United Methodist News Service
Mar. 4, 2008
A UMNS Report By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Allegations of a corrupt business deal that would have garnered millions of dollars in payoffs to Philippine President Gloria Arroyo and her husband have United Methodist leaders declaring that now is the time to "exorcise this evil spirit."
United Methodist Bishop Solito Toquero said allegations of "graft and corruption" have caused the country's leaders to lose their credibility to govern. Since Arroyo took office in 2001, Toquero and United Methodist Bishop Leo Soriano, along with other religious leaders, have spoken out against government corruption and the ongoing violence against church workers and social justice advocates in the Philippines.
"What has happened to our leaders?" Toquero asked in a Feb. 25 statement. "What has happened to the 'only Christian country in Asia'?"
In testimony before the opposition-controlled Philippine Senate, former project consultants testified that the president's husband, Mike Arroyo, and the country's former elections chief have received huge kickbacks linked to an aborted telecommunications contract with China's ZTE Corp.
According to news reports, Arroyo has said her family does no business with the government and that she opposes corruption. Although all those named have denied the allegations, the Senate hearings--broadcast live on television in the Philippines--have prompted numerous protests and renewed calls for Arroyo's resignation.
"No wonder our young people have lost respect for our leaders because of corruption," Toquero said. "It has inched its way into the socioeconomic, political and religious fabric of our society; everyone is adversely affected. There is a need to exorcise this evil spirit that is killing us as a people."
The United Methodist Board of Women issued a statement Feb. 26 praising "courageous testimony" before the Senate about the ZTE deal, which President Arroyo was forced to cancel. Darlene Marquez-Caramanzana, executive secretary of the board, said the business transaction was "an affront to the sacredness of life."
The statement pointed to two examples of suffering children. Recently a 7-year-old girl from a poor community in Rapu-rapu died of hunger and malnutrition while waiting to receive her share in a feeding program in school. Another young girl committed suicide when her father was not able to give her the P100.00 (US$2) needed for her school project.
"Given the present political crisis, we wonder whether the church should make its prophetic statement stronger," said Norma P. Dollaga, chairperson of the United Methodist Church's Philippines Annual Conference board of church and society.
"Today is not a time to lose hope, today is not a time to give up, today in not the time to be silent, today is not the time to be reluctant prophets," she said. "Called to be the salt and the light of the world, we are challenged not to hide the light. We are called to give out light in the valley of shadow of death."
Toquero called for new leadership in the Philippines.
"There is a need for new leaders who will lead us in fighting against corruption in all sectors of our society, both in government and non-government agencies and institutions," he said.
Citing other incidents of corrupt business transactions, Dollaga said a growing number of Filipinos are demanding the "ouster of a corrupt president."
"The moment is ripe to join the growing number of people who are demanding justice, who are seeking after truth, and advocating accountability," Dollaga said.
"The rottenness of this system poses a challenge for the church to participate with the people to change the rotten system with one that will give the people a meaningful and dignified life. This is not an illusive dream. Even Isaiah announced a similar vision. And so shall we."
*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.