MANILA, Philippines - Bishops gave President Benigno Aquino a "failing mark" in his responsibility to deliver "material good" to the people.
Auxiliary Bishop of Manila Broderick Pabilllo said that on "matters of justice which deeply touch the lives of the poor," he gives the president a "failing mark."
"Ang simbahan ang in charge sa spiritual good, siya (si Aquino) sa material good (ng mga tao). Pero kung sa material good lang, hindi siya nakaka-contribute. Yung mga policy niya, katulad ng RH ay hindi rin nakaka-contribute sa morality ng tao. Yung gambling, laganap din, hindi niya ito nasusugpo," Pabillo said.
Palo Archbishop Jose Palma, outgoing president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), said he is more interested in how President Aquino has worked on the economy and how its recent boom would translate into jobs, food security and education for the poor.
"The government now is speaking about growth ... but is it inclusive? What about the poor?" he asked.
"Certainly, growth is there, but there are still areas when we expect people to have growth but did not. So we think there should be growth not only in our businessmen but in simple people who are part of our country," Palma said in an ambush interview with Philstar.com.
Following the stunning 7.8 percent GDP surge in the first quarter of the year, Aquino has harped on how his administration has been looking for solutions to attain inclusive growth.
"We must make certain that this growth becomes more inclusive, that the economic benefits do not merely trickle down to our people, but that every Filipino is able to ride the rising tide of progress," Aquino said in a speech before ambassadors last July 11.
Pabillo, moreover, cited Aquino's rallying cry "Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap" in finding fault in the president's campaign against the still widespread corruption in his agencies.
"Kung may humihirap, e 'di maraming corrupt. Yung slogan niya, hindi tamang nagagampanan," he said.
Errors in moral life
While many said that the recent improvements in the economy only came from massive spending for the May elections, the bishops voiced out other poll-related concerns they believed the president did not help address.
Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villages, incoming president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), talked about how Pope Francis' first encyclical Lumen Fidei or "Light of Faith" applies in the Philippine setting.
He told Philstar.com that the Church sees upright-and immoral-behavior are what makes and destroys a nation, as seen in the conduct of the elections.
"The Philippines is hurt not just by heresies, not just by errors in doctrine, we are really more hurt by errors in moral life. We are not living our Catholic faith as we should do it," he said.
"We are not only talking about vote-buying, we are also talking about vote-selling. We usually associate this with the candidates, but now our countrymen are explicitly receiving money in exchange for selling their votes. And these must be stopped," Villegas said.
Villegas also has a lot to say about the role of the Church in the country today, and expresses this first with disclaimers.
"The Church is not a lobby group, the Church is not an NGO
the Church is not a political group," Villegas said in a press conference following the bishops' mid-year plenary assembly where the highest Church officials in the Philippines assess conditions and issues-spiritual and material-Filipinos face.
Until "common good" is achieved by the State currently under the leadership of President Benigno Aquino III and the spiritual welfare of the people is ensured, the bishops do not and cannot rest easy, and Villegas is not one to chew words explaining the Church's position in a litany.
"When the rights of men and women are endangered, when human dignity is being violated, when the family is being attacked, when the poor are suffering unjustly, when the children are being risked and being abused, you can expect the Church to speak up. We are not against any political party," he said.
"We are against anyone who would destroy the stability, the solidity, the integrity, the sanctity of the family. So you can have conclusions from those principles," Villegas added.
The Catholic Church has is strongly opposed to the Aquino-backed Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act, which the president signed last year.
The Supreme Court has indefinitely suspended the implementation of the law as it hears petitions filed by various pro-life groups.
"With or without the Supreme Court decision (on the RH), our duty as bishops is to teach you, is to teach youths, to teach our children that human life is sacred, that the human body is God's gift to us. We will never get tired of teachings those lessons," Villegas said.
Palma, too, said that even if the high court decides in favor of the RH law's implementation, the Church would never see it as a defeat.
"We will never believe that the Church is defeated, because on our part, we always believe that the Lord is with the Church. We would not believe that this is the defeat of life, this is the defeat of love, this is the defeat of the family and the sanctity of marriage. The sacredness of love will always be there," the bishop said.