Rage Against the Dying of the Light

In Two Mass Actions, Zamboanguenos Pray, Light Torches and Candles To Find Way Out of the Corruption Darkness

IN THE afternoon of last March 7, some 500 members of the Inter-Religious Solidarity Movement for Peace (IRMSP) to include other concerned religious leaders, some 20 Subanon tribal elders, and an assemblage of students and lay people gathered at Plaza Pershing to pray for an end to massive corruption in government. Exactly a week earlier, on February 29, two regional schools associations both chaired by Ateneo de Zamboanga University (ADZU) president Fr. Antonio Moreno, initiated a similar “prayer assembly” in the Ateneo campus. Similar mass actions have been and continue to be held throughout the country, even as the Senate pursues its investigation of the so-called NBN-ZTE bribery scandal that is at the center of the crisis that is shaking the foundations of the nation.

The “communal action” – a term coined by the Catholic bishops as a response to the political tumult – in Plaza Pershing ended with the lighting of torches, while the Ateneo protesters lighted candles along the sidewalk fronting the school while raising a noise barrage. “If the truth will always be eclipsed by those who live in darkness, let us then strive with greater tenacity to live as ‘children of the Light,’” the Jesuit-Oblate-Marists Network for Mindanao said in a statement posted in the ADZU website.

Days before converging in Plaza Pershing, the IRMSP had issued a joint statement (see Our Peace editorial on page 2) to lend its voice in the clamor for truth and reform. But in its monthly meeting held on March 1, the interfaith group’s members from the evangelical sector, consisting of several pastors led by Rev. Ronald Bilang, came forth with a radical stance that called for President Arroyo’s outright resignation or ouster.

“Step down, President Arroyo. You have failed to keep God’s word in your heart and willingly and knowingly allowed corruption in your administration and persistently deceived the people”, the Zamboanga Ministers Fellowship, Inc. said in a long prepared manifesto that cited biblical precedents for the removal of “wicked” leaders. They even obliquely chided the Catholic bishops by saying that “corruption is not just a political problem – it is also a moral one” and is “very much within our (religious) turf”.

The Catholics and Muslims, led by their convenors Fr. Angel Calvo and Prof. Ali Yacub, respectively, chose the more moderate call of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) for fervent prayer and discernment. After a lengthy and impassioned discussion and debate in the monthly meeting that in microcosm reflected the political divisions in the country, the group decided as a compromise to hold the prayer rally.

Fr. Calvo in explaining the Catholic position said the bishops are “doctrinally and theologically right” in their Feb. 26 pastoral statement. They are not politicians but pastors, he said. The CBCP aside from the six recommendations designed to ferret out the truth about the NBN-ZTE controversy, also urged for “communal and prayerful discernment
and action that the roots of corruption are discovered and destroyed.” However, he wondered how a divine response to prayers might look like as a heavenly intervention to resolve the crisis.

Fr. Calvo told the IRMSP members that “individually we don’t have a total solution to this problem”, which is why “we have to go back to our common ground” as peace-builders. Our faith and commitment to peace will lead us to the “best action that is our share” to resolve the crisis, he said, even if that would include eventually a call for the President’s resignation or removal. In so saying, Fr. Calvo implied that for committed peace-builders, there is something greater at stake than a mere change of political leadership in the country. If the situation spirals out of control, he said, the country may see the end of democracy.

The CBCP allowed also as much: “It is People Power with a difference. From the grassroots will come out a culture of truth and integrity we so deeply seek and build” through prayer and peaceful engagements.

The Jesuit-Oblate-Marist Network said more pointedly: “We build only in vain if we believe we can build this country on sound economic fundamentals or on brute military strength alone. This nation can only stand insofar as it is built on the solid ground of truth and accountability and justice. .. Corruption is evil because it subverts the very ground on which we have been trying to build our nation. It feeds the greed of a few and impoverishes an entire nation.”

Aside from holding the prayer rally at Plaza Pershing, the IRMSP also agreed to hold weekly mini-prayer assemblies to continue to storm the heavens.

Let us continue to “keep our motives pure”, Fr. Calvo said, and to reflect and discern and analyze corruption and what we are doing about it.

In the Ateneo prayer assembly, Silsilah Dialogue Movement president Fr. Sebastiano D’Ambra offered to participants his own prescription in his organization’s statement entitled “In Search Of Just People”. He said emphatically: “We definitely need a new breed of leaders – leaders who will put their talents and capabilities at the service of the common good. We need to craft a new way of governance, a new way of choosing our leaders who will truly be public servants”. In which case, the recent frantic fall of Congressman Jose De Venecia and the growing implosion of the political parties should give Filipinos the first real sign of a new beginning for the country.

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