The Bacani scandal / The Estrada flap

HERE'S THE SCORE - Teodoro C. Benigno -
I had nothing but admiration for the man during those years after I met him at the outset of martial rule. He was a priest-activist with flair in his deeds, a street swirl in his soutana, and very sharp brains to match. Even that early, the Reverend Teodoro Bacani was already scrawling his rebel signature against the dictatorship. He was addressing protest groups with a surprising felicity of language and an occasional growl of anger. He was bereft of the spiritual clutter that would have been pardonable in a brilliant young priest who shone in his theological classes at the Vatican. Bishop Bacani has an honors doctorate to show for that.

Now, Bishop Bacani’s world has virtually exploded.

He is accused of sexual harassment by his 35-year-old female secretary named Rosalyn, a scandal that has reached all the way to the Vatican. He has already resigned as the first bishop of Novaliches, a post he assumed only very recently. For many years, Bishop Bacani held court by the side of Jaime Cardinal Sin as auxiliary bishop of Manila. The public controversy about him only began when the Cardinal appointed Bacani as the spiritual director of El Shaddai. Not many liked Mike Velarde, leader of the El Shaddai flock, a rags-to-riches preacher, whose posies for the Lord are matched by his relish for the good life and money in the bank. Did this ever wash off on the bishop?

And yet as the scandal unravels, we find out that Bishop Bacani’s sin is not really as horrible as we thought it to be. Reports are that the bishop hugged and caressed his secretary, Rosalyn. Three years ago, she was "sexually harassed" by him when the reverend was still posted in Kalookan. Is that all? There was no flagrant sexual act? No unbuttoning? No undressing? No spurt of semen on the Rosalyn’s dress as was the case of Monica Lewinsky when she tarryhooted with President Bill Clinton in the Oval Room? No tell-tale cigar?

We are also told that when Bishop Bacani was parish priest of Paco in the 1980s, he had a "relationship" with a woman – initials MP. There was another "relationship" with a former teacher and a "public display of affection that scandalized those close to the bishop."

So far this is what the traffic bears so far. If true, it is kindergarten stuff compared to the scandal that hit Bishop Crisostomo Yalung of Antipolo. He resigned last year after it was confirmed he had two children with a woman in her twenties. We had been anticipating these cracks in the Church’s armor for sometime. Now that armor has started to leak, we can expect a slew of church scandals in the future – priests with paramours, priests with families, homosexual priests who have molested young boys over the decades, priests who have bought the silence of their victims, priest who have brought terrible shame to the Church.

And out will come, I am sure, the conspiracy of Church leaders at the very top who have covered up. As the archbishop of Boston did for many decades shielding wayward priests before the scandals blew up and almost fatally wounded the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.

There will be increasing pressure on Jaime Cardinal Sin to "tell all", on the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines to "tighten seat belts". The Church in the Philippines is reportedly very rich. If this is true, a weakened, weaseled or bowlegged Church – its moral supremacy close to tatters – will settle handsomely as many victims in the shadows will come forward to disclose sexual assaults on their person.

And it all started because Rosalyn had the guts to confess to intimate friends, particularly a Sister Baay, what happened to her. And it was Sr. Baay who brought it up to the papal Nuncio. And somehow along the way, a struggling newsweekly Newsbreak edited by Marites Danguilan Vitug broke the story. Bam! The lid flew out of Pandora’s Box. And now the whole country is gorging on the scandal.

The moral of the story? I have always believed priestly celibacy just doesn’t hold water or logic. Men are men. And if they succumb to temptation, it’s not because they are bad. It’s just that the imposition of celibacy is like telling a river not to overflow, an avalanche not to cascade, a storm to silence its headwinds. In my time, I too have heard horror stories about "misbehaving" priests. There was the story of a seminarian who bolted the seminary. He recounted that often during the deep night, he was jolted awake because quite a number of his fellow seminarians were "mating" or involved in sex. A homosexual himself, he sought to enter the priesthood to "cleanse" his sins, indeed to carry out the priestly bow of lifetime celibacy. Horrified, he left.

It’s sad. The Church is the last of our moral bastions.

Whenever the political clouds gathered over our country, we always sought refuge in the Church. It was unflinching for God and nation, for mounting the pulpit and castigating those that had sinned, and sending the world of the Lord to palpitate in every home. As a kid in short pants, I was always in fear of Father Kelly, or Father Lolord, the first a firebrand, the second with soft accusing eyes to whom I confessed my sins at the Malate Church. But I felt purified after every confession. I respected the two priests who symbolized the Church of my early days, whose every word bore the imprint of a Jesus nailed on the cross. Of course, I have changed a lot since those days.

Now even the Church has seemingly joined the nation’s fast failing and faltering institutions. I am afraid we are back to the Church of the friars.

* * *
Ex-President Joseph Estrada should order his lawyers, if not himself, to desist and drop their impeachment assault on six or seven Supreme Court justices mounted in the Lower House just days back. The whole thing is absolutely silly and preposterous. And I see my old friend again, Atty. Rene Saguisag, demeaning himself by coming to the defense of Estrada whom he should have relegated to the Laughing Academy a long time ago. C’mon, Rene, this stupid bid for publicity has gone far enough.

Your principal, Erap Estrada, is dead as a dodo. Remember the Rubaiyat of Omar Kahyyam? "The moving finger writes and having writ moves on. And not all your tears…" can move back the clock of history. And erase the events that led to EDSA II. Didn’t you smell it, Rene, the same way you and I correctly smelled Ferdinand Marcos? Erap was a bozo or if you want me to be more explicit, a clown. The moment he stepped into Malacañang, I correctly figured he would slip and stumble on a number of banana peels. He did.

The English language was his first victim. So many words were bent like a pretzel. He should have stuck to Tagalog. The first big boo-boo was in his inaugural speech when he pledged "Walang kaibigan, walang kamag-anak, walang kumpadre." It was like Beelzebub promising he would cut off his tail. Estrada’s ethos, his culture was precisely embodied by that pledge. No sooner had he said it than when every kumpadre, kaibigan, kamag-anak had ensconced himself or herself in the palace where favors were to be had, money to be creamed, and Narcissus placed on a pedestal.

Remember the close lady relative of Estrada who buttonholed Brother Andrew Gonzalez (then eduation secretary) for a book contract that would have earned her hundreds of millions? Remember how Customs and the BIR became the favorite milking cows of the president’s minions? Remember much later how an astute peddler of snake oil, Mark Jimenez by name, became so coveted at the Palace that the president called him a corporate genius? Remember the nightly carousing of Estrada and his buddies where they drank till they literally dropped? Remember how Atong Ang posted himself beside Erap at the Palace as Secretary of Dirty Tricks?

And then, finally, remember how another character, Luis Chavit Singson by name, a fellow carouser, bested by Atong Ang in the dirty money game, exposed the president as "the biggest jueteng lord in the Philippines"? Chavit had his ledger listing Erap and many other names as receiving millions of jueteng money from him. In jig time, the rot, the corruption, the scandals stank to high heavens. And he was impeached in the House, and tried in the Senate.

And so People Power came to pass.

And so Joseph Estrada continues to claim with asinine assurance he remains president of the Philippines and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is an impostor? And he asks the Filipino people to reinstate him as president because the Supreme Court erred in swearing GMA to the presidency? C’mon. Dismount Rene, you’ve gone too far, much too far. This is no longer a legal issue, this is opera bouffe. This is Cantiflas announcing to one and all he remains president, when what he is actually is a prisoner facing plunder charges punishable by death.

Cut the crap.

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