regional head had several corruption cases filed against him. But he still arranged the seminar. He invited the group to dinner in his house. Nobody came, except my brother Jesuit scholastic and myself. The amount of food indicated that he was expecting a lot of visitors. Apparently, people did not want to be seen dining with him because of his alleged anomalies. I don’t remember what happened next, but he admitted to having those cases looming over his head and promised to be better public servant.

I think there is need for pastoral care for those who have been involved in corrupt activities but are now, like Zacchaeus, craning their neck, as it were, to get a glimpse of Jesus. Jesus knew what was going on in Zacchaeus heart, and out of his wisdom and compassion, Jesus used the very human sacrament of dining together, as an approach to conversion. Zacchaeus burst into liberation from his attachment to his ill-gotten wealth that he promised to return more than what the law could have demanded on him to pay. Jesus declared after the meal, “Today, salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:1-10).[2]

Secretly, a number of people come to me saying, “Father, I am not really a bad guy. It’s just that I was not strong enough to overcome the pressure of the office. I cannot go on with this admittedly corrupt behavior, but I am afraid of the consequences if I expose myself to the law.” I had another case of surprise revelation. I was walking in the Ateneo de Manila campus. A car stopped by me. The window opened and I heard a voice. “Excuse me, are you Father Alejo? Are you the one who gives Ehem seminars? Father, you should talk to me. I am attorney so and so, graduate of Ateneo Law School, and I’m corrupt. Right now, I have a murder case and it has just been dismissed, because we bought the judge. When you have time, let’s have dinner or coffee. I will gather a few others, and we will tell you how things are done.”

I wonder if can muster the courage and the creativity, like Jesus had, to explore talking with the alumni of our schools or parishioners of our churches, at that moment when they are at the brink of conversion. I suggested this to some sisters who were running good schools, but who they admit had alumni who have become corrupt. Why don’t you visit them? I said. “Nakakahiya!” (It’s shameful!) they answered. Why do we feel awkward approaching our alumni in their homes to remind them of the values that our schools stood for? And yet we are not ashamed of asking money for contributions back to the school? Come to think of it, Jesus, in the Zacchaeus liberation story, is probably teaching us a pastoral approach to societal change---and again, through the Eucharistic meal!


As the Church begins the all-important surgical self-criticism, there are positive signs that can give us energy to proceed with this “urgent advocacy.” In its most recent survey on corruption, the Social Weather Station included, for the first time, the category “local church leaders”.[3] The result is that local church leaders got the highest rating for sincerity in fighting corruption, scoring higher than the Supreme Court and Social Security System. This is not conclusive but it certainly signals both hope and responsibility. Hope in that many people still trust the Church as an important actor in social transformation. This also implies a great responsibility to go beyond being part of the problem to being part of the solution.

Some Church groups have actually been involved in the punitive as well as preventive aspects of anticorruption work. Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez enumerated some of these initiatives during our participation in the symposium “The Fight against Corruption” convened by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in the middle of 2006. The National Secretariat for Social Action for example has grass roots level lifestyle check and Internal Revenue Allocation (IRA) Watch Campaign. Along with the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission (PAGC), the Office of the Ombudsman and civil society groups, NASSA signed a memorandum of understanding committing itself and the dioceses under the social action network to the campaign for good governance. Many devout Christians are in government and private agencies, trying to introduce reforms form within their sectors.

A seriously felt need is to root this political and governmental work onto a more solid spiritual foundation. The DILAAB movement, developed from Cebu, is a great move to fill this need. Dilaab, which literally means ‘flame’ or ‘on fire’ in Visayan, is a moral-spiritual renewal movement harnessing faith, igniting spaces of hope, and channeling the energies of love for a transformed Filipino nation through heroic Christian citizenship; Christ-centered leadership; and Christian (or God-centered) advocacy work.

Ehem! Movement starts from a cultural analysis of the endemic nature of corruption and offers a spirituality of integrity as it networks primarily with government, church and school action and energy centers.

