(A Pastoral Statement of the CBCP)

Beloved People of God:

Greetings of peace in the Lord!

As we survey the situation in our country, God’s words to Israel both convict and inspire us: “Let justice flow like water, and integrity like an unfailing stream” (Amos, 5:24).

We have always acknowledged the mystery of the Church that is holy in Christ and yet sinful in its members, clergy, religious and lay people. Indeed, from the Church’s beginning in the community of the apostles, sinfulness has always been a part of the Church’s history.  It passed through so many dark periods of corruption that in the Middle Ages there had to be profound renewal from top to bottom.

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 of 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 even dishonest stewardship, stray from the path of righteousness and integrity. We all suffer the pain when one part of the Body of Christ, that is the Church, does wrong.

For all these we express our sorrow and ask forgiveness from the Lord, as well as from our people.  We pray to the Lord for healing and resolve to continue on the road of renewal. As Church we have walked this road at times dedicatedly and at other times less so since the Second Plenary Council sounded the call of renewal in 1991, a call that the National Pastoral Consultation on Church Renewal repeated in 2001.

In 1991 we declared that clergy renewal is a key priority. And we have put in place various programs of clergy renewal.  We have also responded to the crisis going on in the Church by drafting pastoral guidelines on dealing with the sexual misconduct of clergy and religious.  We are presently looking into program of seminary formation to ensure, as far as is humanly possible, that our future priests, religious, and bishops shall be persons of true integrity after the manner of Christ.  Our present experience of darkness has reminded us of the mystery of our Church as a community of saints and sinners, needing constant renewal.

But even as we are deeply aware of our sinfulness and resolutely continue on the road to renewal, we cannot abdicate our moral role to speak of moral problems that also beset our society.

Fourteen years ago, we, your Bishops, wrote you a pastoral letter on the subject of graft and corruption.  We appropriately entitled it, “Thou Shalt Not Steal” (1989).  Seven years ago, again we addressed the same issue of graft and corruption in our Pastoral Exhortation on Philippine Politics (1997). In the strongest terms we condemned graft and corruption as an offense against society and sin against God.  God will certainly hold the perpetrators accountable. To combat this evil we also proposed the formation of citizens’ councils to promote public awareness, to monitor the use of public funds, and to initiate charges against guilty officials.  Today we reiterate this concrete suggestion.

The Evil of Graft and Corruption

Corruption is the abuse of official power in government or in the private sector for private gain or enrichment. A more general term, graft is the use of dishonest or questionable means for private gain.  Ordinarily, we connect graft and corruption to political life.  But we must recognize that both the public and the private sectors perpetrate this evil. Our high tolerance of the evil is still the greatest problem. We as a people are also responsible. In the public sector, direct theft of government resources and the sharing of profits from government contracts, illegal gambling and drugs continue. In the private sector, connivance with corrupt activities of public officials, bribery and dishonest reporting of finances for tax evasion purposes are reportedly not infrequent. Insider trading, stock market manipulation and shady business deals worth billions of pesos deprive small investors of meager resources and discourage investors, both domestic and foreign.

Corruption is by no means confined to the Philippines. In recent years, major cases have exploded in developed countries such as Japan, South Korea, the United States, Germany and elsewhere. It is a world-wide phenomenon, related to a breakdown of moral and ethical standards. But in the context of a nation of such gross inequality as ours, this evil against society and against God is aggravated.

The Impact of Graft and Corruption

Our nation groans from the weight of more than $52 billion in foreign debt, which draws away resources from urgent development needs and social services.  The added loss of an estimated $48 billion to graft and corruption over the past 20 years, reportedly about 40 percent of the government’s annual budget, is simply morally unacceptable. It is the poor who suffer most from corruption. Public funds that should provide development for the poor are stolen.  “Stealing from public funds is so much more food plucked from the mouths of the starving…” (CBCP Pastoral Exhortation, “Thou Shalt Not Steal”.)

