THE coronavirus pandemic, the most serious global and domestic crisis since World War 2 — even worse than that conflagration if a vaccine isn’t discovered soon — has exposed what the two most inutile institutions in our nation are. Probably also in most parts of the planet.
These are the Catholic Church and the Congress. Each has similar sized work forces (9,000 for the Church, 8,000 for Congress) with a budget of P3 billion* annually. Yet probably 95 percent of these have mostly been twiddling their thumbs since this crisis broke out in early February.
Yes, a number of Church entities have provided accommodation to stranded workers and frontliners and given food to the needy.
Churchmen have been pointing out that the Church’s religious foundation Caritas has launched “nationwide drives” to help the poor in times of crisis. But check out the Caritas foundation: What it does is merely to get money from donors, buy food and hygiene products, put them in packages stamped with the Caritas logo, and distribute them to poor communities.
Look, the pandemic isn’t just one typhoon that ravaged a particular area for the Church to do what it usually does during calamities.
This is a crisis which, if it’s not killing many of the poor, is pushing them to extreme hunger. Can’t the Church, just this once, if only to show its concern for the poor, raise P1 billion or P2 billion of its own money — perhaps liquidate some of its stocks in such companies as Bank of the Philippine Islands — to fund all parish churches to offer free lugaw even only in the metropolitan Manila’s urban areas? Or give out free masks to each parish member? Or even to ask its activist priests to assist medical personnel in hot-spot hospitals?
Where is that publicity-hungry running priest Robert Reyes and those Red nuns who have been claiming to “serve the people,” by undertaking demonstrations to topple the government. Can’t that running priest run around the slums of Quezon City with a loudspeaker, asking its residents to always wear masks, and even distribute masks?
I keep on seeing photos posted in Facebook recently of Cardinal Luis Tagle with Pope Francis, with the former Manila Archbishop basking in the center of power in the Vatican. Can’t he convince the Pope to sell some museum-quality artifacts or even Papal personal belongings to raise funds to feed the poor in his home country?
Basketball star Michael Jordan got to auction his game-worn shoes for $560,000 at a Sotheby’s auction recently. I’m sure Filipino billionaires’ wives here would buy a rosary or one of those Red shoes used by some Pope for at least a million dollars.
After all, we are the country with the third largest Catholic faithful, after Brazil and Mexico.
Don’t we deserve some special help from the Vatican, whose wealth Time magazine estimated at between $10 billion to $15 billion, out of which wealth, Italian stockholdings alone run to $1.6 billion?
CNN boringly features regularly US companies and celebrities donating millions, tens of millions of dollars to fund some project to address the pandemic. Here we have the likes of billionaires Ramon Ang of San Miguel Corp., Tony Tan Caktiong of Jollibee Foods Corp., Dennis Uy of Davao, and property magnate Manny Villar donating tens of millions of pesos worth of meals, facemasks, even test kits.
Nothing on such a scale coming from the Catholic Church, a billionaire institution.
I belabor the point. This institution, which has been a pillar of oppressive Spanish colonialism for five centuries, and of elite rule for a century, at least has to do something in this horrific moment of our history, to at least show Filipinos it has evolved into a useful institution.
With the quarantine, I understand now why we communists during martial law couldn’t agitate people to rise up against the Marcos dictatorship on grounds he dismantled what we thought were Filipinos’ much-beloved Congress. Nobody misses it really.
It was indeed surprising even to the country’s intellectual elite at that time that Filipinos didn’t really miss Congress. Never was there a National Democratic Front rallying cry, “Restore Congress.” Laws? Marcos’ legal eagles — two of them are still much respected to this day, Juan Ponce Enrile and Estelito Mendoza — crafted 2,079 presidential decrees, in a much more efficient and cheaper way I would think, and none of these to this day has been repealed for being bad laws.
It was Marcos himself who reminded them of this thing called a “legislature” when he called for elections for an “interim” Batasan Pambansa, which was part of his ill-fated plan for a regime that mimicked the successful one-party systems of Japan, Singapore and South Korea, which however started the road to the EDSA uprising.
This crisis has reminded Filipinos how useless our Congress is. After passing the “Bayanihan to Heal As One Act” in late March, what issue have many senators and congressmen been talking, planning and gossiping about? Rescuing ABS-CBN Corp., which even its oligarch owners, its top honcho Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez 3rd or his uncles Manuel and Oscar, don’t seem to care about anymore.
Can you imagine, we have 23 senators, 304 representatives, 5,779 permanent employees in both houses (3,907 in the House and 2,199 in the Senate, and an estimated 2,000 contractual employees and consultants) totaling 8,000 who, since March 12 when the lockdown started, have been doing practically nothing — except for that rushed bill to resuscitate ABS-CBN and few committee meetings over the internet?
But what should they do? A lot if they want to matter at this critical stage of our history.
Study in detail why Vietnam and Thailand seem to have defeated the coronavirus in a few months. Help governors and mayors address the pandemic. Raise funds through their vast networks here and abroad to purchase masks and testing kits. Study what should be quickly enacted into law, like one making it mandatory, with penalties, for people to wear a face mask when they enter public places or take public transport.
The Church and Congress actually have another more important thing in common, if you really look at the big picture: both have been tools for fooling the exploited masses to accept the status quo.
For at least 10 centuries, especially in medieval times in Europe and its colonies, the Catholic Church justified its exploitative rule and that of a very tiny nobility, over 98 percent of the toiling masses by fooling them that such society was ordained by God which they have to accept cheerfully.
In the modern era, roughly starting in the 18th century, it has been the “legislature” that has been mainly responsible for the fiction that democracies are governments of and by the people. The reality is that it has been mostly rule by an oligarchy, with the elections for the legislature mostly a game of who among the elite gets his turn in the two chambers.
No wonder in such a crisis as we face today, these two institutions are being exposed as useless institutions.
*Number of Congress staff from the Budget department’s database for 2019; for priests from Catholic Directory of the Philippines. I assumed the Budget department’s figure for Congress payroll of P3 billion is roughly the same amount the Catholic Church spends for the upkeep of its 9,000 priests, who after all aren’t known to have a pauper’s lifestyle.
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