“We will be bearers of good news by denouncing the systems and structures that breed and perpetuate corruption adding up to the misery and desecration to human life and dignity of the majority poor. We shall be bearers of good news as we take active stand for truth, transparency, accountability and genuine change.” – Kalipunan ng Kristiyanong Kabataan sa Pilipinas
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Seldom does one see such unity being displayed by different churches as Catholics and Protestants marched side by side in the streets. As they marched toward Rizal (Luneta) Park, Sept. 13, Church leaders, members of the clergy and lay workers chanted, “Stand for the poor! Abolish pork barrel!”
By noontime, religious from the Catholic church celebrated the Holy Mass at San Agustin Church in Intramuros while the Protestants held their service at the United Methodist Church in Kalaw Avenue. Before 2 p.m., both groups started marching and converged at the corner of Palacio street. Singing, chanting and greeting one another, they marched together to join other sectors in the anti-pork demonstration dubbed as the Forward March.
“”The poor bear the brunt of corruption,” Fr. Leo Dalmao, CMF, said during his homily at San Agustin Church. He said the poor – farmers, workers, indigenous peoples – “are deprived of much needed social services because politicians steal the people’s money.”
“We are here to stand up for truth and justice,” Dalmao said. “We cannot take this sitting down. We are here to pressure the government to scrap pork in all its forms.”
The Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP) mobilized parishes and schools for yesterday’s protest action. In a statement, the AMRSP said, “Our prophetic responsibility compels all of us to make our voice be heard by all concern[ed]. We cannot be idle with what are happening around us.”
Meanwhile, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), the fellowship of mainline Protestant and non Roman Catholic denominations, said the pork barrel is a part of the patronage politics that has plagued the electoral and political system in this country.
“… there is every reason to be upset that the President who was elected via an anti-corruption drive and a platform of ‘daang matuwid’ is not keen on removing this scourge,” the NCCP said. “There is neither justification for the misuse of public funds by leaders while the majority of the people wallow in want and vulnerability to disasters, nor any moral ground in the failure of our leaders to be accountable.”
Bishops of NCCP member Churches joined the Forward March action. The Catholics, meanwhile, were led by Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez. Bishop Oscar Cruz and Bishop Broderick Pabillo joined the interfaith gathering at the Rizal Park.
In his speech, Cruz said in Filipino, “Prayers are good but prayers alone are not enough. We, too, must act.”
Cruz warned Malacañang not to belittle the anti-pork protest. “Malacañang, do not tell us that the people who are not here are in favor of pork. People are not here for many reasons, perhaps they do not have money for transportation…but it is impossible that Filipinos conform to what is happening in the country today.”
The Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) urged all its member schools to join the Forward March. CEAP has called for “collective undertaking as Filipinos pursue truth and genuine accountability.” Thousands of students from Catholic universities and colleges flocked to Rizal Park.
In a strongly-worded pastoral statement issued Thursday, the bishops of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP) said, “Sadly, our political leaders have proven themselves to be no better than Judas—their pronouncements of the needs of the poor have been merely a façade for their own thievery and abuse of power.” “Our nation has been betrayed by those stealing from the common purse and we unequivocally denounce that the poor, who continue to endure hunger, demolition, unemployment and underdevelopment, have been abused for such plunder,” the UCCP said.
In a statement, the Catholic-led National Task Force for Urban Conscientization (TFUC-AMRSP) echoed the cry of the urban poor: “Instead of using public money for the benefit of the poor, taxes are being squandered by politicians who seek office as a business enterprise. The pork barrel Scam is an outright disrespect to the many impoverished people of both the urban and rural parts of the country. This syndicated plunder of public funds worsens the situation of the poor by wiping away their hopes for a just society.”
The Task Force of the Orientation of Church People also called on the “religious, clergy, and lay people alike must further the call for a just society as our primary role as people of the Gospel.”
The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) said “indigenous rights and land reform remain hampered by controversies as the root cause of all unrest.”
Meanwhile, the Promotion of Church People’s Response deemed that the testimony of whistleblower Benhur Luy “clearly points to [President] Aquino as responsible for the whole controversy.”
“The knowledge of Christ as savior compels search for truth and to hold transgressors accountable. As long as the bureaucracy is haunted by the ills of corruption it will not deliver services that will benefit the people, most especially the poor,” Nardy Sabino, PCPR secretary general, said. “It is our unity Roman Catholics and Protestants, therefore to call action to pressure the immediate abolition of all Pork Barrel and allocation of funds to social services. The Aquino administration remains accountable to this controversy as long as it fails to act.”
Both the youth of Catholic and Protestant Churches also added their voices against the pork barrel system. The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines Episcopal Commission on Youth said “the country and our people are beset with various saddening and disturbing issues many of which are recurring issues from the defective system that has not found a better alternative yet.”
Ismael Fisco Jr. Kalipunan ng Kristiyanong Kabataan sa Pilipinas (KKKP) chairman vowed to continue joining actions that call for genuine change. “We will be bearers of good news by denouncing the systems and structures that breed and perpetuate corruption adding up to the misery and desecration to human life and dignity of the majority poor. We shall be bearers of good news as we take active stand for truth, transparency, accountability and genuine change,” he said.
The Nicodemus: Student Theologians and Formandi Solidarity also called for vigilance. “Beyond our call for the abolition of the Pork Barrel System is our greater call to eradicate poverty as the greatest injustice that we face as a people…”