The PCEC and the Fight Against Corruption in the Philippines: A Call for Self-Reflection and Re-Direction

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e were pleasantly surprised to read recently of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC) national director Bishop Efraim Tendero asking members of a Facebook group for followers of a well-known evangelical think-tank what they thought are the top three things that must be said about the failure of the church – and we presume he meant the evangelical church – to address corruption (and we presume he meant the sort that happens on a regular basis in the Philippines). The post he made was: Please help me think through what hinders the church from being the salt and light that could transform a corrupt society, please give your top three answers. We say we were pleasantly surprised by this gesture because just before that, at another Facebook group –of people interested in theology and related matters – he unsubscribed himself after reading some posts critical of some aspects of his leadership at the PCEC. We appreciate and take advantage of his new openness as a willingness to listen, even to those who may not share his convictions about the direction the PCEC has taken under his watch for the last 14 years or so. We take it that he meant to ask why, despite having more than 20,000 churches all over the Philippines and counting, Filipino evangelicals have not made any transformative impact in society beyond the surface trappings of pietistic “salt and light” spirituality: their mega churches are a sight to behold, the Purpose-Driven Life is a best-seller and can be found in the bookshelves of such disparate characters as boxer Manny Pacquaio and Ilocos Sur Gov. Chavit Singson, and invitations extended by evangelical leaders to politicians to attend their religious gatherings are much-sought after. For starters, Bishop Ef, in his quest for answers to a question he apparently finds perplexing, need only to look no farther than the PCEC and its stand on the Aquino government’s drive against graft and corruption, especially of the kind that has bedeviled the country during the last administration. We raise this matter now because we particularly remember what he said a few years ago at a small forum organized by his predecessor at the PCEC, Dr. Agustin JV Vencer, on the impeachment process being laid against Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. When asked at the forum where his heart lay on the issue, his response truly beguiled us. He said that due process must be accorded Mrs. Arroyo but he did not think she will get her day in court in the impeachment process, as it was not the proper forum.

