07/27/2010, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Filipino bishops give Aquino a passing grade

In his first State of the Nation Address, the new president blames his predecessor for the current crisis, pledges radical changes. Bishops look upon him with hope, but are waiting to see what he will do about population controls, land reform, job creation and the environment.
Manila (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Filipino bishops listened to President Benigno Aquino’s first State of the Nation Address and gave a guarded response. They found his statements realistic but still falling short of what they think is needed with respect to freedom of information, land reform, employment, environment and population controls.

In his speech before Congress, Aquino slammed his president Gloria Arroyo for leaving a US$ 4.3 billion budget deficit in the last fiscal year (2009-2010). He pledged to set up a ‘Truth Commission’ to investigate corruption in government and launch a campaign to stop extra-judicial killings.

He called on his compatriots to face the country’s current situation with hope and trust in the grace of God for the future, promising that his administration would not make the same mistakes as its predecessors did.

In his list of priorities, the president also mentioned a peace agreement with Muslim rebels in Mindanao, health care reform and not raising taxes.

Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz said he found the president’s speech prudent and realistic, founded on the values of truth, justice and peace.

He agreed with Aquino’s assessment of the country’s dramatic economic situation, which the Church has criticised on several occasions in the past and which it has tried to change through its own efforts.

Mgr Martin Jumoad, bishop of Isabela de Basilan (Mindanao), shares that opinion. Coming from one of the poorest parts of the country, the prelate praised the president’s decision to extend medical coverage. Since it is also where Muslim rebels operate, he hopes that Aquino can successfully conclude the peace process.

By contrast, Mgr Jose Colin Bagaforo is more critical of the president’s statement. For the auxiliary bishop of Cotabato, it would have been better had the president stated his position on the reproductive health (RH) bill.

In the past, Aquino has backed the controversial proposal, which would set up a system of birth controls and make contraceptives freely available in public and private schools. The Church (and the former Arroyo administration) has always been opposed to the proposed legislation.

Mgr Broderick Pabillo, auxiliary bishop of Manila who chairs the National Secretariat for Social Action of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said he hoped that the speech was the start of change and that it would show Filipinos the country’s real situation.

The prelate pointed out that before the elections Aquino laid out a number of arguments but that he won without presenting concrete programmes.

For him, in his speech the president left a lot of questions unanswered, including what he will do with the Freedom of Information bill, land reform, job creation, the environment and the reproductive health bill.

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