Fighting corruption and working for good governance is emerging now as a top priority in our renewed social ministry of the Church. This issue, however, gains more urgency and sensitivity when we consider Mindanao. Studies have shown that controlling corruption in post-conflict countries usually looks like fighting another war. If these funds do not land on the proper beneficiary communities, then we may have to face another war. We know even now that corruption breeds violence. When a court cannot give justice to a person’s cause, then he might take the law into his hands. When clan conflicts are settled using public funds as blood money, then we realize that preventing corruption is actually working for peace and development.

What remains as a gaping lacuna is the articulation of the political and economic reforms to the sphere of spirituality that looks at the basic integrity and morality of every individual as a member of the political and economic systems. As the World Bank (2000) exhorts, there is a need for a spiritual and ethical-based initiatives to complement the political and economic reforms. Perhaps the turn to Eucharistic spirituality may prove enriching and enlivening, especially when we start (and rightly so) with the reform of our own personal and communal lives as Christians.

The National Congress of the Clergy is correct in focusing on the renewal of the clergy from the very beginning of formation of seminarians. Perhaps a corresponding articulation of the Eucharistic spirituality of integrity should also be developed among the laity whose divine mission is precisely to evangelize the secular sphere. Our discerned strategic response is to build up women and men of integrity, equipped with appropriate expertise and solid spirituality in the moral use of power and in the technical requirements of achieving good governance, both in public and private sectors, but also in the Church institutions. Fr. Louie Hechanova, however, insists that this strategy must go beyond personal conversion; it has to become a movement! “Unfortunately,” Fr. Hechanova sighs, “most of our religious movements are geared towards the conversion of individuals who have to go back into the same environment of corruption. What we need is a religious movement led by concerned lay people that would help reform an entire office or work group in such a way that honesty and transparency become the normal practice in their work environment and where there is a mechanism for enforcing these practices or penalizing violators” (Hechanova 2001, 86-87)

All this goes back to the call of the Synod of Bishops to live the spirit of sharing one bread, and to make sure that others, too, have some thing to eat, have peace of mind, and freedom from manipulation and deceit, as well enjoying good governance.

If we recall the Eucharistic miracle at Cana, Jesus, upon the urging of his Mother, transformed the scarcity of spirits into the celebration of abundance. (John 2, 1-11). Who knows, the Lord might come to the aid of our exasperated people, and offer us at least a taste of being a transformed community?

[1] Mr. Ruben M. Manatad’s prayer is later printed in the Aha! A Citizen’s Primer on Whistleblowing. Davao City: Ehem! Aha! Technical Working Group, Office of the Ombudsman and the Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus (2006).

[2] Interestingly, Zacchaeus’ name apparently comes from the Hebrew Zakkai, meaning “clean” or “innocent” or “just.” Thus Zacchaeus can mean “just man.” He was chief tax collector. He was an administrator who bid for and organized the collection and took a cut from the labor of his underlings. His wealth is probably related to his job and comes from the commission that such officials took from collecting taxes. (Personal communication with Fr. Manol Montesclaros, SJ.)

[3] “The managers give Local Church Leaders the highest rating for sincerity in fighting corruption: Net +71, which the study classifies as Very Good (over +50). Their ratings of the Supreme Court and the Social Security System are classified as Good (+31 to +50 range). Considered Moderate (+11 to +30 range) are: the Department of Health, the City/Municipal Government, and the Sandiganbayan or anti-graft court. Rated Mediocre (-11 to +11 range, indistinguishable from zero) are: Trial Courts, COA, the Ombudsman, the Government Service Insurance System, the Department of Education, and DBM. The negative categories are Poor (-11 to –30 range): PCGG, the Office of the President, the Senate, the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission, AFP, DOJ, Department of Transportation and Communications, and the Department of Agriculture; Bad (-31 to –50 range): DILG, PNP, LTO, DENR, the House of Representatives; and Very Bad (below –50): BIR, Commission on Elections, DPWH, and Bureau of Customs. The SSS (Net +38), GSIS (+5), DOTC (-22), DA (-24), Comelec (-59), and Local Church Leaders (+71) were included in the sincerity ratings for the first time in 2006.” The 2006 SWS Survey of Enterprises on Corruption: Mostly Good News On The Business Sector, Bad News About Government (6 July 2006).

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