While millions of Filipinos are suffering in deep poverty, more than $23 million were stolen from the scarce financial resources of the Philippine government. A certain Janet Lim Napoles is at the center of this scam. She created bogus non-government organizations (NGOs) as conduits to siphon money from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) assigned by senators and congress representatives to their preferred beneficiaries. From this PDAF, each senator is allocated more than $4.75 million per year, while each congress representative is allocated more than $1.66 million per year. Based on the report of the Commission on Audit (COA), the missing $23 million is just the tip of the iceberg. Several senior members of the legislation are implicated.
This sparked the discussion among pastors and theologians on the role of the church in the process of national transformation. Here is my reflection as I represent an Anabaptist perspective before the community of Christian leaders and thinkers in the Philippines.
The people are seeking God-centered, people-oriented, moral-ethical leadership towards the transformation of our land. That could be the Body of Christ—the community composed of people who have submitted their being to Jesus Christ for personal, radical transformation. The same Body of Christ in the Philippines ought to lead our people towards a radical, social transformation of our land. We can do this as we help educate, organize, and mobilize the people towards this transformation.
We are deeply mired in a socio-political system that enslaves our people and devastates our land for so long. This inherently corrupt system is called ‘patronage politics.’ It is a poison tree. Its leaves and branches release toxic elements in our social environment. It poisons and destroys our land. It poisons and destroys our people, our children, and our children’s children. It corrupts the spheres of our society — arts & sciences, business, church, daily news & media, education, family, and government. We need to take out the radix or the root of this toxic tree from our beloved land. We need to work together towards a radical transformation in our society.
Praying for a radical social movement. I’m praying for radical, active non-violent social transformation leaders who would give their lives and resources to establish alternative communities across our land because they love God, they love Jesus, they love the people, they love our land, and they love the Body of Christ. I pray for these radical transformation leaders who will lead alternative communities not because they are beholden to a religious, political, or civil society personality with a big name, but because they are stirred by the Spirit of God from the deepest aspects of their being.
I also pray for alternative communities who will operate proactively even within their current means and resources. I’m praying for a genuine network of alternative communities who are truly dialogical in their inter-dependent operations.
My spirit is groaning for a non-violent, radical, alternative movement that is moved by the Spirit of God from the ground up.
A time for radical transformation. We are entering a new historical segment of radical transformation in our land. The people have started to question the prevailing patronage political system. They will advance a new liberating system that would free our government and our institutions from the abuse of the few political and economic elites whom we refer to as oligarchs or traditional politicians (or trapo–the Filipino word for ‘dirty rug’).
As we trek through this new segment in our national journey, Christian leaders will be confronted with tasks so different from our previous and current ministry exposures. It will be the ministry of dialogical, justice-based reconciliation between those who belong to the oligarchies and the common people who are being oppressed by the oligarchs.
It begins now. As a result of the explosion of the pork barrel scandal, a ministry challenge in the area of social theology and ethics is now confronting us.
Oligarchy, traditional politicians, and patronage politics. Oligarchs are mostly remnants of former colonial families and their cronies who maintained their ownership of the best lands in our country based on Regalian Doctrine. They may have given up their great grandparents’ direct colonial rule of our country. But these descendants of colonial families made sure that the laws of the land perpetuate their ownership of the best arable and commercial lands in our country. To protect their interests, they secured the control of the legislative processes in our government. They even managed to control the executive and the judiciary branches of the government after the Spanish and the American colonial governments have supposedly left our country, according to the history they wrote. With the political machinery in their hands, they also made sure that the economic system is under their virtual monopoly. They extended their land capital to the commercial-industrial capital, and then merged them with global capital.
These national-global mergers of mega-capital are protected by the laws of the land. Since the interests of these elite families and their global partners are supposed to be legal, they are then protected by the armed forces and the police forces of the land, with the support of the global military power operating in our land.
