Jesuitic Placebo

Manuel Buencamino and Filomeno Sta. Ana III are both alumni of Ateneo de Manila. This article appeared in the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Talk of the Town, 13 April 2008, p. A16.

The Jesuits have a reputation of being Church renegades. We recall, for example, the defining leadership of Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J.— he who irritated the Vatican because of his critical independent views.

Such reputation has made some expect that the Jesuits of the Philippine province would veer away from the timid and equivocal position of the bishops regarding the crisis.

Unlike the bishops’ neutered statement, the statement of the Jesuits’ Commission on the Social Apostolate is opposed to the Gloria Arroyo (GMA) administration.  But like the bishops’ statement, the Commission wants to rein in the actions of a broad section of the public calling for GMA’s resignation.  Its view about GMA’s resignation and people power is in fact condescending. On the one hand, it says that GMA’s resignation is one of “principled moral conviction” but in the same breath, it “ceases to be a real political option” because GMA will not sign voluntarily. On the one hand, it recognizes that people power is a “precious legacy.” But in the same breath, it says that people power “in its current usage… is problematic because it is often equated with popular insurrection and takeover as a method of regime change.”

Such casuistry is also known as being “jesuitic.”  The Commission’s message, stripped of the double talk, is that it is against political actions calling for people power and GMA’s resignation.

People power has always been a last resort. The public takes to the streets when all others means of redress are gone. In other words, people power is dictated by necessity. So why disparage people power when it is the result and not the cause of “serious instability” brought about by a corrupt and unresponsive government?

Because of the Commission’s refusal to call for GMA’s resignation, its demands revolve around reforms that it wishes GMA would undertake.  But here lies the illogic of its position.  The Commission thinks that GMA’s resignation is not a political option because GMA won’t resign voluntarily. If we follow that logic, having an independent counsel (as the substitute for the Ombudsman) or an impeachment would not become a political option—haven’t we learned the lessons from previous impeachment bids?—because GMA would manipulate such demands to remain in power.

The proposal to have an independent counsel is a waste of time and a distraction from looking for a real solution towards ridding the country of a morally bankrupt leader who has corrupted every institution from the Executive to the legislature to the Supreme Court– and even the religious sector.

The independent counsel is just another name for the Ombudsman, an office that didn’t even need to be created if the Department of Justice was doing its job in the first place. So it is a double redundancy. Doing the same thing in the same way and expecting a different result is insane.

First, a law has to be passed creating a special prosecutor’s office.  Do the Jesuits expect Congress to do this?

Second, an independent counsel, like the Ombudsman, will have to be appointed. The question then is by whom?

Third, once appointed, the independent counsel will need logistics. She will need a team of very good lawyers who can stand up to the very good lawyers of whomever she is prosecuting. Her lawyers won’t be able to build a case unless they are supported by a team of very good investigators. Where will those investigators come from, the NBI, an agency under the Justice Department? In addition, those investigators will have to be very good forensic accountants because they will be going after dirty money. Maybe the NBI does not have that capability so the independent counsel will have to hire forensic accountants from banks and auditing firms. They will also need to get people from the Commission on Audit, the BIR, Customs, etc.

In short, an entire bureaucracy will have to be created for every single independent counsel.  Where will she get the funding to build such an organization? Will her budget be approved and released through the Budget Department, which is under the Office of the President, or will the allocation be automatic like in the case of foreign loan payments?

Fourth, what powers will be given to the independent counsel? Will she be able to subpoena any and all documents, question anyone she wants without being bothered by executive privilege?

Finally, the independent counsel will be subjected to the same pressures as the Ombudsman. What possible mechanism do the Jesuits propose that will insulate or immunize the independent counsel from pressure? If they know of such a mechanism then just give it to the Ombudsman and let’s get on with the show. Why waste time and money for a redundant office?

As for impeachment, Congress does not want to do it; so why bother? Will an envelope with a letter appealing to a crooked congressman’s better self speak louder than an envelope stuffed with cash?

Fr. Arrupe, S.J., once said that the “promotion of justice is an absolute requirement.”  This cannot happen under GMA.  The Philippine Jesuit Commission has misread the signs of the times.

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