Philippines Catholic bishops avoid rallies against government corruption scandal


Manila, Feb 17, 2008 / 06:30 am (CNA).- Catholic bishops and other Catholic leaders in the Philippines decided not to join a Friday rally protesting the president and alleged high-level corruption in Manila, UCA News reports.

Instead the bishops held a morning “Mass for Truth” at their headquarters, prior to the afternoon rally organized by opposition politicians and leftist groups in the country’s main business district in Metro Manila.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and some cabinet members face harsh criticism after allegations of corruption in a now-canceled program to build a national broadband network.

Rodolfo Lozada, a former government consultant, testified before a Senate committee on February 8.  He claimed a Chinese telecommunications company’s $329 million broadband service contract contained $130 million in kickbacks.  Lozada implicated the former head of the election commission, Benjamin Abalos Sr., and President Arroyo’s husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, among others.

The bishops’ “Mass for Truth” was held at the headquarters of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).  The Mass was a response to CBCP president Archbishop Angel Lagdameo’s call for “communal action” in the nation’s “search for truth and justice.”

In a February 14 statement about the corruption hearings, the Catholic bishops said, "Let us pray, in particular, that these hearings will be protected and guided by God's Spirit, so that the truth will be ferreted out and our government and people can move on along the road of true progress and peace."

In his homily for the February 15 Mass, Scalabrini Father Edwin Corros said all Filipinos, especially during Lent, needed to pray and to make sacrifices for the truth to emerge.  He urged others to follow the example of Rodolfo Lozada.

Bishop Deogracias Iniquez told UCA News on February 13 that he would not attend the protest rally against the president because it was sponsored by the political opposition. 

Sister Estrella Castalone, executive secretary of the Association of Major Religious Superiors (AMRS), denied reports her organization sponsored the rally.  Sister Castalone, a Salesian nun, said the rally was a “political exercise of the opposition” and that her organization was not partisan.   She said her organization’s involvement in the controversy was not to protest the government but to uphold the truth.

According to UCA News, Sister Castalone said the AMRS became involved with Lozada after his wife wrote to the group and asked for their help, saying she feared for her husband’s safety.  Rodolfo Lozada claimed police kidnapped him on February 5 when he returned from hiding in Hong Kong.

Protesters at the rally revived the slogan “Enough, too much, act now,” used in the “People Power” rallies against President Ferdinand Marcos before he was ousted from office in February 1986. 

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