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Pope Francis calls for honesty, integrity among political leaders

Pope Francis arrived Thursday from Sri Lanka for a pastoral visit which is expected to draw millions of faithful where about 81-percent of the population is Catholic. AP/Alessandra Tarantino

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED 11:15 a.m.) - Pope Francis on Friday called for honesty and integrity among political leaders and urged Filipinos to reject corruption.

In his first public speech here, the pontiff said the Philippines faces today the challenge of building a society that is ready to confront new and complex political and ethical questions.

"As many voices in your nation have pointed out, it is now, more than ever, necessary that political leaders be outstanding for honesty, integrity and commitment to the common good. In this way they will help preserve the rich human and natural resources with which God has blessed this country," he said.

Since 2015 has been asked to be declared as the "Year of the Poor," the pope said all levels of society should "reject every form of corruption which diverts resources from the poor."

He said there is a moral imperative of ensuring social justice and respect for human dignity. as injustice and oppression give rise to "glaring, and indeed scandalous, social inequalities."

"Reforming the social structures which perpetuate poverty and the exclusion of the poor first requires a conversion of mind and heart," he said.

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Pope Francis also cited the difficulties in a democratic nation such as the Philippines.

These include the need to preserve and defend basic values such as respect for human dignity, the rights of conscience and religious freedom, and the right to life.

"For this reason, families and local communities must be encouraged and assisted in their efforts to transmit to our young the values and the vision which can help bring about a culture of integrity – one which honors goodness, truthfulness, fidelity and solidarity as the firm foundation and the moral glue which holds society together," he said.

The Pope made his remarks at the Malacañang Palace before President Aquino, government officials and members of the diplomatic corps.

He is on his second day in the Philippines, Asia's largest Catholic nation whose progress has been hampered by rampant corruption.

The problem has festered amid a culture of impunity among powerful politicians and their allies, weak law enforcement and a notoriously slow justice system.

The Pope's visit comes a year before the nation elects the successor of Aquino, a president who vowed to put the government on a straight path.

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