Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Pope Francis’ challenge to fight injustice and corruption is timely in the wake of citizens’ continuing protest rally vs. unholy and corrupt alliance between Comelec and Smartmatic at Plaza Roma, Intramuros. Pope also challenged the church, civic organizations and well-to-do folks to help alleviate grinding poverty of our poor, “the victims of this throw-away culture.”

Pope Francis in Tacloban

Aboard the PAL plane that took him back to Rome, Pope Francis conducted a running interview with international and Filipino media accompanying him, and that interview was every journalist’s dream. This respected voice on the international stage, following his earlier preaching here about the need to think (pensar), feel (sentir) and do (hacer), was forthright and straight-talking, sufficiently upset and therefore eloquent---
but always unashamed of conveying deep emotion.

In those two hours of interview Francis left the accompanying media--- and their audience world-wide---with enough nuggets of thought  to ponder on. I’ll highlight some of the more important and relevant points.

But let me say outright that so relevant is his condemnation of injustice and corruption to the ongoing protest rally by concerned citizens before the Comelec in Plaza Roma, Intramuros, regarding the unholy “midnight deal” that the poll body signed last Dec. 23 (on the eve of Christmas when no one was looking!) with Smartmatic-TIM. This contract amounting to P300 million is part of an over P2 billion peso package involving replenishment and refurbishing of those much-hated election cheaters, the PCOS machines. 

This contract signed last Dec. 23 also comes just over a month before Chairman Sixto Brillantes and two other commissioners retire on Feb. 2, 2015---hence a "midnight deal" in more senses than one. Really shady. 


IT experts and plain citizens have grown hoarse in continually denouncing this unholy alliance between Comelec and Smartmatic as the mother-lode of corruption, and significantly, Francis has these harsh words against corruption "of all kinds and at all levels" and the corrupt. “We must ask pardon for those Catholics, those Christians WHO SCANDALIZE WITH THEIR CORRUPTION. It’s a wound in the Church,.” the Pope said (emphasis mine).  But this midnight deal, which obviously aims to manipulate the people’s votes again in the scheduled electoral exercise in 2016---as the devilish duo did in the 2010 and 2013 elections---is also a grave injustice to the Filipino people as the PCOS machines have been used to rob them of their sacred right to vote.

Pope Francis has repeatedly also called on his flock to fight injustice in all its forms.

The on-going protest rally in front of the Comelec against the unholy partnership and tyranny of Comelec/Smartmatic NEEDS YOUR SUPPORT, dear readers, because it’s the fight of all Filipinos who value their vote as sacrosanct---and not just of the IT community and politicians who have been cheatedt. It’s a fight against all politicians who have held power and are still lodged in their posts due to the conspiracy between some Comelec officials and personnel, and the vendor of those hated machines, Smartmatic.


But doubtless the Pope’s most controversial topic aboard the PAL return flight involved the issue of population control--- and here he was forthright but obviously more sympathetic and understanding of the human condition. First he sounded the alarm bells: there is a universal “Neo-Malthusianism” with countries like Italy and Spain having less than 1 percent birth rate.  So much so that he warned that according to reports, Italy could be confronted by 2024 with the inability to sustain payments for pensioners---because of the lack of population.

He lauded his predecessor, Pope Paul VI, whom he recently beatified in Rome, for being “a prophet” about the dangers f this Neo-Malthusian theory now coming true---but for which Blessed Paul VI was ridiculed as “more antiquated” and “close-minded.”


Pope Francis then went full-steam ahead. He stressed that the Church continues to put its foot down on use of artificial methods of birth control. He emphasized this, undoubtedly, to oppose the “ideological colonization” by richer nations that impose, among other things, contraceptives on poor Third World countries such as the Philippines, as part of some "loan" or "aid."