Some of these colonial families inter-married with certain landed, traditional leaders in many indigenous communities. These inter-married clans of colonial families and tribal royalties brought vast areas of lands within their ancestral domains under the Regalian system. When the new elites opened their lands to modern agri-business corporations, many indigenous clans outside these mixed marriages were pushed up to the mountains. Their traditional livelihood began to disintegrate along with their indigenous governance, culture and identity. Meanwhile, the new elites morphed into local oligarchs. Soon, they sent their children to senate and congress to join the national oligarchs.
The big media and the perpetuation of oligarchy. The big media, which are owned by these oligarchs, are the narrators of the story. The story, as they tell us, is that some elite families are more benevolent than others. The Filipino middle class and the masses must learn to discern which of these elite families are best suited to rule over them. And the story sounds so true! Actually, there’s truth that elite families try to annihilate each other, through violence and other means, just to be on top of other oligarchs. What the big media do not tell us is that, these oligarchs will always maintain their class dominance over the middle class and the masses.
Through the big media narratives, the oligarchs maintain a system in which the majority of the professionals would manage the oligarchy’s interests for them. And surely, those professionals get rewarded enough to be controlled by their oligarch masters.
Through the big media, the masses are lulled into a kind of entertainment that paralyzes their analytic capabilities. They are also pushed into an economic state that made them easy targets for financial manipulation especially during election time. A media that causes the dumbing down of the people, and an unjust economic system, create and sustain a people of mendicants who are easy prey for patronage politics. And true enough, the masses indeed reelect the oligarchs. The price for each vote? From 100 pesos to 1,000 pesos. Then as soon as the oligarch-politicians assume power, they would immediately get their money back through various forms of pork barrels.
This is the story of patronage politics that enslaves our people and devastates our land.
We need a radical transformation.
Patronage politics of the oligarchs and violence. As a system, patronage politics is corrupt, unjust, and violent. Although the oligarchs may be bloody competitive against each other regarding issues of wealth-and-power-distribution (what election has been all about), the threat of dismantling their system of patronage politics will surely bring them together to protect their interests as a class. In the face of this threat of losing their corruption-based wealth and power, especially from people outside their network of elite families, these trapos will join together into a phalanx-like cohesion against the outsiders.
The outsiders are the common people. The outsiders include you. The outsiders include me. The outsiders include anyone who will stand up for, and with, the common people. The oligarchs would ‘neutralize’ or ‘pacify’ the outsiders who would challenge to dismantle their base of wealth and power—which is patronage politics.
Would there be traditional politicians who would join the people in dismantling patronage politics? Of course. Those are the exceptions though. As a class, trapos will continue to be the perpetrators of patronage politics. They will have so much difficulties turning away from this system. It’s their source and base of wealth and power. Through many decades, their amassed wealth and established clan power have corrupted them and have become their gods. Within their realm of power, many of them have even manifested their view of themselves as gods. Impunity is one of such manifestations.
Active nonviolence as a powerful response. The instinctive response of many against the violence of patronage politics would be violence. But responding to the trapos with violence only increases their power because they thrive on violence. The violence of injustice will only be exacerbated by the injustice of violence. Violence begets violence.
The best approach to respond to violence is through active non-violence. Through active non-violence, we take the oligarch trapos outside their sphere of power. A radical, active non-violent transformation is what we need to really empower our people and thus liberate our nation.
The power of active nonviolence has been shown in recent history.
People power in the twentieth century did not grow out of the barrel of a gun. It removed rulers who believed that violence was power, by acting to dissolve their real source of power: the consent or acquiescence of the people they had tried to subordinate. When unjust laws were no longer obeyed, when commerce stopped because people no longer worked, when public services could no longer function, and when armies were no longer feared, the violence that governments could use no longer mattered—their power to make people comply had disappeared.
Peter Ackerman and Jack Duval. “Victory without Violence,” A Force More Powerful, p. 505.
Will we actually rise up as a people and initiate a radical, non-violent social transformation? Will the Evangelical pastors and theologians provide leadership and framework for biblically-based social ethics towards this new wind of national transformation?
