Buencamino writes political commentary for Action for Economic Reforms. This article was published in Business Mirror, July 5, 2006 edition, p. A6.

I have a mental picture of Gloria Arroyo standing over a bloodied Bishop Deogracias Y?iguez. The caption reads, “Bishop clobbered by encyclical-wielding GMA.”

Bishop Y?iguez ignored Mrs. Arroyo’s pronouncement on the separation of church and state and dared file a complaint for her impeachment. Outraged by the bishop’s impudence, Mrs. Arroyo asked the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to take punitive action against the good bishop.

Just because Pope Benedict XVI allowed Mrs. Arroyo to kiss his ring without slapping her silly afterwards doesn’t mean he endorsed her cheating in the elections, her obstruction of justice, her dismal human rights record, and the prevalence of massive graft and corruption in her administration. And it certainly didn’t mean the Pope appointed her Papal spokeswoman. One wonders what spirit possessed Mrs. Arroyo to take such a big leap of faith.

There is no “somos” between the Pope and Mrs. Arroyo. Not even if she’s married to someone who claims descent from St. Theresa of Avila.

Still, Mrs. Arroyo insisted on interpreting the Pope’s circular. She must have speed-read Deus Carita Est because she was on government-run NBN-TV castigating the CBCP even before the Pope could wash his ring finger.

The self-appointed Papal spokeswoman said, “The encyclical defines the role of the Church in our quest for justice, and reminds Catholic leaders to avoid politicking and channel their efforts instead to helping uplift the condition of poor people.”

Not so, countered CBCP spokesman Msgr. Pedro Quitorio. He said, “It is the mission of the church to involve itself in moral issues….If the people are fed up with the country’s situation, the Church need not let them stand alone…if there is injustice and cheating that is where the Church must ‘interfere’.”

The reason for the contradictory readings of the Pope’s encyclical is Mrs. Arroyo’s cherry-picking.

She drew sustenance from: “The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the State.”

And spat out the following sentence that said: “Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice.”

She didn’t hear the Pope’s call to arms:  “The Church…is called to contribute to the purification of reason and to the reawakening of those moral forces without which just structures are neither established nor prove effective in the long run.”

And she didn’t bother with his quotation from St. Augustine: “A State which is not governed according to justice would be just a bunch of thieves.”

When Mrs. Arroyo saw the CBCP standing with Bishop Y?iguez and the public wasn’t buying her role as interpreter of the faith, she decided to shift her attack to muddling the principle of separation of Church and State. She’s planting doubts, trying to fool the public into believing that the 1987 Constitution is a two-way street. It is not.

The constitutional provision on church-state relations is crystal clear. The prohibition on “meddling” is on the State and not on any church. The State has no right to meddle with religion but the clergy have a right to meddle in politics. That right is protected by the 1987 Constitution. Period.

Under the present constitution, Mrs. Arroyo will not win her war on the Church. If Mrs. Arroyo wants to win, to limit religious participation in politics, then she should model her new Philippines after China which, after all, has the world’s fastest growing economy, a strong currency, an unchecked unicameral parliament controlled by one party, and a government that exercises tight control over any and all religions. With the Chinese model in place, Mrs. Arroyo can appoint herself to whatever position she wants. And she can name her own Bishops. What more can anybody ask for?

“Why…the Papacy, of course!” Didn’t Mrs. Arroyo say she’s here now because it’s part of God’s plan for her and for us?