MANILA, March 7, 2013— Despite differences, it was not going to be the last supper.
After their meeting last Tuesday, ranking Catholic bishops went out for dinner with President Benigno Aquino III in Malacañang, sidestepping their differences for now.
It was their first meeting with Aquino since they pulled out from the dialogue with Malacañang on the “reproductive health” measure two years ago.
Still hurting from their RH defeat, an official of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines said the Church will continue its critical collaboration with the government.
After dinner, the bishops led by Archbishop Jose Palma, CBCP president, discussed with Aquino and his Cabinet members wide-ranging issues that they raised in their latest pastoral statement.
Among the issues tackled, the official said, were the Freedom of Information bill, mining, agrarian reform, human rights abuses, corruption, poverty, peace process, and concerns about the automated elections.
“The result was good. We are hoping that this is the beginning of a long-lasting collaboration and cooperation,” said Monsignor Joselito Asis, CBCP secretary general.
According to Asis, the President himself started the ball rolling and requested different Cabinet secretaries to present their respective report.
“After the presentation, the bishops freely give their sentiments and asked questions. The spirit of openness was there which was good,” he said.
During the more than 4-hour meeting, the Palace and the bishops agreed to set up a “mechanism” that would make the Aquino administration accessible to the people.
Asis said that Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, who also attended the dinner, lamented that people still need to create a noise just to be heard by the government.
He said such move would also allow continuous dialogue between the two parties.
“We are working on this mechanism where there is a sort of direct contact with the government because many people course their concerns through the church,” Asis said.
“As a Filipino citizen, we all have the right to express our concerns to the government. Malacañang assured us that they will address whatever concerns that we are going to raise to them,” he said.
No talks on RH
The hotly contested RH law was the first concern that the bishops criticized in their pastoral statement issued last January.
But Asis said it was no longer discussed during the meeting.
“But I think the bishops don’t need to explain their stand further because the CBCP’s stand on the matter is given… that it denounces the passage of the RH,” he said.
Don’t single out the opposition
The bishops also sought Aquino’s consistency in his much taunted fight against corruption by prosecuting not just officials of the past administration for alleged wrongdoings but also his allies.
Asis said that for the bishops, it is just right to bring to justice all those who violated the law including those who are close to the President.
Aquino, he said, assured the bishops that his administration is not selective in choosing which corrupt officials to prosecute.
“The president said they also are pursuing alleged cases of corruption against some people identified with the government,” said Asis. (Roy Lagarde)