First, dear karikna, let me let you realize how powerful this man is. In a church of 1.2 billion members, he belongs to the top brass. He is one of only 117 existing cardinal electors (cardinals below 80 who are qualified to elect a pope) of the Roman Catholic Church, and one of only two in this country of almost 80 million Catholics. That makes this man one in many millions. Considered a “Prince of the Church” vested by the Vatican not only with religious powers but also with political might, His Eminence Orlando Cardinal Quevedo is definitely an influential man.
Last Sunday, March 31, the 75-year old church leader visited his hometown to the grandest hero’s welcome ever seen in Ilocos, next only to the arrival of President Ferdinand Marcos’ remains in 1993. Quevedo was born in Laoag City in 1939 to parents who are both natives of nearby town Sarrat. The family later on transferred to Marbel, South Cotabato. He makes history as the first cardinal from Mindanao, and the first Ilocano, too.
I must say, however, that though he is a kailian, I was disappointed upon hearing his appointment as Cardinal last January. To explain why, let me refresh your memory.
Cardinal Quevedo, during his long term as president of the influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), was an unabashed supporter of the corruption-laden regime of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. He could have shaped the stand of the CBCP in crucial times, especially when the Hello Garci scandal (which clearly indicated that Arroyo manipulated the vote in the 2004 presidential election) broke out, but he didn’t. Instead of denouncing electoral fraud and widespread corruption, Quevedo’s CBCP shielded Arroyo.
I remember a crucial moment when the public outrage against the most loathed president Philippine president was about to reach tipping point. There were constant demonstrations in various parts of the country as Arroyo’s misdeeds unfolded one after the other. The bishops, whom the people expected to provide a moral compass, convened to discuss the matter, but only to end up saying that they need more discernment. Feeling greatly relieved, Arroyo thanked the bishops in a radio broadcast minutes after the CBCP decided to be silent instead of supporting calls for the president’s resignation. As a result, Arroyo had the chance to continue plundering our country’s coffers during her remaining years in power.
In fact, Quevedo could have been mistaken as a presidential spokesperson. At one point, he categorically declared that he is for the continuance of the Arroyo regime. He even branded the president’s detractors as selfish and power hungry. Believing that it was just a handiwork of the political opposition, Quevedo criticized the Senate investigations on Arroyo’s anomalies.
It was a big puzzle to me, dear karikna, how the bishops could be blind against injustice. How could they not speak against plunder and the mockery Arroyo has made of our democratic institutions? How could they tolerate an abusive and oppressive leadership?
The answer would come later when Arroyo’s term ended and President Noynoy Aquino stepped in. Certain bishops were well-rewarded for their loyalty. In July 2011, Quevedo was identified as one of seven prelates who received high-end vehicles from Malacañang through the PCSO. Quevedo got the Toyota Hi Ace Grandia he requested Arroyo through a letter. The other six, which included Archbishop Ernesto Salgado of Ilocos Sur, received various SUVs.
A master of transactional politics, Arroyo bribed the bishops not only with lavish gifts but also with compromises on public policy. This explains why the Reproductive Health Bill never came into law during her term. Arroyo knew well how to please the condom-angry bishops.
These said, I have mixed feelings about the man. At one hand, I am proud of him as a fellow Ilocano and Laoageño. On the other hand, I resent his misplaced loyalties.
I could say, however, that Quevedo—not unlike the pope who appointed him—seems to exude humility, simplicity, and a big heart for social justice. In all his engagements during his one-day homecoming to Ilocos Norte, he echoed his dream for a “simple Church, a poor Church, a humble Church.” And he sounded sincere.
In Mindanao, the country’s poorest and war-stricken island group, Quevedo is consistently a major force for peace. He co-founded the Bishops-Ulama Conference to promote interreligious dialogue and cooperation. His steady work for social justice in Mindanao was contributory to the recently signed peace agreement between the government and the MILF.
I could be wrong but Quevedo does not really strike me as a man of luxury. For one, he is under a religious congregation that espouses, aside from chastity and obedience, poverty. Also there is no news of him being lavish and ostentatious. Definitely, he is unlike Bishop Sergio Utleg whose first project upon his assumption as head of the Diocese of Laoag was the construction of a swimming pool in the Bishop’s Palace.
In justifying his receipt of an expensive vehicle from Malacañang, Quevedo said it was intended to serve the poor through his diocese’s social apostolate. Apparently, the bishops continue to espouse Jaime Cardinal Sin’s position that it is good to receive money from the devil (even from criminal syndicates) as long as it goes to the poor. Still, one can simply not reconcile the idea of being a corrupt leader’s supporter to being a champion of the marginalized poor. Robin Hood, at least, stole from the rich; but he had decency not to befriend them. Any self-respecting religious leader, dear karikna, has to make a clear choice between the poor and the leaders who cause their poverty.
Let us hence altogether pray that Ilocos’ proud son may become a good cardinal whose loyalties lie not on corrupt kings and queens on earth, but on the poorest of the poor—those who cannot a afford a decent meal, much less a Toyota Hi Ace Grandia—who truly own God’s kingdom.