More of the same

My July 28, 2015 column.

President Benigno S. Aquino III’s last State of the Nation Address yesterday featured more of the same griping and blaming that have characterized previous speeches.  He started his speech by once again crucifying his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, in the bar of public opinion, blaming her squarely for the problems of the country despite the fact that he had been in power for five years already and that most of the economic gains that the country is experiencing is widely credited to the infrastructures and programs put in place before he rose to power.  He would continue to take potshots and sarcastic asides all throughout his speech, but quite tellingly, spared his friends from his diatribe.
As such, what could have been a high point in his presidency – his valedictory address – was immediately dampened by negativity.  The general sense of anticipation that hovered in the air as evidenced by the fact that he was given sustained and enthusiastic applause by the assembly prior to his speech was shattered;  it would take a cameo appearance of author and inspirational speaker Alex Lacson to get people to start clapping their hands again. 
As expected, the speech was long on statistics but painfully short on anecdotal evidence, validating the inability of government to pursue economic growth that is truly inclusive.  However, what was clearly noteworthy in this year’s SONA was the President’s efforts to highlight the contributions of his cabinet members; unlike in the past when he tended to take sole credit for accomplishments, Aquino allowed some of his cabinet members such as Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz and Brother Armin Luistro to bask in the limelight.
What was also painfully clear yesterday was that Aquino’s smoking is taking a toll on his health.  The Sona was interrupted many times by his coughing and his voice was strained halfway through the speech.
The controversies that rock the Iglesia Ni Cristo are riveting.  Most everyone has been trying to give the religious sect some kind of deferential treatment – there has been marked reduction in the hyperventilation and the sensationalist slant in most of the reportage – but there is no doubt that everyone is keeping a keen eye on whether the INC will be able to contain the scandals and repair the divisions within its ranks or if there will be more dissension, expulsions, and revelations of dirty secrets forthcoming.
The public attention is not actually surprising.  Although the INC membership comprise a small percentage of the Philippine population, no other religious sect in the country has been able to wield as much political power.  This is largely attributed to the fact that the INC can influence the results of elections because of its deeply entrenched bloc voting system.  Many politicians owe their seats to the INC– from the barangay, municipal, city, provincial, regional, all the way to the national levels.  The INC’s influence also extends to the appointment of government officials – in fact, Bureau of Customs commissioner John Sevilla was supposed to have resigned from his post recently as a consequence of INC efforts to intervene in the appointment of senior officers in the bureau.
There have also been rumors of the involvement of certain government officials, particularly police officers, in the alleged disappearance of INC ministers and officials accused of instigating the exposes and revelations that eventually blew up as scandals.  People are understandably concerned about the extent to which government officials are prepared to break laws or look the other way to accommodate the INC.
But there are other reasons why the INC scandals are riveting to many.  First, the scandals have the ingredients that comprise the successful telenovelas – a family feud involving a matriarch and some siblings allied against a powerful family member, allegations of abduction and hostage-taking, and accusations of corruption and high level conspiracy.   Second, regardless of one’s religious persuasions, it cannot be denied that the INC is one of the most cohesive religious organizations in the country, renowned for strict adherence and obedience to its sacred doctrines. 
We expect our religious leaders to practice what they preach.  We expect religious organizations to showcase the highest standards of ethics, good governance, and integrity.  While we it is difficult to make sweeping generalizations on the bases of accusations, there is reason to feel a general sense of disappointment and sadness that even organizations such as the INC are embroiled in practices that hint of entrenched corruption.


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