23,000 churches mobilized
NOW ADD the non-Catholic Christian bloc to the growing list of groups and individuals donating to the Bayanihan Fund, which seeks to help the government ease the fiscal crisis.
The Council of Christian Bishops of the Philippines (CCBP), an organization composed mainly of supporters of defeated presidential candidate Eddie Villanueva, has agreed to pass a “second offering” in all services in their churches for the Bayanihan Fund.
The leaders of the council came up with the decision at a meeting on Friday night to discuss the fiscal crisis and how the churches could help.
“This is one time that the Church and government should do something to stop the crisis, like the Pondo ng Pinoy of (Manila) Archbishop (Gaudencio) Rosales,” CCBP chair Fred Magbanua said.
The CCBP has around 23,000 member-churches all over the country, including the Jesus is Lord Church Worldwide of Villanueva. Magbanua claimed these churches represent around eight million Christians.
Rosales had encouraged all Catholics to set aside 25 centavos daily for the Pondo ng Pinoy, a community foundation that will support projects of nongovernment organizations and provide the people with an alternative to entrusting their welfare to politicians.
To help the government address the fiscal crisis, businessmen, legislators and ordinary citizens are contributing to the Bayanihan Fund.
A group of economists from the University of the Philippines had warned that the country faced economic collapse in two to three years unless the government curbed the public sector deficit and debt. The public sector debt stood at P5.3 trillion as of September 2003.
Senate President Franklin Drilon said donating cash, jewelry or even text messages to the cash-strapped government was “good,” but the country needed “permanent” solutions to its fiscal problem.
There were other ways of significantly easing the problem “like paying the correct taxes,” Drilon said.
The CCBP is also set to tap Christian churches overseas for the fund-raising drive. The JIL alone has 33 chapters all over the world.
“We will appeal to member-churches abroad. Filipinos abroad will be more than willing to help keep the country from collapsing,” Magbanua said.
He said the second offering in churches would not be compulsory but it would be encouraged. The CCBP still has to discuss how to collect such contributions.
Magbanua said the CCBP would propose that a member of the council be tapped as a representative to the Bayanihan Fund to ensure its proper use when turned over to the government.
“There seems to be enthusiasm among people about helping out to solve the crisis. People in church also want to be represented,” said Magbanua, who represents the CCBP in the recently created Presidential Commission on Moral Values, which is chaired by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo herself.
Magbanua said the council would want the government to use its contributions for visible projects such as school buildings and other infrastructure.
“The fund should be used for things like school buildings so that government money could be used for debt servicing,” he said.
Albay Representative Edcel Lagman earlier said that safeguards like an enabling law should be put in place before the Bayanihan Fund was used.
Revenues, aside from those obtained through taxes and other regular sources, were “subject to appropriation by Congress,” he said.
Certain officials and legislators had proposed that the Church be taxed to raise funds.
Drilon said he was not prepared to support a measure that would impose taxes on the Catholic Church.
He also said he was not supportive of the proposal as this would violate the principle of the separation of the State and Church.
Ms Arroyo herself had rejected the proposal to tax the Church, but Finance Undersecretary Grace Tan said only religious services or nonprofit activities that fulfilled the objective of spreading religion, such as baptismal, matrimonial and funeral services, were tax-exempt.
The Catholic Church is asking the government to study the possibility of giving back a small part of the peoples’ taxes to their religious sects for the members’ development.
Rosales last week said a religion tax need not be separate from what the people were already paying but could be a percentage of the current taxes that could be given back to the taxpayer’s religious organizations.
This practice is being done in Germany where the state collects from the people a tax for the Church, according to Drilon.
He said he was against it because “it will be using the government structure to collect taxes” for the Church, and thus would violate the separation of Church and State.
“Because in effect it will be using the Bureau of Internal Revenue to collect for the Church,” Drilon said.