Sep 152014

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
05MANILA3946 2005-08-25 07:28 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Manila
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANILA 003946



E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/26/2015


¶B. VATICAN 0500
¶C. MANILA 3202
¶D. MANILA 3167
¶E. MANILA 2815

Classified By: Acting Pol/C Joseph L. Novak
for Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

¶1. (C) Summary: The Roman Catholic Church in the
Philippines is changing tack in regard to its political role.
Under the leadership of the now-deceased Cardinal Sin, the
Church assumed an activist posture, pressing for the ouster
of two presidents, and at times indicating preferences for or
against candidates for political office. With Sin gone, the
Church — in line with Vatican teaching — has taken steps to
try to remove itself from a direct political role. This was
the case, for example, when the Catholic bishops declined to
demand President Arroyo’s resignation in July. There are
still elements of the Church — particularly a group of
leftist bishops — that are urging that it take a more active
political role. In regard to social issues, such as GRP
involvement in family planning, the Church continues to hew
to a conservative line close to Vatican teaching, as was the
case during the Sin era. Although the Church is refining its
role, it is clear that it plans to remain engaged and that it
will become more active if it feels some sort of national
crisis warrants its involvement. End Summary.

End of the Sin Era

¶2. (C) The Catholic Church in the Philippines is changing
its posture in regard to its political role. Under Jaime
Cardinal Sin, the Church took an activist role. (Note: Sin
became Archbishop of Manila in 1974 and retired from office
in 2001. He died in June 2005 — see ref e. End Note.)
Sin, for example, played a key role in pressing for the
ouster of Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and Joseph Estrada in 2001
by urging crowds to join “People Power” protests and in other
ways. Speaking for the Church, he also at times indicated
preferences for political candidates: not a fan of Fidel
Ramos, he basically indicated his desire that voters not
support Ramos in the 1992 presidential race. When Ramos won,
Sin was not at all helpful to Malacanang and successfully
opposed a proposal floated by Ramos supporters that the
Constitution be adjusted to allow more than one presidential
term. He was also uncomfortable with Estrada’s candidacy in
1998 and made it clear that he would prefer other candidates
to win the race, including current House Speaker Jose “Joe”
de Venecia. Sin was vocal on many other matters, such as
peace in Mindanao, education, family planning (see para 8),
etc. Asked about Sin’s activist posture, Alex Magno, a
well-known political commentator, told Acting Pol/C that “Sin
seemed to have an opinion on everything under the sun and he
spoke out almost every day on something.”

A More Restrained Posture

¶3. (C) With Sin gone, the Church has taken steps to try to
remove itself from a direct political role. Observers have
remarked on a “Sin effect” whereby members of the current
hierarchy of the Church have viscerally reacted to his
departure by pulling the Church back from overt involvement
in political issues. In part, this reaction is due to the
resentment that many in the hierarchy felt towards Sin and
the immense role he played in Church affairs for almost 30
years. In addition, many of the leaders of the Church today,
such as Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, Manila Archbishop Gaudencio
Rosales, and Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines
(CBCP) President Archbishop Fernando Capalla, have made clear
in discussions with emboffs that they simply do not believe
that the Church should be directly involved in politics.
While noting his respect for Sin, for example, Archbishop
Capalla has told Acting Pol/C that he thinks “Sin went too
far into politics on occasion to the detriment of the Church.”

¶4. (SBU) This reluctance to get fully involved in politics
was shown most clearly on July 10 when the CBCP during its
annual meeting issued a statement on the ongoing political
turbulence sparked by Opposition demands that Arroyo resign
from office. In its carefully crafted statement, the CBCP
made clear that Arroyo had to be held accountable for her
actions. However, despite great pressure from close allies
of the Church like former president Corazon Aquino, the
Church declined to call for her resignation (see ref d).
Some observers have commented that the CBCP statement would
probably have taken a different stance if Sin had been
involved in its drafting (Sin was very close to Corazon
Aquino and may have been swayed by her). Many observers also
believe that if the CBCP had called for Arroyo’s resignation,
she would have been finished. Due largely to the CBCP’s
non-interventionist posture, Arroyo has been able to recover
her balance and survive in office.