We need to finish the people power movement. In the past, we have started a series of ‘people power movements’. There were EDSA 1, 2, and 3. But it seemed we were good at starting well but we still have to improve on finishing well. Perhaps this time, we may be ready as a Church and as a people to continue the people’s power movement. This time, let’s finish well by dismantling the roots of corruption—the patronage political system as perpetuated by the oligarchs.
As Christian leaders, we can start by praying for President Benigno S. Aquino III to listen to the people — whom he voluntarily referred to as his ‘boss’. Then, we can all work together to advocate for the following:
1. Abolish the pork barrel system.
2. Reveal, investigate, and prosecute pork barrel scammers — past and present.
3. Pass the Freedom of Information Act.
4. Dismantle the patronage political system of the oligarchs.
And for our immediate actions within the Body of Christ, may I suggest the following?
- For the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC) to be more active, visible, and audible in your leadership as the nation go through this process of national transformation — for example, PCEC could call for all 30,000+ congregations all over the country to have a simultaneous “Jericho March” around their respective city halls or municipal halls on a Sunday afternoon and pray for our country using the recent PCEC statements, and invite the local and national media to cover these national marches;
- For the young evangelical leaders who are passionate about radical transformation but feel restricted by their respective church councils (PCEC, NCCP, etc.) to have a respectful, transparent relationship with such councils; then, when deemed appropriate, form a non-formal, non-official intra-council and inter-council alternative mobilization networks both in cyberspace and realspace;
- For the Christian theologians to develop biblical-theological frameworks that are in harmony with your specific denominational perspectives and at the same time comprehensible and doable in the context of the local congregations;
- For the pastors to pray, reflect, discern what God may be doing in your respective local communities and lead your congregation—as part of your discipleship and mission—in their education and mobilization towards social transformation; and,
- For youth pastors and youth leaders to include the issues of social-political transformation along with the issues of personal-spiritual transformation in your discipleship ministries such as youth camps, youth fellowships, youth retreats, and all on-going youth activities.
May God wake us up as biblical leaders, as the Body of Christ, and as a nation!
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27
After this article was published, the Board of Trustees of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches asked me to draft a statement addressed to the President of the Philippines. Here is the approved final version:
PCEC OPEN LETTER TO HIS EXCELLENCY BENIGNO SIMEON AQUINO III
Dear Mr. President:
We, at the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC), affirm your leadership as our president. We love you. We pray for you. This is what the Bible has taught us.
A PRAYER FOR “MATUWID NA DAAN”. We believe in your “Matuwid na Daan” as you have outlined in your inaugural speech and as it was demonstrated through many of your actions and decisions in the first half of your term. We praise God for those reforms. We thank God for what you have done so far. We continue to pray for more victories towards your vision.
In that same inaugural speech, you said: “The first step is to have leaders who are ethical, honest, and true public servants. I will set the example. I will strive to be a good model. I will not break the trust you have placed in me. I will ensure that this, too, will be the advocacy of my Cabinet and those who will join our government.” We rejoiced over these declarations and hoped they will guide us into the era of ethical governance. It has been these declarations that embolden us, the Evangelical community, to express the following appeals:
AN APPEAL TO ABOLISH THE PORK BARREL SYSTEM. We appeal to our President to take the lead in abolishing the lump sum appropriation of more than P25 billion former PDAF or any semblance of pork barrel in our national budget. We also appeal to our senators and the congress representatives to focus on their intended job—which is to create laws. Hence,
• we appeal to His Excellency for the abolition of P200 million annual allocation for each senator;
• we appeal to His Excellency for the abolition of the P70 million annual allocation for each congress representative that are supposedly used for various projects, but have been abused; and,
• we appeal to His Excellency for the ‘special purpose funds’ (SPF) of nearly P450 billion be abolished as well.
These pork barrel funds are better allocated under the “regular” budget for different government agencies. In this way, Congress would be able to scrutinize how the agencies are spending the taxpayers’ money. This would enhance the check-and-balance relationship between the Legislative and the Executive.
