Pastoral Letter to All Filipinos

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) aware of the danger to our social order should the agrarian problem in Hacienda Luisita remain unresolved, issued its Pastoral Statement of 23 January 2005 entitled: Vince in Bono Malum—Overcome Evil with Good. This title was taken from the 2005 Message of Pope John Paul II for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace, 01 January 2005. In his message, the Pope stated that: “The one way out of the vicious circle of requiting evil for evil is to accept the Apostles words, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

The recent killings of persons who support the cause of the strikers at the Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac carry the danger that we shall be caught within that “vicious circles of requiting evil for evil.” Should this happen, we shall find ourselves reliving a bloody chapter in our history when in the 1950s thousands of peasants armed themselves and rebelled against an unjust paternalistic social system that denied them economic justice through a genuine land reform program.

The murders of Tarlac City Councilor Abelardo Ladera, of Philippine Independent Church priest William Tadena and the attempt of the life of Atty. Romeo T. Capulong call for immediate Government investigation especially since the military is suspected to author these assassinations. Let us learn from our history and not repeat its mistakes. The “iron fist” policy of President Manuel Roxas in the late 1940s aggravated the peace and order situation. The army’s artillery shells and bombs killed innocent people while undisciplined civilian guards and special military units burned houses, destroyed crops, looted property and assassinated innocent people.

We do not want this bloody scenario to repeat itself in our time. Thus the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has entered with decisive commitment to help bring peace and justice into this explosive agrarian problem which once again revives the unresolved historic conflicts between landlords and peasants. The Church is doing its utmost to bring the mercy of Good Friday and the peace of Easter Sunday to the sorrowing and blood-stained land of Hacienda Luisita. We ask that our initiative to bring peace be accompanied by our government’s own audacious policy decisions to create a climate of freedom that encourages frank dialogue between management and strikers. Such a precondition for a just settlement is absent when the government is seen as indifferent in investigating the assassination of key supporters of the strikers.

Hacienda Luisita has become the nation’s social theatre where peasants and hacenderos, police and strikers, activists and religious, the CBCP and Bayan Muna with other Leftist organizations are the actors. But they possess different scripts. There are scripts whose core plot is violence; others are centered on the majesty of the law backed up by police power. But the script which the Church uses is authored by Christ. It unfolds a new horizon of peace and justice, a new civilization of life and love. It rejects violence from whatever source. Violence in the words of Pope John Paul II, “destroy what it claims to defend: the dignity, the life, the freedom of human beings.”

The CBCP is in the Hacienda Luisita as the co-convenor and facilitator instrumental in bringing to the negotiating table both the representatives of management and of the strikers. Archbishop Capalla, Archbishop Aniceto and Bishop Cinense define the negotiating framework as one where management and strikers could meet not as adversaries but as brothers and sisters of one national family. The goal was not to arrive at perfect solutions but rather to adopt a realistic process which would lead to sustained dialogue. The workers and farmers have repeatedly expresses their joy in our presence at these negotiations which often ended late at night; while management felt that our support of a step-by-step process which narrowed down the areas of disagreement was an acceptable approach. The CBCP followed up these formal meetings with several “back-door” meetings which further strengthened the negotiation process.

The Church does not have the technical competence to propose concrete solutions regarding complex agrarian reform questions. But its mandate is to teach and promote those moral values that help define the purpose of economic enterprise like haciendas. Thus the Church judges the economy by what it does for and to people. Something is wrong in a system where large numbers of workers are caught in a vicious cycle of heavy debt and who are denied the possibility of owning land.

This concern for a just agrarian system is not a new emphasis for the CBCP. Back in 1968 it organized a National Rural Congress which “saw the roots of much of our social evils in the present pattern of land ownership in our country” which condemns the farmer-tenants to a miserable condition of economic dependence and strips him of his freedom and dignity.

In 1997, the CBCP published the first Catechism for Filipino Catholics. In its section on the Importance of Work, (nn. 1181-1184) the Catechism states three basic rights, namely, the right to work; the right to a just share in the fruits of the work and the right to organize “for the purpose of defending their interests and contributing as responsible partners to the common good.” (1981 Speech of Pope John Paul in Bacolod)

At present, the momentum of the negotiation process has stalled due to the slaying to two loyal supporters of the workers and strikers of the Hacienda Luisita. But at the end of this dark tunnel, we can divine the light of hope. Hope based on what we experienced in the course of the negotiations: the respectful hearing which each side gave the other; the request to start each session with a prayer for Divine help and enlightenment; the reflection of a peasant leader that solutions will come from the heart rather that from might; the willingness of the young members of the hacienda the livelihood of the sugar workers, the desire to continue with back-door meetings moderated by the CBCP – all these are signs that our prayer to the Crucified Christ for a peaceful and just solution to the Hacienda Luisita problem are being heard. It is time to forsake our resentment and selfishness towards one another. Let us walk hand in hand as brothers and sisters under a sky lit by a new dawn of national unity and reconciliation.

A Blessed Easter to you and your families!

For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference:

+FERNANDO R. CAPALLA, D.D.
Archbishop of Davao
President, CBCP

PALM SUNDAY
20 March 2005

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