Top Christian leaders in the Philippines are sounding the alarm that a "deeply entrenched" culture of corruption is undermining the nation and its recovery from the Haiyan super-typhoon that killed more than 6,200 people on November 8.
"We join the sustained clamor of the people to end the deeply entrenched culture of graft, corruption, and patronage in our political system," said the presidents of four leading colleges and universities in a February 12 statement. They represent the University of the Philippines, Miriam College, De La Salle University, and Ateneo de Manila.
Corruption and the extensive system of political patronage has been an enormous social ill in the Philippines for decades. But post-disaster, the influx of more than $300 million in international aid and the lack of results on the ground have triggered a public uproar.
Since the November 8 disaster, many church leaders have spoken out against corruption, including the influential Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC). "What is God telling us at this time? This is a wakeup call when it comes to corruption," said Bishop Efraim Tendero, national director of PCEC, in an interview with CT.
"Christianity is not so deep. Philippines is known as the only Christian nation in Asia, but it is also regarded as the most corrupt nation in this region of the world. How can Christianity and corruption go together? The answer is the great majority of our people who call themselves Christians are nominal."
At the turn of the New Year, many more influential voices have joined the chorus, which signals deepening unhappiness with the government. On February 14, survivors of the Haiyan typhoon (known locally as Yolanda) marked the 100th day since the disaster with protests, charging the government with inaction and defaulting on promises.
"One wonders where all that aid has gone if one views the reality on the ground," said Karl Gaspar, a Redemptorist missionary to local news media in Tacloban City, one of the most heavily damaged communities.
Another leader, Dann Pantoja, a Mennonite from Davao City who is associated with the PeaceBuilders Community, has used social media since Haiyan to speak out for "radical transformation" in the Philippines by ending the "pork barrel system." In one recent demonstration, 12,000 people marched to protest the Philippine government's response, which they say falls far short of meeting their needs.
"This oligarch-controlled, patronage political system plays an important part in slowing down, if not utterly neglecting, the rehabilitation and rebuilding of the Haiyan-affected areas," said Pantoja in an email interview with CT. "Faith-based groups do not have a better track record in resisting corruption, especially those that are pork barrel fund-related. We have been advocating against the use of pork barrel funds by evangelical [and] Pentecostal Christians."
On Saturday, February 15, Iglesia ni Cristo, an independent Christian sect, sponsored a record-breaking fundraiser for reconstruction of homes and workplaces. An official with Guinness World Records certified that 175,509 church members took part in the walk in Manila, setting a record for a charity walk. Similar walks, linked to Iglesia ni Cristo, took place 28 nations, setting another record of 519,221 for a charity walk in multiple locations.
Back in December, Philippine President Benigno Aquino, who says his administration has cracked down on official corruption, announced the "Build Back Better" campaign. This is his government's primary plan for disaster recovery and it has a multibillion-dollar budget for housing and infrastructure repair. New dwellings, called "bunkhouses," are key part of this effort.