¶5. (C) Another of the reasons for the Church’s current
posture relates to Vatican teaching. During Pope John Paul
II’s reign, the Vatican repeatedly underscored that members
of the Church should not get involved in politics and Sin was
reportedly told at times by Vatican officials that he had
gone too far. More recently, Monsignor Adolfo Franco, the
Papal Nuncio, addressed the bishops gathered at the CBCP’s
annual meeting in July. Franco reportedly made clear to the
group that it should keep out of politics to the full extent
possible (refs b and c). CBCP General Secretary Hernando
Coronel told us that he did not think that Franco’s speech
“pressured” the bishops per se, but remarked that the
bishop’s heard his point loud and clear.

A Clutch of Politically-Active Bishops

¶6. (C) There are elements of the Church that are urging that
it take a more active political role. Bishop Deogracias
Iniquez, Bishop Antonio Tobias, Bishop Julio Labayen and
several other bishops (possibly 5-8 of the total of 90) are
known to be close to the left. Most of these bishops come
from poor areas and they advocate poverty alleviation
programs at every opportunity. They are also
anti-“Globalization” and oppose mining by foreign firms and
plans to raise the Value Added Tax (VAT). Led by Iniquez,
these bishops also demanded the resignation of Arroyo earlier
this year. Another group in the Church that has a bit of a
leftist tilt is the Association of Major Religious Superiors
of the Philippines (AMRSP), which represents priests and nuns
involved in social work and human rights issues, among other
matters. AMRSP as a group came out in July in support of
calls for Arroyo to resign. Overall, however, the Church has
moved a long way from the 1960s-80s when many priests and
nuns and some bishops maintained close links with the
Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army
(CPP/NPA). Some even went into the jungle to join the NPA.
Taking a cue from the Vatican, the Church in the Philippines
as a whole strongly condemned “Liberation Theology,” an
interpretation of Catholic teaching that advocates political
and social activism, and the influence of leftist thinking
gradually has ebbed in Church circles.

¶7. (C) Although he is not left-leaning per se, Archbishop
Oscar Cruz, one of 16 archbishops, has been very engaged in
anti-jueteng (illegal gambling) efforts. Cruz testified in
the recent Senate hearings on jueting and has brought forward
witnesses who he says prove his case about jueteng-related
corruption. Cruz has also made no secret about his view that
members of President Arroyo’s immediate family have been
involved in jueteng profiteering. While he would deny it,
Cruz is also known to be close to Opposition circles who want
Arroyo to resign.

No Change on Social Issues

¶8. (SBU) In regard to social issues, the Church continues to
hew to a conservative stance in line with Vatican teaching.
In this area, there has been no change from the Sin era. The
Church continues to oppose abortion, which is illegal in the
Philippines, and divorce, which is not available as a legal
option. In regard to family planning, the Church supports
what it calls “natural family planning,” (such as the
“standard days” method) and breast feeding. The Church
continues to urge the government not to make family planning
a high priority and it opposes any use of taxpayer money to
fund family planning efforts. Along these lines, the Church
has strongly opposed a Department of Health program launched
in early 2005 called “Ligtas Buntis,” which involved
distribution of information on family planning nationally.
The program also provides contraceptives to those who want
them. The Church has also strongly opposed a bill (H.B.
3773) submitted in the House that advocates adoption of a
comprehensive policy on population management. The bill
seeks to provide government funds for mobile family planning
services that would provide contraceptives upon request. The
Committee on Women gave the bill a favorable recommendation
in early 2005. The House has not acted on the bill and it
seems that it will not, at least in the near term, due to
strong Church opposition and the current focus on impeachment
charges (ref a). President Arroyo, who has been lobbied by
the Church, has not endorsed the bill.


¶9. (C) To some extent, the determination of the Church to
take a less activist role is a return to the situation that
existed before Cardinal Sin came on the scene and became
involved in political issues in the 1970s-90s. Before that
timeframe, and throughout the post-war era, the Church had
not taken an activist posture on political issues. Although
the Church is refining its role, it remains a very important
player on the political scene, albeit in an indirect manner.
As was made clear at the time of the CBCP statement,
Filipinos look to the Church for guidance — and the fact
that the CBCP did not call for Arroyo’s resignation pretty
much doomed the Opposition’s efforts to undermine her at that
time. In the near- to mid-term, it is clear that the Church
plans to remain engaged and that it will become more active
if it feels some sort of national crisis warrants its
involvement. It will remain under countervailing pressure,
however, from the Vatican and from elements inside the Church
itself to maintain a focus on spiritual and doctrinal
matters, and not entwine itself too much in political issues.

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