Influential Philippine Roman Catholic bishops slammed endemic government corruption Tuesday but stopped short of urging President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to resign.
The statement by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, issued after a 10-hour emergency meeting, was a small victory for Arroyo’s efforts to serve out the last two years of her term amid widespread calls for her to step down.
The bishops’ group has played a key role in nonviolent revolts that ousted two leaders in the last two decades, and a strong statement against Arroyo could have bolstered protests against her.
“We strongly condemn the continuing culture of corruption from the top to the bottom of our social and political ladder,” the bishops said in a pastoral statement.
“We must seek the truth and we must restore integrity. We are convinced that the search for truth in the midst of charges and allegations must be determined and relentless.”
The statement urged Arroyo and her government to fight graft “wherever it is found” and for the president to rescind restrictions on officials testifying without her permission.
The decision came as a consultant in a questionable telecommunications deal testified before the opposition-controlled Senate that millions of dollars in kickbacks went to Arroyo and her husband, while former President Corazon Aquino, a former Arroyo supporter, repeated that she should quit.
Aquino acknowledged the extraconstitutional removal of a president was not ideal, but added, “In an environment where abuse of power in the face of weak democratic institutions closes all doors of legitimate redress, sadly we are too often pushed to the brink.”
“That is why the most noble and least disruptive way out of the moral crisis would be for the president to resign from office,” Aquino told a business leaders’ meeting.
Deputy presidential spokesman Anthony Golez countered that the constitution, drafted during Aquino’s presidency, offers a solution through the justice system and that people with “selfish motivations” should not be allowed to influence the situation.
Arroyo has not directly addressed the allegations against her and her husband, but has said she opposes corruption and that her family does no business with the government.
Arroyo told her economic Cabinet team Tuesday she wanted a quick outcome of separate investigations by the Justice Department and the government ombudsman into the deal so that “people can file a complaint if they see any irregularity.”
She also appealed to the church, civil society and the media to join hands with the government in “unearthing the truth so that justice will prevail.”
Thousands of left-wing and church-backed activists took to the streets Monday to demand Arroyo’s resignation on the anniversary of the 1986 “people power” revolt that toppled late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Military and police generals, along with 4,000 police officers, staged their own “unity walk” to show loyalty to Arroyo amid coup rumors. Pro-Arroyo lawmakers also led a rally by more than 3,000 people.
Protesters have been galvanized by anti-corruption hearings at the Senate that exposed an anomalous US$330 million (Dh1.2bn) telecommunications contract with Chinese company ZTE Corp. which allegedly involved kickbacks to senior officials and the president’s husband.
Communications engineer Dante Madriaga, a ZTE consultant, told the Senate that an alleged bagman for officials, Ruben Reyes, received US$41 million (Dh151m) from ZTE in three batches, with some of the money going to Arroyo and her husband and part of it used to help administration candidates in last year’s elections.
“These ‘allegations by installment’ unless proven through the processes dictated by our laws would only remain as allegations,” presidential spokesman Golez told reporters.
“We also find it difficult to believe that a mere technician-consultant of a company would know so much about the president or her family.” (AP)
Philippine Catholic bishops slam corruption, but don’t ask Arroyo to resign