PHILIPPINES - Repent and open your eyes to the poor's misery.
Calling it an "intricate web" of corruption, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle on Tuesday urged politicians and others involved in the alleged P10-billion pork barrel scam to go to the slums and experience what it was like to be poor. Holding back tears, Tagle called on the culprits to repent, adding that they might have dipped their fingers in the nation's coffers because they did not know what the poor were going through every day. Tagle, who usually declined to answer questions about politics since becoming archbishop in 2012, talked emotionally about the pork barrel scam.
"Whoever is involved there, I appeal to you, visit a community of informal settlers … walk there at night and you will see in the sidewalk the families who open these cartons on which they would sleep," Tagle said in a press conference at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila.
"Maybe if you could hold their hands, your hearts will also be touched … Sometimes, I think those who thought about doing this were able to do so because the poor were absent in their lives. Maybe they don't see or refuse to see," he said. "But if you still see and still have empathy, maybe you would still be horrified and feel compassion," he added. "First of all, who would not be shocked about these reports. While it is still being investigated, (you could see) the magnitude of the money involved," Tagle said.
"And then every day, you would see the machinations, whether true or not, it seems that it's a very intricate web that reached this far. Who will not be horrified?" he said.
Big scandals forgotten
"What kind of Filipino who loves his country would not be bothered, especially if he is a follower of Jesus. Your heart would be crushed further. Can someone do that to his fellow man?" Tagle asked.
"Could those behind this stomach this huge damage to the nation? That is why it is only right that this should be investigated … We have heard many other big scandals in the past but these were buried and forgotten when a new issue came up," he added. Tagle called on the culprits to repent and let their "good side" shine through.
"I believe that there is goodness in every person so I'm appealing to that part of every person. You can be better than this. And you cannot deny it. There's a goodness in you which comes from God. Just let it come and you will be free and happy," he said.
Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles also on Tuesday called on Filipinos to press for a thorough investigation of Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged mastermind of the P10-billion pork barrel scam, in the Senate just like what it did with former Chief Justice Renato Corona and retired Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia.
Arguelles said Napoles should be called to the Senate and face an exhaustive investigation by lawmakers, which he added should be aired live for transparency and so that "the public can be the judge too."
"Let all citizens who love this country plead with the senators, if they indeed care for us and for the truth: Please call Janet Napoles to the Senate and [let her] face a thorough investigation like what they did to Angelo Reyes, General Garcia and Chief Justice Corona," Arguelles said.
Silence in the Senate
The senior prelate was referring to the investigations that the Senate had conducted on the late former Armed Forces chief of staff Angelo Reyes over the supposed corruption and distribution of a million-peso payola to the military brass and the plunder cases against Corona and Garcia.
Arguelles also said he did not trust the investigation being carried out by the National Bureau of Investigation that was why he was appealing to the senators to take action.
"The NBI investigation can be manipulated so it should be up to the Senate to open this plunder case," he said, describing the grave misuse of the pork barrel, the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) as a "heinous crime" against the Filipino poor. "Our Filipino poor could have benefited from the PDAF," he said in a text message to reporters Tuesday. He also wondered why senators were quiet all of a sudden on the issue. "Do they have something to be afraid of that Napoles might reveal? Why all of a sudden are they all quiet on this P10-billion pork barrel scam?" he said.
San Beda law dean
Fr. Ranhillo Aquino, dean of San Beda law school, proposed Tuesday that the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) create an independent legal group that would serve as a watchdog against corruption in government as part of the Church's advocacy for good governance.
"After a while, this issue [on the pork barrel scam] will slowly end and we don't want that to happen. Even in the Church, the advocacy against corruption is not sustained so why not the CBCP have a legal luminary study the issue [and] investigate?" Aquino said over Church-run Radio Veritas on Tuesday.