We are paraphrasing from memory of course, so we might have entirely missed what the good bishop meant. He seemed to mean to us that he did not think Mrs. Arroyo should be impeached for graft and corruption, human rights violations, electoral fraud and betrayal of public trust. Perhaps he could have meant that since the whole process was a political one, we can’t really expect those who want her impeached to be kind to her. In any case his statement that it wasn’t the proper forum truly puzzled us. Considering that the good bishop has been an advocate of constitutional change since at least the time of President Ramos – the country’s first ever Protestant chief executive – we expected him
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to know that under the constitution, with the exception of resignation and incapacity to hold office, the President can only be removed from office for any unconstitutional wrongdoing through the impeachment process. Of course, we did not entertain the thought that the good bishop would have wanted Mrs. Arroyo to be ousted from her office by yet another People Power since under his watch, the PCEC also issued a series of statements in the sorry course of the Arroyo administration calling on the people who want to boot her out of office to respect duly-constituted authorities and dulyelected officials. Apparently, he and the PCEC continue to believe Mrs. Arroyo won in the presidential elections fair and square since until now, he and the PCEC have yet to take back the statements, or issue a new one supporting calls for accountability for electoral fraud in the past elections held under the Arroyo administration. We expected the PCEC to issue a statement of support when President Benigno III, as one of his first official acts as Chief Executive, created what is now the late lamented Truth Commission to investigate the sins of the past. Although subsequently declared unconstitutional by an Arroyofriendly Supreme Court, the PCEC could have made it clear that it stood on the side of what is just and right by issuing a simple statement of support for the Commission. We expected the PCEC to have seized the day when Koko Pimentel was finally proclaimed as senator following the resignation from office of the good senator from Maguindanao, Juan Miguel Zubiri. Again we were disappointed to hear nothing from the PCEC about this momentous occasion . Perhaps the good bishop and his colleagues in the PCEC thought that since what was involved was only the senatorial elections in 2007, it did not really have a bearing on or any connection to the alleged massive cheating that took place during the 2004 “Hello Garci” presidential elections. Or maybe he really thought that better a President who won by cheating than a President like Fernando Poe Jr. We could not really blame him if that were the case: for we must confess we thought so too, until we were confronted with the evidence of massive fraud. (W ell, we say it’s not too late: the PCEC can at least issue a statement of support for Atty. Ferdinand Rafanan, a good man of faith now among those tasked by the Commission on Elections to investigate allegations of fraud in the 2007 and 2004 elections). Not long after that forum, the good bishop was shown on television clapping vigorously till his hands bled (we are surely exaggerating here), while Mrs. Arroyo delivered her State of the Nation Address (SONA) at the House of Representatives after her congressional allies successfully trounced yet another attempt to impeach her. She received so much applause from her allies that day, including, presumably, the good bishop, since he was among those shown on television giving her what could only be deafening rounds of applause. Indeed, she received even louder applause when she congratulated one of her most loyal generals, Jovito Palparan, for a job well-done. Presumably, the good bishop also approved of the general’s promotion to a higher office by Ma’am, since he was among her well-wishers there, and since, until now, we have yet to hear from him or from the PCEC any statement denouncing human rights violations committed during the Arroyo administration, much less a statement asking authorities that Palparan, also known as “The Butcher”, be held into account for the crimes he is accused of committing while still in active military service. In our book, human rights violations like murder, torture and enforced disappearance are the worst forms of corruption because these acts strike at the heart of human dignity, of the imago
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dei borne by every human being. These acts could only have sprung from a depraved heart that any good evangelical would want to be changed by sola fide et gratia. In fact, human rights violations are among the worst forms of blasphemy because people who commit these acts are pretenders to the power over life and death; in other words, they play God with people’s lives. “The biblical witness not only stands against tyranny and oppression as such,” wrote the late lawyer and lay theologian William Stringellow in his forgotten book on the relation between Romans 13 and Revelations 13, “but comprehends tyranny and oppressions as blasphemy, that is, as the repudiation of the Lordship of Christ in common history by the ruling powers and political principalities.”[1] We follow Stringfellow on this point and say that that where there is illegitimacy in political authority or disorder of coerced order, or injustice of any degree inflicted on citizens, or graft and corruption perpetuated to the high heavens by the incumbents, there is blasphemy against the Lordship of Jesus Christ over all creation. Human rights violations are the sort of blasphemy Filipino evangelicals should spend their energies to campaign against, and not the sort of blasphemy some of them accuse one artist of committing. But perhaps, Bishop Ef or the PCEC really thought these allegations of human rights violations are nothing more than allegations, not even after Prof. Philip Alston, then the UN special rapporteur for extrajudicial killings and summary executions, issued a damning report about the complicity of high officials in the Arroyo administration in the country’s worst spate of human rights violations since the Marcoses fled the Philippines in 1986. Perhaps, like then Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, he believed that Prof. Alston was a communist muchacho from the UN and thought nothing of what his report on the human rights situation in the country under the Arroyo administration said. Maybe he did not think then that human rights were something evangelicals should really be concerned about. If that were the case, we earnestly pray that now that Mrs. Arroyo is no longer president, and P-Noy is already in power, the good bishop and the PCEC should really begin to be concerned, because the killings, the tortures and the enforced disappearances have not at all stopped. Well, the 2010 presidential elections came and went. Meanwhile, the PCEC has been transforming itself into one of the more ardent supporters, among other things, of the government’s peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front as well as the proposed Reproductive Health Law. Lest we be misunderstood, we are all for these two initiatives, laudable by themselves, and worthy of the PCEC’s support. But the bigger point, we believe, is that to date neither the good bishop nor the PCEC has made an accounting of the sordid past that was the Arroyo administration and the PCEC’s more than apparent role in propping it up under the good bishop’s leadership. These big questions of integrity and credibility have been treated as if the corrupt Arroyo administration never happened, and as if the PCEC exists in another world where it need not take responsibility for its participation as an institution in the political process. Indeed, all that we have so far heard from the good bishop and the PCEC as an institution is deafening silence while day after day we hear of graft and corruption involving just about every major personality of the past administration being brought to light. We sincerely hope he and the PCEC do not dismiss these cases as trifling instances of mere politicking. We pray that under a newly-elected Board of Directors, the PCEC will help shepherd its constituents into “a politics of the kingdom that reveals the insufficiency of all politics
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based on coercion and falsehood and finds the true source of power in servant-hood rather than dominion.”[2] Bishop Ef asked for what his constituents think are the top three answers to his “salt and light” question; in response we ask of him to respond to three urgent questions that must first be answered before we can even talk about evangelical churches in the Philippines doing their share in the fight against endemic corruption in government and governance. First, what is the PCEC’s stand on the graft and corruption done under the Arroyo administration, including those where Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her husband, Mike Arroyo, had been implicated? Second, what is the PCEC’s position on the allegedly massive electoral frauds committed during the 2004 and 2007 elections? Third, what is the PCEC’s take on gross human rights violations involving Major Gen. Jovito Palparan, among others? No new photo opportunity for the PCEC with top officials of the new administration can cure the festering wound of corruption afflicting it as an institution. Yet, we are thankful for the opportunity for self-reflection and re-direction among Filipino evangelicals that Bishop Ef’s small note on a popular social networking site now occasions. We believe an honest and transparent response to these three questions can spell the difference between a PCEC able to work out its Gospel mandate in the larger society with credibility and integrity and a PCEC that will persist in the very power politics that the Lordship of Jesus Christ condemns for its idolatrous ways. We believe that if the church must confess the Lordship of Christ, it must stand up against the Powers-that-Be and hold them accountable for their abuse of their God-ordained political authority, and their desecration of their sacred vocation under the Word of God. In doing so, it shows to the world that it does not need to play politics in order to wield influence. “Simply by being itself, by being true to the power of its convictions and the purity of its purpose, it has power. Its authority lies in its own capacity to persuade others to believe in the integrity of its own propaganda, not in the acquisition of political clout by descending to the level of a power bloc.”[3] Hence we confess the failure of the church to live up to its prophetic role to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, [to] fight for the rights of those who are destitute.”[4] We confess the failure of our leaders to shepherd the church into articulating “what is wrong, and why it is wrong.”[5] We confess our own cowardice, our attachment to our comfortable christian lives, our refusal to speak the truth to power. Above all, we confess that Jesus Christ is Lord over all, He who is the True Sovereign of History, who one day, shall come again to establish a kingdom of truth and justice. Maranatha, Lord! Quezon City, 5 September 5, 2011

