POSTSCRIPT / September 6, 2005 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Bishops' getting Pagcor funds raises ethical points

PAKIMKIM: I could not believe it, but it was happening all over again.

Archbishop Fernando Capalla, one of several bishops who allegedly received cash from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. ranging from P500,000 to P4 million, told the media last Saturday that he saw nothing wrong with accepting donations from gambling receipts if the money benefited the poor.

“The principle of morality does not apply in the situation,” the Davao prelate reportedly said. “My conscience is clear.”

Reports citing Pagcor records had it that in 2003 alone, several bishops, 45 priests and monsignors, and 18 religious groups received a total of P3.3 million as Christmas cash gifts.

Capalla denied receiving such big amount from Pagcor chairman Efraim Genuino, but admitted having received some donations coursed through the Pagcor office in Davao.

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ETHICAL RELATIVITY: Some media reports of Church personalities accepting Pagcor money insinuated that their acceptance of gambling money — considered “dirty money” in some quarters — had compromised them.

There is also the innuendo that gambling money being passed on to key prelates may have influenced the bishops’ collective decision not to join the opposition demand for the resignation of President Gloria Arroyo.

Caught in a similar corner years ago, then Jaime Cardinal Sin of Manila reportedly said in effect (if not in jest) that he would accept money even from the devil if it would be used to improve the lot of the poor.

Such scenes of one’s taking the money while his conscience goes blank (“My conscience is clear”) look like they were borrowed from “Les Miserables.” They conjure up the image of a man stealing a loaf of bread and justifying it as something done for his hungry family.

We can argue the point endlessly, delving into the relativity of ethics, the ambivalence of human acts, the dictates of conscience, et cetera, but we are likely to fail to find a universal and steadfast standard.

More so in these times when wrong is easily passed off as right, more so in this milieu where moral white and black have begun to fade into a washed-out gray.

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SCARY IMPLICATIONS: These variations on the old ethical question of whether the end justifies the means suggest disturbing possibilities.

We are assailed by rushing images of the poor, who are legion in these difficult times, breaking into the homes of the rich or looting shops to be able to feed their families — and justifying it in a Capalla sort of way.

As precursor of that scary scenario, we already see the open breakdown of morality in government, in business, the professions, the media and everywhere else.

In these trying times when many people still look up to the church as a moral compass, it is disturbing, to say the least, to hear Capallas and Sins, rationalizing their accepting huge amounts from large-scale gambling by saying that they need the money to help the poor.

If we look closer, we see that this is substantially the same justification given when questions are raised on the morality of pork barrel being hidden in the national budget and quietly being drawn by many congressmen and senators for sometimes dubious intentions.

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LOPEZ VS PAGCOR: Way back in January 1990, then Manila Mayor Mel Lopez made the headlines when he personally padlocked the Pagcor casinos in the Silahis International Hotel and the Manila Pavilion (formerly Hilton).

The main objection of Lopez was what he perceived to be the lack of moral basis for the blatant operation of casinos in the city. But he could not argue and act solely on that moral basis.

To give legal foundation to his closure order, he used the fact that the casinos were operating within the city without the required mayor’s permit and in violation of zoning ordinances.

Pagcor admitted it did not hold a mayor’s permit, but explained that since its operation was by authority of a charter granted by Congress, it did not need the permission of local officials to operate anywhere in the country.

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LOPEZ UNMOVED: Turning the tables on Mayor Lopez, Pagcor sued him for graft for his closure of the casinos. Two slow years later, the charges against him were dismissed by the Sandigambayan, but only after he had to go through harassment and humiliation.

The imbroglio started when word got around late 1989 that Lopez did not like casinos operating in the capital city and was set to close them.

Doing a fireman’s job, Pagcor offered him P3 million loosely described as a slush fund he could use for his projects. Lower officials were offered smaller amounts, which some of them accepted.

Lopez rejected the millions offered him, whereupon Pagcor increased the offer. It kept increasing the amounts as the mayor continued to resist what he felt was an attempt to bribe and corrupt him.

Until it was time again to run for reelection, Lopez did not budge from his moral stand — that gambling may bring in revenue but will bring with it more evil than good to his constituents. He lost in his reelection bid.

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ARNOLD’S WISDOM: I hope readers will forgive me for passing on excerpts from an email titled “The wisdom of Arnold Schwarzenegger” sent by someone going by the pseudonym “asianbarbecue.” The writer said in part:

Arnold Schwarzenegger said, “My relation to power and authority is that I’m all for it. People need somebody to watch over them and tell them what to do. Ninety-five percent of the people in the world need to be told what to do and how to behave.”

Schwarzenegger admired such leaders as Charlemagne and Napoleon who could take the inert, passive masses and forge them into a force to make history. This is coming from the most popular actor in the world who was elected governor of California.

Today, New Orleans, one of the great cities in the United States, is in chaos. There is lawlessness and the city is under siege from looters. Nobody… not the governor… not the mayor… and not the media can pacify the people. Why?

Because there is no order… there is no electricity… there is no water… the industry is paralyzed… and there is little communications with the masses. And this is happening in the most powerful country in the world.

What is happening in New Orleans was caused by Natural Calamity, but it showed that when there is disorder, people have the tendency to panic.

In the Philippines, there are certain people especially in the media who want to create a calamity by inflaming the people to go to the street, paralyze the economy, sabotage the public utilities — just because they don’t like the President and they want her to resign.

Ang tanong ng maraming Pilipino: Papaano kung ayaw mag-resign ni GMA, dahil may karapatan naman siyang manatili sa kanyang puwesto ayun sa batas at sa Constitution.

Papaano na kung magkagulo sa kalsada at magpatayan ang mga Pilipino na ayaw kay GMA at ang mga Pilipinong ayaw naman sa papalit sa kanya?

Papaano na kung mahinto ang mga industriang kinakailangan para may makain ang taong bayan ng dahil sa gulo? Papaano na kung maraming namamatay na sa gutom at sakit ng dahil sa gulong gustong mangyari ng mga taga-media?

At higit sa lahat, papaano na kung biglang mawalan ng supply ng gasolina dahil sa mahal ng presyo nito sa world market?

May magagawa ba si Cory Aquino? May magagawa ba si Dinky Soliman? May magagawa ba si Bro. EddieVillanueva? May magagawa ba si Bro. Mike Velarde? May magagawa ba si Susan Roces? May magagawa ba si Erap? May magagawa ba si Noli de Castro?

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TRICKY TRILLION: Thank gad, my math teacher is no longer around to scold me. In my POSTSCRIPT last Sunday, I said that 40 percent of the P1-trillion (12 ciphers!) national budget was P40 billion.

The experts tell us 40 percent is that slice of the budget eaten up by corruption. I said P40 billion was enough to cover a big part of the fiscal deficit or to pay part of our national debt. Little did I realize at that point that 40 percent of P1 trillion was P400 billion, not just P40 billion.

As early as Saturday night — even before my column saw print! — I started to receive email from readers abroad who spotted the error in my e-POSTSCRIPT uploaded on my ManilaMail website.

As of 2 p.m. yesterday, the readers who had called my attention (many of them good-naturedly) via celfon text messaging included: Miguel, melton ngo, Eligio B. Sacayanan, Angie Lumbres, louie sison, R. MACALA, RAM HERNANDEZ, Manuel Abejero, VICENTE TAN, Emmanuel L. Jamis, danny dizon, JUN SABIGAN, Johnny Lopez, and JESS FERRER. Those who had emailed included: hermie garcia, Joe Cruz, Anton Brian Martinez, alex ferrer, and John R.Wessel.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 6, 2005)

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