Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Church Should Focus on Corruption

Posted by butalidnl on 6 March 2011

The Catholic Church in the Philippines has been putting a lot of its energy on the question of the RH bill. I think that instead it should focus on the real moral question – that of corruption. Corruption is an evil in our society. It is so prevalent that we need everybody’s help in fighting it. Now that the government is starting to do something about it, it is time that the church also does its bit.

Isn’t the church going against corruption already? No, not really. If it was, I think that there will be a lot less corruption in society today. What can the church do then? Well, let us see some of the ways.

Declare Corrupt Money “Tainted”
The Muslims have a name for it: haram.  It is the opposite of halal. Haram means “tainted”, in the sense that if someone holds it, ingests it, or receives it, they commit a sin. Good Muslims avoid haram things like the plague.   Haram works: a few years ago, MILF imams declared kidnap ransom money haram. Now, the Abu Sayyaf has difficulty using ransom money, and consequently kidnap-for-ransom has dropped dramatically.

I suppose that the church could simply say that corruption money is cursed. While less emotive than haram it should serve as a dis-incentive to government officials and others to engage in corruption.

If money from corruption is “cursed”, then corrupt people will have a harder time spending their money. And this will greatly reduce the extent of corruption. The church should take the lead in this, by refusing money from known corrupt sources. They can do this by asking people who donate big money to the church to prove where they got the money, or they could set a limit on the amount donated.  If the church does this, it will indeed be brave; since it will be foregoing a lot of donations. But it is sure to have an effect. The church should also preach that knowingly receiving cursed/tainted money (from corruption) constitutes a sin in itself.

Revise the concept of Penance for Corruption
Corrupt officials often erase their sins by donating to the church, or to other charitable causes. They may even confess their sins, and get to “pray 3 Hail Mary’s” to erase their sins. If the Catholic church declares that the penance for the sin of corruption is that the money be returned, and that donations will not do anything to ensure a place in heaven, this will be another big thing towards reducing corruption.  (See: Catholicism Impedes Philippine Development)

Set a Good Example
The Church should institute internal reforms to ensure that corruption within its ranks is eradicated. It should require financial auditing of all church funds, the issuance of receipts for large donations, the publishing of financial reports on the internet.

Setting a good example is key in gaining the high moral ground in the campaign against corruption. When people see that the church is not corrupt, they will heed its calls to stop corruption.

Particular Forms of Corruption
Of course, before launching a campaign on corruption, the church should be clear exactly what kind of corruption it is campaigning against.  I suggest that it concentrate on the following:

Graft. This is the use of government money for personal gain. Or the theft of government money. It takes various forms. The most obvious would be when a portion of funds for a department or LGU are simply siphoned off. I think that what the Generals Garcia et al have done is a clear example of graft. But there are also more indirect ways. For example, Congressmen who refer projects to line agencies as part of their “pork barrel” get a kickback from that agency (e.g. Dept of Public Highways). Or, contractors are asked to shoulder an LGU executive’s “representation expenses” and in return they get some juicy contract in return.

The church should condemn graft in the strongest terms. It could even threaten (and impose) exclusion  from church services for the worst grafters.

Tax Evasion. This is rather straightforward. If you don’t pay your taxes correctly, you are guilty of corruption.  But taxes are not only income taxes. Importers often pay corrupt customs officials to under-declare the value of the things they import, in order that the tax assessment will be lower. This is called “technical smuggling”, and it is tax evasion. Or, medical doctors don’t declare the true amount of patient fees. And many people buy smuggled goods e.g. cigarettes.

The church should call for full tax compliance. And that people who evade taxes should confess this, and pay the tax due as penance.

Bribery. When you pay a policeman who caught you driving a car that should not be driven on that day due to number coding, this is bribery. When you pay a “fixer” to arrange papers for you at a government office, this is also bribery. Of course, this is small change compared to bigger cases of bribery, but they are significant in that bribery becomes the social norm if allowed to continue.

The church should condemn bribery whether it is small or big. People should pay their “number coding” fines instead of bribing policemen. Church workers could be sent to visit LTO and other such offices to “harass” fixers. The Church should also declare that both the one giving the bribe as well as the one receiving the bribe commit a sin.

Usury. The practice of “5-6” is a clear case of usury. It is corruption in that it exploits the receiver of the loan; who has to pay such a high price just in order to have money for their business or for urgent family needs. It is exploiting the other person’s tight financial situation.

The church has a lot of funds. It should set up a system to provide proper credit facilities for the poor.  The practice of “5-6” should be clearly declared as a sin.

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