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Romel Regalado Bagares Elder Christ Our Life Fellowship of the Christian and Missionary Churches of the Philippines F. Benitez Memorial Hall, Magsaysay Avenue cor. Ylanan Road UP Diliman, Quezon City 1101

Prof. Averell U. Aragon National Executive Minister Division of General and Theological Education and Professor of Christian History and Thought Alliance Graduate School 101 Dangay St., Project 7, Quezon City *The authors wish to stress that the matters expressed in this statement are their personal opinions and do not in anyway represent the views of the respective institutions to which they belong. REFERENCES: [1] William Stringfellow, Conscience and Obedience: the Politics of Romans 13 in light of the Second Coming 70 (1977). [2] Stanley Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom (1983). [3] Melba Padilla Maggay, The Desire for Strength to Do Good: The Case Against the Church as Power-Broker, in Transforming Society (1994). [4] Proverbs 3:7-8 (NIV). [5] Melba Padilla Maggay, Prophet, Priest, King: Some Suggested Roles for the Church, in Transforming Society (1994).

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Bishop Efraim Tendero PCEC National Director PCEC 2/F Evangelical Center, 62 Molave St., Project 3, Quezon City 1102 Philippines

Dr. Nomer Bernardino PCEC Trustee Bread from Heaven Community Church 518 Shaw Blvd. corner Old Wack-Wack Road, Mandaluyong City 1550 Philippines

Bishop Rey Calusay, Assemblies of God PCEC Trustee PCEC 2/F Evangelical Center, 62 Molave St., Project 3, Quezon City 1102 Philippines

Bishop Reniel Nebab , CAMACOP PCEC Trustee CAMACOP National Office #13 West Capitol Drive, Pasig City Metro Manila 1601

Dr. Andrew Liuson , Makati Hope Christian Church PCEC Chair PCEC 2/F Evangelical Center, 62 Molave St., Project 3, Quezon City 1102 Philippines

Ms. Nora Lucero, Philippine Bible Society PCEC Trustee Philippine Bible Society, Inc. 890 United Nations Avenue Ermita, Manila 1000 Philippines

Bishop Manny Carlos, Victory Christian Fellowship PCEC Trustee Victory Philippines National Office 32nd Street cor. University Parkway, 6 |Page

Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City 1634 Philippines

Bishop Chito Ramos, Alliance of Bible Christian Communities of the Philippines (ABCCOP) PCEC Trustee ABCCOP National Office Address: 102 Scout Rallos St., Diliman Quezon City, Phil.

Bishop Eduardo Cajes, CAMACOP PCEC Trustee CAMACOP National Office #13 West Capitol Drive, Pasig City Metro Manila 1601

Bishop Edgardo Bantigue ,Christ Faith Fellowship PCEC Trustee PCEC 2/F Evangelical Center, 62 Molave St., Project 3, Quezon City 1102 Philippines

Bishop Noel Pantoja, Conservative Baptist Association of the Philippines (CBAP) PCEC Trustee 3F Greenhills Christian Fellowship, Cor. Garnet and Ruby Rds, Ortigas Center, 1605 Pasig City, Philippines

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