The CBCP issued a very nuanced statement, governed by principles both new and old (by the Church’s measure of time). I think it will be necessary to read the statement more than once to understand just what the statement portends. The bishops have given the President the noose by which to hang herself. Why do I say this?
The bishops ignored demands to make a particular political call, but in defining the issue as a moral one, they have weakened the political strategies employed so far by the President.
The President declined to appoint a Truth Commission more than once, privately and publicly. Now, she has been called upon to do so. It would be improbable for her to decline to do so now; but she can opt to delay the process, which, after all, is an innovation. Will it be by a law? Will it be by executive order? Who will be in it? These things will take time to determine: but how much time will the bishops and the public consider reasonable? This early on, Mike Defensor is pushing the line that a commission should be a non-government body, but this will lead to problems -it needs to be a government body so that it has subpoeana powers.
In demanding a Truth Commission with the mandate to look into both the tapes and allegations of cheating, the bishops are calling both the administration and the opposition to task. They have called for the net to be cast wide; there will be many people trying to wriggle out of the net. A Truth Commission, too, means that the President’s dangling the prospects of charter change can only, at best, take place in tandem with the efforts of the commission; at worst, public focus will be on the Commission and people will once more hedge their bets depending on how the commission’s activities are perceived.
The bishops have also sent a strong signal against certain forces: the militant Left, which relies on cooperation with radical elements in the Church; the sectors calling for a governing council, revolutionary government, system change, and a junta, have been rejected out of hand.
The bishops have not let the President off the hook; their call for her to reflect on her situation, that is, if she can continue to govern, than not, implies that her capacity to lead may, indeed, no longer exist. They have not absolved her, contrary to her protestations of innocence. They haven’t judged her guilty; but they have determined there is probable cause for continued scrutiny.
They have called for a wide-sweeping and active period of consultations within the ambit of the Church, during which it can be assumed the moral principles enumerated in their statement will be explained and reinforced in parishes and schools throughout the country; they are arming Catholics with the means to determine the President’s continued fitness, or lack of fitness, for office. This answers the call of many people for an effort to separate the true issues from the political noise. This is harmful to the President and the opposition. The bishops also define calls for resignation as legitimate, which means the resignation campaign can proceed; they haven’t slapped it down, which means Cory Aquino can now travel around while Civil Society, given a new lease on life, undertakes a campaign parallel to that of the Church.
This means the crisis will be prolonged. The President’s hasn’t been handed a free ride; but it also means the campaign to convince the public as to each sector’s particular stand will now heat up.
The President responded quickly enough, with a statement, thanking the bishops, but otherwise ignoring their specific calls. She has enough time to formulate strategies concerning each and every one.