GMA MET W/ BISHOPS, JOINED CHURCH LEADERS IN DAY OF INTENSE PRAYER

MANILA, September 13, 2005
(STAR) A day before the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) is to discuss the Roman Catholic Church’s current stand on the political crisis, President Arroyo joined Church leaders in yesterday’s National Day of Intense Prayer for Peace.

Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal refused to disclose to reporters what they discussed with Mrs. Arroyo.

Vidal instead echoed the call of Davao Archbishop Fernando Capalla, the outgoing CBCP president, for Filipinos to set aside their political differences and move on.

Mrs. Arroyo attended the prayer service at the Carmelite Convent in Lipa City in Batangas in the morning before flying last night for New York City for the United Nations general assembly.

The CBCP’s permanent council will meet today to debate the organization’s position on the political crisis that is hounding Mrs. Arroyo and threatening economic recovery efforts.

Earlier, Capalla said the opposition’s efforts to stir up massive street protests over the dismissal of impeachment charges against the President were "aggravating the situation, as it feeds an atmosphere of cynicism prevailing in many sectors."

Vidal, a former CBCP president, urged the opposition to accept the outcome of the Sept. 6 vote of the House of Representatives that dismissed all the three impeachment complaints against Mrs. Arroyo.

Vidal denied earlier reports that the CBCP might change its position following the complaint’s dismissal.

He reiterated that the CBCP will not change its July 10 decision that shied away from opposition-led calls for Mrs. Arroyo’s resignation in today’s meeting of the 12-member permanent council "unless extraordinary rules have been made."

A change in the CBCP’s position may only be made by members of the CBCP general assembly and not by the permanent council.

"The permanent council can speak for the CBCP but ordinarily they cannot reverse an earlier statement of the assembly," explained Vidal, who headed the CBCP during the 1986 people power revolt that toppled the Marcos dictatorship.

"National issues like these need a lot of discernment. But we believe that the truth must come out because it is really hard to speculate and leave questions unresolved," Vidal told reporters.

Pampanga Archbishop Paciano Aniceto, one of the CBCP permanent council members, confirmed Capalla’s statement that it is time to move on and that the opposition should accept the result of the impeachment vote.

"We are Filipinos. We are not enemies or rivals. We may have different political points of view which is the essence of a democracy," he stressed. "The truth is absolute and you cannot obtain it through just one way. There is no perfect solution."

Aniceto believes that although all legal processes to know the truth behind the electoral fraud allegations against Mrs. Arroyo have been exhausted, "we are not closing the door because democracy is dynamic."

Other "peaceful and constitutional" means to get to the bottom of the accusations could be found, he said, stressing that they are not departing from their original stand that justice and truth must prevail.

"Although there are some bishops who have their own opinion, they never contradicted our original statement," Aniceto said.

Opposition leaders had earlier warned of massive street protests if the impeachment complaint failed to reach the Senate for trial.

So far, anti-Arroyo protests have drawn disappointing numbers.

Yesterday, two opposition leaders, former Vice President Teofisto Guingona and BayanMuna Rep. Satur Ocampo, called for "civil disobedience" to pressure Mrs. Arroyo into stepping down.

They urged Filipinos to show their displeasure over the House’s plenary impeachment vote. "In the wake of the killing of the impeachment there is a new ballgame," Guingona said.

He described civil disobedience as "an action by the citizenry who want to show their opposition to an unjust government."

"The truth of the impeachment process should be brought before the people. That is perfectly within the Constitution," Guingona said.

They suggested that students skip classes, people refuse to pay taxes and Filipino overseas workers refuse to send money home through banks.

"Public employees can also express their sentiments by either slowing down work or going on mass leaves," Guingona said.

Ocampo suggested that government employees hold protests on their lunch break to avoid sanctions. "They can also wear insignia or ribbons to escape being charged for dereliction of duty."

Massive nationwide street protests are being planned on Sept. 21 to commemorate the 33rd anniversary of the declaration of martial law by Ferdinand Marcos, Ocampo said.

Responding to a call by local officials for the CBCP to lead efforts for national reconciliation, Capalla said the Church is up to this challenge and has started activities with similar goals.

"Because the root causes of the political and economic crises are moral, the Church and its leaders have a crucial role to play in restoring moral order in families, groups and communities. It is in the healing of individual and communal relationships that the churches are involved," he said.

The Catholic Church has traditionally played a political role in this predominantly Catholic nation and was at the forefront of the "people power" revolts that catapulted Corazon Aquino to the presidency in 1986 and Mrs. Arroyo in 2001.

In early July, the end seemed near for Mrs. Arroyo when, one by one, bastions of the establishment deserted: her economic managers, corporate chieftains, civic groups and political allies.

The bitterest blow came from an old friend, former President Corazon Aquino, who played a key role in popular uprisings that ousted Marcos in 1986 and Joseph Estrada in 2001.

Aquino called on Mrs. Arroyo to make the "supreme sacrifice" of resigning to spare the country a protracted impeachment proceeding that could divide the nation and hurt the economy.

Aquino was shortly followed by Senate President Franklin Drilon.

However, Mrs. Arroyo got a reprieve from the CBCP, which refused to join the call for Mrs. Arroyo’s resignation.

It instead proposed three options to resolve the political crisis: that an independent commission be formed to investigate the poll fraud allegations, for Mrs. Arroyo to willfully resign, and for the opposition to remove Mrs. Arroyo through impeachment.

Last August, Aquino and Drilon paid a visit to the incoming CBCP president, Archbishop Angel Lagdameo of Jaro, Iloilo, triggering speculation that they tried to convince him to change the Church’s position.

Lagdameo, who will take over the CBCP in December, said the Church will not change its stand. He denied speculation that Aquino and Drilon tried to convince him to back the call for Mrs. Arroyo’s resignation. — With Evelyn Macairan, Cecille Suerte Felipe


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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