AN APPEAL TO LEAD US IN DISMANTLING PATRONAGE POLITICS. We appeal to our President to lead in the abolition of an unjust system of patronage politics. We strongly say,”Enough with a few families controlling not just the politics but the very soul of towns, cities, provinces and to some degree our country!” Thus, we encourage our President —
• to lead our nation by exploring all legal and legislative processes towards this political transformation;
• to lead us to stop the use of pork barrel funds to finance and sustain this patronage political system and the political dynasties that perpetuates corruption;
• to lead us in eliminating and preventing collusion between members of the Executive and the Legislative, which destroys the check-and-balance relationship between these two branches of the government; and,
• to lead us to be vigilant as our nation prepares for the 2016 general elections — to be vigilant against electoral sabotage and vote-buying that perpetuates patronage politics.
AN APPEAL TO LEAD IN THE PASSING OF THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION BILL. Finally, we appeal to our dear President to lead in passing the Freedom of Information Bill and to certify to the necessity of its immediate enactment. As you have stated, dear Mr. President, “We will strengthen the process of consultation and feedback. We will strive to uphold the constitutional right of citizens to information on matters of public concern.” We are convinced that this bill is crucial in our fight against corruption because —
• The Freedom of Information Act would help end the culture of government secrecy and corruption and will start a culture of transparency and righteousness.
• The Freedom of Information Act will prevent the government from hiding crucial information from the public.
• The Freedom of Information Act will be a highly effective tool in exposing corruption and allowing us to campaign to prevent abuses of power.
• The Freedom of Information Act will also facilitate informed participation by the public in government decision-making, and more efficient access to government services.
We pray to God that the heart and mind of our dear President will be so open to listen to the People—whom he voluntarily addressed as his ‘boss’. This is our collective will. This is what we believe is the direction of change we need to do as one people—a systemic change that roots out the causes of corruption.
Our dear President, we encourage you to lead us, your people, in this journey towards a radical, national transformation. May God richly bless you as this radical transformation becomes your legacy in the history of our land and our people.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
The Board of Trustees, Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches
Bishop Efraim M. Tendero, PCEC National Director, email@example.com. or telephone 9131655-57
After this was delivered to the President, Mr. Rolando Cucio (Assistant Secretary for Political Affairs, Office of the President) interacted with us and requested a follow-up statement asking the PCEC to publicly support the President in prosecuting all those involved in the pork barrel scam:
WE SUPPORT P’NOY AS HE LEADS IN PROSECUTING ALL THOSE INVOLVED
IN PORK BARREL CORRUPTION, PAST AND PRESENT
The Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, a network of more than 30,000 evangelical denominations, local churches, and parachurch and mission organizations in the country, supports our beloved President Benigno S. Aquino III as he leads the nation in bringing about a lasting transformation in our society.
We strongly support the President —
:: as he reveals the names and identities of those who are responsible for the scam;
:: as he leads in a prompt, impartial, and complete investigation of; and,
:: as he leads in prosecuting those who are culpable,
all those who were directly part of this heinous crime, private persons and members of the Executive and the Legislative who have been involved in the corruption of pork barrel funds, whether they belong to the ruling party or the opposition, whether they belong to the past administration or to his present administration.
We strongly support the President as he reminded the Justice Secretary that it was not about filing cases, but “It is securing the conviction that is the measure of success”.
We realize how lonely and exacting this undertaking is and we identify with the President as he was quoted saying, “There are days when you feel it is a lonely battle.” We declare to the nation that — WE, THE EVANGELICAL COMMUNITY, ARE WITH YOU, MR. PRESIDENT, IN THIS LONELY JOURNEY!
We will encourage and consistently prompt our constituencies to prayerfully monitor the development in these pork barrel corruption cases and we will not let go until we see all the guilty ones be properly brought to the bar of justice.
We believe what the Holy Scripture speaks of the leaders of nations and we claim this truth for the President of the Republic of the Philippines. “For he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” (Romans 13:4)
The Board of Trustees, Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches
September 4, 2013
For more information, please contact:
Bishop Efraim M. Tendero, PCEC National Director, firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 9131655-57