This blogger is very aware of the harmful effects of some of those contraceptives that our country is being bombarded with. Jennalyn, daughter of my former Ilongga cook Josie Monis recently died after undergoing dialysis for some time owing to renal failure. Jennalyn was a perfectly healthy 25-year old wife (her husband works in a gasoline station in London) and mother of a two-year old child, until she began receiving injectable contraceptives at her barangay center; after a few months her kidneys started to malfunction and she had to have dialysis three times a week! Then it was reduced to two a week, until she succumbed to renal failure. This injectable contraceptive is particularly notorious for its bad side-effects and should be banned from the country.


But the Pope also stressed that Catholics must not think---“excuse the language”---that in order to be good Catholics they have to be “like rabbits” (a remark that met stiff criticism from rabbit growers especially in Germany). He cited the case of a woman on her 8th pregnancy, after delivering all her seven babies by cesarean section, and how he reminded her that she wouldn’t want to leave seven orphans behind, would she?

Francis stressed that couples should practice “prudence” and “responsible parenthood.” which is interpreted popularly as the call for the natural family planning method (no sex during the female’s 'unsafe days').  His advocacy of the natural method, is of course, a call for ULTRA-HEROISM on the part of many present-day married couples---as continence is very tough especially for those whose work makes it imperative for them to live apart, so that they can only come together on certain days in a month.   

Tough indeed, but viewed philosophically, in every age there’s always a challenge in one form or another for VIRTUE LIVED TO A HEROIC DEGREE.

Francis also lauded the “generosity” of poor parents who continue to regard a child “as a treasure” to be loved and cherished. This is especially true of the Filipino poor in our rural areas, where another child means another helping hand on the farms or in selling goods and produce.


Pope Francis reserved most of his artillery, however, for the grim poverty in our country, about which he is well-versed, having worked with this same problem in his native Argentina (where slums are called “villas miserias”). Labeling the poor as “the victims of this throw-away culture,” (was  Francis thinking of the 700 poor families that DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman hid in a Batangas resort in order to clear Roxas Blvd. of them when the Pope was here?)  the Pope insists that “We need to be beggars---from them, because the poor evangelize us.”  He stressed that “If we take the poor away from the Gospel, we cannot understand Jesus’ message."

“I go to evangelize the poor, yes, but allow them also to evangelize you---because they have values that you do not have,” he said.


And so Pope Francis has issued that clarion call to Christians everywhere, especially here in PH where the gap between rich and poor is ever-yawning: let’s take care of the poor.  Each of us has this obligation in his or her own capacity: e.g., help children of our helpers with some kind of subsidy for schooling, or send the lavandera home with additional food for her family or extra for medicines needed, etc. Civic clubs can support more scholars from poor families, as graduating even one member of a poor family is the surest way to lift it up. 

Above all, the Church has to be pro-poor and sensitive to the plight of families orphaned by parents working in distant countries. It has to be the true shepherds of these "international orphans." The possibilities are endless, but we know where we are being called to help.

Pope Francis is a person unafraid of displaying his emotions and in fact he called on the faithful “to dream so that we can truly love, and not be afraid of shedding tears.” He confessed to being “annihilated” by the heroism of the Yolanda-hit Taclobanons---“how they were standing still (during the mass amid the rain and strong winds), praying after this catastrophe--- which left me thinking of my sins and these people. It was a very moving moment. I felt as though I was annihilated. “


Not one to be afraid to confront deep-seated feelings, Francis at another point said: “We Christians must ask for the grace to cry, especially the wealthy Christians. We ought to cry about INJUSTICE and about sins, because crying opens us to understand new realities, or new dimensions to realities.”

Let me close this rambling blog on Pope Francis by citing the reference he made to the “prayer for tears” as found in the 1962 Old Missal (and circulated in the Vatican transcript of his PAL interview): ”O Lord, you have made it so that Moses with his cane made water flow from a stone; make it so from the rock that is my heart, that water of tears may flow.” 

A beautiful prayer apt for our times. 

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