The impact of corruption extends far beyond the direct cost to government and to its capacity to provide public service.  Corruption has besmirched the reputation of our nation. Last year, we ranked 77th among 102 countries scored on the extent to which corruption is perceived among public officials and politicians worse than the 65th place of two years ago [Transparency International].  We are the 11th most corrupt among the 102 countries scored.

Corruption is instrumental in driving down the value of the peso.  It makes possible the proliferation of criminal syndicates engaged in kidnapping and the drug trade. It imposes countless burdens on business people and ordinary citizens who must give lagay in order to obtain services to which they are entitled.  It has weakened the moral and spiritual fiber of a people that sees almost everyone as “on the take”, “lahat nandadaya”, including the most powerful institution of the land.

Corruption has weakened the resolve of many to work for change as they are gradually being conditioned to accept and tolerate systemic and institutional wrongdoing by those in power. Today these corrupt systems have become so established that they can even boot out well-intentioned and crusading officials in critical offices notorious for graft and corruption.  Legislators hold up the national budget because of squabbles over “pork,” or so-called “development” funds. Indeed, corruption has become so entrenched as not to spare even such revered institutions as media and civil society. Even some in the Church have been known to accept donations from persons known to be corrupt. For this we express our repentance and ask the forgiveness of the Lord.

Pastoral Recommendations and Action

Yet there is hope. The World Bank report, “Combating Corruption in the Philippines — an Update” documents the growing awareness in all sectors of Philippine society of the reality of corruption and the damage that it does to the nation [Report No. 23687-PH, September 30, 2001)].

Awareness is not enough. More decisive action must be taken.  We commend and support the many Church-based groups and citizens’ group that have taken up the issue either on their own or in response to the Bishops’ call in 1989.

We recognize the important steps that the government has been taking in recent months. We challenge new groups to organize themselves and address this problem in their respective sectors or localities.  In particular we urge all our Catholic institutions, schools, parishes, religious organizations and movements, and Basic Ecclesial Communities to emphasize value formation, especially in the family, and to throw themselves vigorously into the campaign.  We encourage them to use for their formation programs the book “Ehem! A Manual for Deepening Involvement in Combating Corruption” produced by the Jesuit Committee on the Evangelization of Culture.  This manual is based on the findings of the committee’s “Cross-Sectoral Study of Corruption in the Philippines (2002)” [By Christina Lim, published by the Ateneo de Naga Press].

We support the present efforts of the Ombudsman to press for stronger legislation against corruption, such as Senate Bill 1945 that would allow private prosecutors to serve on behalf of the Ombudsman.  We urge our legislators to pass this bill without delay.  We also urge government to form alliances with concerned citizens’ groups, including legal right, with detailed information on budgets and expenditures.  Citizens’ groups should also help in lifestyle checks on government officials.  Government officials who show themselves reluctant o share such information should be immediately suspected of having something to hide.  The prosecution of erring officials must be carried out vigorously and effectively.

As we Bishops commit ourselves to this cause, we assign NASSA, our social action arm, and the Council of the Laity of the Philippines, to lead in implementing Church initiatives against graft and corruption.  We also resolve, as we have already done, to do our own housecleaning. We shall not accept contributions from those known to be corrupt nor honor them in any special way lest we convey the message that we condone their activities.

Like the prophet Amos seven centuries before Christ, we lament and denounce the social injustices of our day. Even as we hope, we also believe – if we all cooperate with God’s grace and with one another, there will come a day when the Lord’s exhortation to his people will come true: “Let justice flow like water and integrity like an unfailing stream” (Amos 5:24).  We ask Our Lady, the Mother of Jesus who is “Faithful and True”, to intercede for us as she did for the young couple at Cana in Galilee, so that our country may rise as a beacon of lived faith, justice and integrity in Asia.

For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:

Archbishop of Cotabato
President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines

July 7, 2003