New CBCP head: ‘Politics is business’

Paterno Esmaquel II
A protégé of the late Jaime Cardinal Sin, the new CBCP president slams corruption in his opening salvo

SLAMMING CORRUPTION. Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the new CBCP president, slams corruption in his opening salvo. File photo from EPA/Nat Garcia

MANILA, Philippines – The former personal secretary of the late Jaime Cardinal Sin on Sunday, December 1, slammed corruption in politics and business in his opening salvo as president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).

Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, whose former boss led the 1986 People Power Revolution that toppled the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, assumed the CBCP presidency on Sunday.

In a pastoral exhortation for the Year of the Laity in 2014, Villegas listed poverty, corruption in politics and business, and greed and selfishness as “areas of special concern.”

“Politics in the Philippines is a business proposition,” Villegas said in the statement he signed Sunday on behalf of the CBCP.

Citing the pork barrel scandal, Villegas explained corruption-ridden politics “is perhaps the single-biggest obstacle to our integral development as a nation.”

“It is now clear that our people are poor because our leaders have kept them poor by their greed for money and power,” Villegas said.

Villegas challenged the laity to help reform Philippine politics. “What are you doing, our dear lay faithful, to rid our country of graft and corruption? Do you perhaps participate in corrupt practices by selling your votes, by buying votes, by bribery and acceptance of kickbacks?”

Villegas also criticized corruption in business. He said tax collecting agencies, on one hand, “are notorious for their extortionary practices.” Many Filipinos, on the other hand, “do not pay the correct taxes.”

“Corruption in business leads to the further impoverishment of the poor and the widening of the gap between the rich and the poor,” Villegas said.

‘Individual goodness’ not enough

He said greed compromises the common good, as well as truth.

“Our families which are characterized by an admirable closeness are also characterized by a closedness that is unmindful of the common good,” Villegas said.

He challenged Catholics to study their faith and, more importantly, “to make your faith bear on your day-to-day decisions and activities.”

The archbishop added: “Since the corruption in business and in politics that we must fight against is systemic, we, your pastors, urge you to unite in groups which through prayer, discernment, and concerted action will renew the social and political fabric of our country.”

LEARNING FROM SIN. A young Socrates Villegas serves as personal secretary to the late Jaime Cardinal Sin. File photo from CBCP

“Individual goodness is not sufficient anymore,” Villegas said. “The good individual will only be swallowed up by the evil system. While individual witness is important, it is in unity that good Christian people will get their strength and attain victory.”

He advised Catholics to read the Bible and to avail of the sacraments. These include marriage, which “should be valued not only as a beautiful and solemn ceremony but as a welcoming of Christ into the life of the couple and their future family.”

“And finally,” he said, “we ask you to stand up for Jesus not only in religious activities but in your private and public life. Speak up for Jesus and his Church in public discussions. Do not be afraid to be identified as Catholic Christians. You have been called to be saints; you are sent forth as heroes. Take courage. Choose to be brave!”

‘Critical collaboration’

Villegas learned from Sin at a young age. He started as the late cardinal’s personal secretary as a newly ordained, 25-year-old priest.

When he was elected as CBCP president in July, Villegas vowed “critical collaboration” with the government – a position adopted, too, by Sin during the Marcos years. (READ: New CBCP head in Sin’s footsteps.)

Villegas is associated with the family of President Benigno Aquino III, but has sharply criticized the government over the Reproductive Health law.

“Contraception corrupts the soul,” Villegas said in 2012.

Explaining the Church’s role in politics, Sin’s protégé said: “When the rights of men and women are endangered, when human dignity is being violated, when the family is being attacked, when the poor are suffering unjustly, when the children are being risked and being abused, you can expect the Church to speak up.” – Rappler.com

Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.