The country's Catholic bishops challenged government officials on Friday to rise above corruption and to restore integrity in public office. "Every government official from the rank and file to the highest executive must prove themselves worthy of the title ‘honorable’,” said Archbishop Jose Palma, president of the country's Catholic bishops' conference. Palma issued a pastoral letter on Thursday condemning the “politics of patronage” as immoral and an "act of terrorism" against the poor in the country that is being promoted by the 'pork barrel' fund of legislators. The fund is supposedly for development projects around the country but is allegedly being pocketed by politicians and unscrupulous NGOs. In his pastoral letter, Palma said the political crisis the country is facing is an opportunity for leaders to show that they are "ready to be investigated, to set up radical changes for better governance, and to seek for the good that would benefit all." "As stewards of the people, leaders should be transparent to them and should be open to be held accountable. A crisis is an opportunity," the prelate said. He called on all Filipinos of goodwill, especially Catholics, not to stand idly by. "We cannot be good Christians if we are not good citizens, and good citizenship in a democracy calls for participation and vigilance. This we do not only during elections but all the time. It is but right that citizens demand accountability and transparency," said Palma. The prelate made the call days before a series of protest actions next week against corruption following the discovery of the embezzlement of hundreds of millions of dollars in state funds. Several legislators have been dragged into the US$230 million pork barrel fund scam for allegedly funneling the money to fake nongovernment organizations. Father Conegundo Garganta, executive secretary of the Episcopal Commission on Youth, today urged the faithful to also "discern and look at the circumstances" of the protest actions. "The laity should also [make their own discernment] because they are on the ground.... All of us have an equal share of the responsibility to discern this invitation or encouragement to be involved in these gatherings," Garganta said in an interview. He warned the faithful "not to be taken advantage of" by gatherings that are being organized. Archbishop Palma earlier said he would not be attending any protest actions next week although he expressed his solidarity with them, which will include a prayer vigil at Edsa shrine, site of the two People’s Power uprisings that resulted in the ousting of two presidents. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila will be out of the country during the protests.
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More groups and individuals pledged support for one protest action dubbed "Edsa Tayo (Let's go to Edsa), scheduled for September 11, to demonstrate their anger at how the government is supposedly misusing taxpayers’ cash. Like the “Million People March” at the Luneta national park in Manila where some 100,000 people gathered on August 26, next week's protest is being organized by groups and people linked only by social media including Facebook and Twitter.