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‘We went from frying pan to fire’

Edsa II a mistake, says CBCP head


By Ayen Infante

02/20/2008

The church issued yesterday what amounted to a public apology for its pivotal role in installing then Vice President Gloria Arroyo to the presidency in a 2001 military-backed revolt that ousted popularly elected President Joseph Estrada.

Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president and Iloilo Archbishop Angel Lagdameo expressed disappointment in Mrs. Arroyo, saying which has become known as Edsa II, which happened between Jan. 17 and 21 in 2001 installed a president who is now being adjudged in surveys as the country’s “most corrupt” leader.

Lagdameo described the church’s involvement in the 2001 event as “embarrassing.”

He called for a “brand-new people power” to address the current political crisis.

Church officials also did not send representatives to a consultative meeting last

Monday called by Mrs. Arroyo through Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila.

Favila in announcing the meeting to newsmen specifically said the list of the invited included Archbishop Lagdameo.

A Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) source said Lagdameo declined the invitation due to his “tight schedule”.

The late Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin defied the wishes of the Holy See for him to veer away from the political turmoil then to figure prominently in the 2001 military-backed takeover of the presidency.

“In People Power I, we were very satisfied with the result. The second one, we were somehow disappointed because People Power II, with the help of the church, installed a president who later on was judged by surveys as the most corrupt president. That is embarrassing,” Lagdameo said.

“We went from the frying pan to (the fire), but what can we do?” he asked.

Lagdameo issued the apology in a meeting with civil society members, students, inter-faith groups and businessmen.

The meeting spearheaded by Favila was called to carry out possible consultative talks with different sectors after allegations of massive graft against top government officials in the $329 million ZTE-National Broadband Network deal.

Not a soul representing the Catholic Church was present in the meeting, according to a source.

Favila and Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya were tasked by Mrs. Arroyo to convene leaders of the church including the academe and the business community to gather proposals on how to address the problems on red tape, graft and corruption and how to implement necessary reforms.

The meeting was called the day after a Communal Mass held last Sunday at the De La Salle University compound to lend support to Senate witness Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr. who divulged details on the anomalous deal directly linking the President’s husband, First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo.

Lozada named allies of Mrs. Arroyo who reportedly stand to receive fat kickbacks from the deal.

Various organizations were invited in the meeting held at 10 a.m. last February 18 at the Board of Investments (BOI) office in Makati City.

From the business community, groups invited were the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (Finex), Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Inc. (FFCCCII), Philippine Exporters Confederation Inc. (Philexport), and Federation of Philippine Industries.

Favila also asked the presence of the Philippine Association of Colleges and Universities, the CBCP, and National Council Of Churches of the Philippines.

Asked if Lagdameo made an effort to assign any church representatives, a source said the CBCP said in its letter of regret that most Church officials were busy visiting the provinces to make preparations for the Holy Week celebrations next month.

Lagdameo, in an earlier statement said “Their (Lozada and Jose “Joey” de Venecia III) public confession may be considered a providential event that may yet save our country from being hostage to scandalous and shady government deals that offend the common good and serve only personal, family and group interests.”

“We lament in this season of Lent not only that we are sinners but also that our country has too long been captive to the corruption of people in governance,” he added.

CBCP has 94 active members including archbishops and bishops as well as 24 honorary members. The Philippines has 16 archdioceses, 51 dioceses, 7 apostolic vicariates, 5 territorial prelatures and one military ordinariate.

On the ZTE deal, industry sources said that the project was illegal in the very first place due to the absence of a Monetary Board approval. Any deals concerning loans sought by the government need to pass the Monetary Board which the ZTE project failed to secure.

Favila earlier said that there is an urgent need to meet with these groups to “arrest the problems we are facing, we will ask them what are the necessary reforms we need to undertake, for example in the procurement, we want to get their inputs, tell us what we (government) need to do because we don’t have the monopoly of the best of ideas.”

Asked why he and Andaya were given the mandate by Mrs. Arroyo to negotiate with the church and the private sector, Favila said “maybe because the President believes we are not biased.”

“We want to ask them, what could be the inefficiencies with the government so people would not perceived the government is waiting for something,” he added.

Among those who attended yesterday’s dialogue with Lagdameo and other Church leaders were members of the Makati Business Club, Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines, Integrated Bar of the Philippines, and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan.

Also present were other non-Catholic groups such as Bangon Pilipinas, Muslim Legal Assistance Foundation, United Church of Christ in the Philippines, and the National Council of Churches in the Philippines.

The La Salle brothers, who are currently providing sanctuary for the ZTE witness and his family, also attended the dialog.

“Many in government from top to bottom are sinning against the nation. This humiliates us in front of the whole world considering that we are also known as a Christian nation,” Lagdameo said.

“We (Church leaders) thought that history would automatically repeat itself (in 2001). It did not. With the disappointment and doubts surrounding Election 2004, we now look at People Power II with mixed emotions and interpretations,” he said.

“Sadly, People Power II installed a leader who lately has been branded as the “most corrupt” and our government is rated “among the most corrupt governments,” he said.

Is this the reason why many in civil society regard another People Power with cynicism and indifference?, he asked.

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