[PHOTO AT LEFT - President Arroyo is shown in this file photo with House Speaker Prospero Nograles during the signing of the Renewable Energy Bill at Malacañang. Willy Perez]

MANILA, DECEMBER 20, 2008 (STAR) By Jess Diaz - Speaker Prospero Nograles indicated yesterday that unlike on religious issues, Catholic bishops are fallible on politics and need not be listened to.

Reacting to the bishops’ latest statement on the Charter change (Cha-cha) initiative of President Arroyo’s congressmen-allies, Nograles said “this matter is not a case of a religious dogma where bishops are almost infallible.

“This is a political debate which must be public and transparent and out in the open. This is the essence of democratic free speech,” he said.

However, he said bishops, like every Filipino, are free to talk about political issues.

“This is a free country and everyone is entitled to his own political opinion. Let’s not apply the gag rule on those who wish to talk otherwise and to those who may publicly disagree with the bishops’ political positions,” he added.

In their newest statement on Cha-cha, the bishops said they are “strongly opposed to the recent move of members of the House of Representatives to railroad constitutional reform through a constituent assembly.”

They said Cha-cha at this time is “premature and untimely” in the wake of the global financial crisis and the “intensifying poverty.”

They said Cha-cha will cost millions, if not billions, of pesos and financing it “will inevitably require the utilization of scarce government funds otherwise intended for social services.”

“Let us be reminded that the people, especially the poor, continue to suffer from poverty and social exclusion and that Cha-cha will not guarantee the reversal of their condition,” they added.

They pointed out that Cha-cha distracts the people and their government “from collectively addressing the real problem – corruption.”

“The successive controversies on NBN-ZTE deal, fertilizer scam and others are the real obstacles to progress and not the protectionist policies of our present Constitution, as Cha-cha advocates would have us believe,” they stressed.

They warned the people against the “machinations of the few who stand to profit from a liberalized economy and possibly an extended term of service.”

“Filipinos deserve a better kind of leaders than what we have now. The 2010 election will allow us to perform a very serious and civic moral duty to vote into office the people who will lead us in our continuing quest for a mature, responsive and morally transformed society,” the bishops said.

They reiterated their proposal for Charter change to be done not through Congress meeting as a constituent assembly but through a constitutional convention.

Administration allies in the House have postponed their Cha-cha initiative until next month when they resume session.

They are focusing on two Cha-cha options. The first calls for introducing amendments through the usual legislative process.

Resolution 737, of which Nograles is the principal author and which calls for amending the Constitution’s economic provisions to allow foreign ownership of land, is now with the House committee on constitutional amendments.

Nograles has said he expected the committee to endorse his resolution soon. If the House approves it, it will be sent to the Senate for its own approval. After that, the amendments will be submitted to the people for ratification in a plebiscite.

The second option calls for convening Congress into a con-ass. Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte and his Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi), President Arroyo’s political party, want to pursue this option, which is contained in a draft resolution. Villafuerte and his Kampi aim to collect 197 congressmen’s signatures so they can bypass senators on Cha-cha.

Senators have passed their own resolution in which they told Mrs. Arroyo’s allies that Cha-cha will not succeed without their participation.

Palace likens anti-GMA bishops to 'mad pipers'

(STAR) Malacañang likened the two Roman Catholic bishops who had called for the ouster of President Arroyo to the Pied Piper of Hamelin, a medieval German folk tale about a vengeful rat-catcher who lures an entire town’s children to march with him to oblivion.

Deputy presidential spokesman Anthony Golez said over radio dzRB that Caloocan City Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez Jr. and Novaliches Bishop Antonio Tobias were like the “mad piper blowing his flute while innocent children follow him to the bank of the river and maybe drowned.”

According to the old children’s tale, first popularized in English by poet Robert Browning and in German by Brothers Grimm, the rat-catcher made the children disappear after the Hamelin town chief failed to keep his promise to pay him for ridding the village of thousands of mice.

Golez said what the people want is not change of government but of politicians’ vested interests.

He also claimed that the bishops were not only misleading the public with their call but were also defying a biblical exhortation against fighting an authority “established by God.”

“These statements are contrary to the teachings found in the book of Romans Chapter 13 na nagsasabi na (which says that) we should submit to the duly constituted authority,” Golez said.

“Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God,” he said quoting from the Scriptures.

“Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves,” he added still quoting the Bible.

He called the two bishops’ ouster call “reckless and irresponsible” and “unmindful of the dire consequences.”

He said administration foes should instead focus on helping the country weather the global financial crisis.

Iñiguez’s and Tobias’ call came in the wake of the rejection by the House justice committee of the fourth and latest impeachment complaint against Mrs. Arroyo.

A wave of condemnation met the House committee’s rejection of the complaint, which would be subjected to voting on the floor on Dec. 2. Opposition and militant groups are preparing street protests to dramatize their indignation.

Just telling the truth

Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines Episcopal Commission on Biblical Apostolate said there was nothing criminal about the call of Iñiguez and Tobias because they were only telling the truth.

Earlier, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez threatened to charge the two prelates with inciting to rebellion.

“As citizens they also have the right to speak because they love the country,” Bastes said.

“These bishops must be respected. They must not be charged with rebellion because they speak as bishops. They speak not only for themselves but for the many people because they are the spokesman (of the people),” he said. “Every bishop has the right to say what he wants to say, for the good of the country as he perceives it,” he said.

“They are prophets and prophets should not be charged with rebellion because that is our job to speak the truth to denounce what is wrong. I even admire them for their bravery,” he added.

Meanwhile, Tobias laughed off Gonzalez’s threat.

“We are already used to the threat of the old secretary of injustice. We will just wait for what he will do,” he told CBCPNews.
– Marvin Sy, Evelyn Macairan

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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