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Daily Archives: January 31, 2013

A Message of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines

Then God said:  “And now we will make human beings; they will  be like  us and  resemble  us” …   So God created human beings,  making them to be like himself.  (Gen. 1, 26-27)

Human dignity and the rights flowing from it have always been of paramount concern in our Judeo-Christian tradition.  The Holy Father, John Paul II, has been insistent that this concern should mark the modern Church’s approach to its involvement in social questions (cf. Redemptor Hominis and Sollicitudo Rei Socialis especially).  The basis of this concern, needless to remind ourselves, is the simple truth of our creation unto the image of God and our redemption by His Son, Jesus the Lord.

In the Philippines today, the incidence of human rights violations has escalated in areas where the Military and the NPA (and other rebel groups like the MNLF, etc.) are fighting for control.  And it is innocent civilians, who, needless to say, are subjected most to the abuse of rights by both sides in the conflict.  The situation is most deplorable.  And we cannot deplore it enough.

But even more deplorable, to our way of thinking, is a development–hardly recognized generally as an evil, we are afraid –in the way human rights abuses are talked about and reported.  To give it a name, we call that evil “the manipulative use of human rights violations.”

Thus, each time that “massacres” of civilians take place (Mendiola, Lupao, Paombong come to mind), inevitably such killings are trumpeted here and abroad as incontrovertible proof that nothing has changed in regard to the government’s already dismal record on human rights violations.  Now, after the discovery of the mass graves of Quezon and the more recent slaughter of a Church community in Davao del Sur, the very charges that are liberally hurled against the military and government are now turned against the CPP-NPA, the NDF and their allied groups.

What this means simply is that the issue of human rights and their continuing violations have become a political and ideological –not, as it should be, a human and moral–concern, and it  is this particular development that we in the CBCP would like to address in this statement.

e find it most distressing that the killing of innocent people and other violations of human rights are actually cause for rejoicing.  This is putting it too strongly, perhaps, but we fear it is equivalently what is happening today in the Philippines when one or other political group positively gloats over massacres or cases of tortures, etc.  When these are perpetrated by an opposing group and its crime is treated as only one more piece of propaganda ammunition to be used to destroy its credibility before the bar of public opinion.

This is what we mean by “the manipulative use of human rights violations”; the reprobation and publicizing by one political bloc of violations of human rights not specifically to put a stop to them (despite  the rhetoric) but merely to blacken the political image of the other.  This is using the misfortune of others–the victim, that is, of human rights abuse–to one’s narrow advantage. This is putting the suffering of the people secondary to what political and ideological mileage can be gotten from it.

Over the past three years, we have had ample evidence of this kind of treatment of human rights issues in one sided reporting of violations.  All too often, the crimes of the military are played up extravagantly and similar crimes by the NPA are either passed over in silence or muted down or explained away–and vice versa.

It is for this reason that we have been insistent on the condemnation of all transgressions against human rights whether they are committed by the military and government or by the CPP-NPA or by any other power in our society.

It is for this reason too that we have been wary of peace groups or peace councils that have an eye open for the peace-destroying aggression of only one side in the conflict currently raging in the country, but close the other eye to the violence of the group they “sympathize with”.  Again, the problem is the use of peace, of people sincerely committed to peace, to further one’s political agenda.

Neither peace nor human rights are the real objectives–power  and political advantage are.  And people and their violated rights or their efforts at peace are simply means for the protection or furtherance of power and advantage.

From the point of view of the Gospel, the instrumentalizing for sheerly political ends of an evil like violations of human rights and the suffering that comes from them, is something that we Christians cannot but reject in the harshest terms.  So too, to be rejected is the similar instrumentalizing of a good like peace and the cessation of hostilities that it advocates.

We condemn such a cynical use of human rights and peace efforts.  But even more strongly, we condemn the very violations of human rights and the violence that spawns them.  But as in our separate statement on graft and corruption, we should not just condemn.  We must act — and act to prevent the very evil, to promote the very good, that we say are being used as mere political fodder.

Last year, we asked how we the people can put a stop to the suicidal fighting going on between the military and the NPA — a fighting between brothers.  We still ask the question and we ask it too in regard to the human rights violations which are done in the name of the conflict, as a result of its violence.

Some answers have been tentatively put forth in a number of places in the country over the past year. They are responses of hope, and from them we glean three suggestions that we now propose for further deliberation and action.

The first concerns an open, publicly announced repudiation, by our Church communities and organizations, of violence as a way to peace and justice whether the violence be that of the military or the NPA or any other power group.  The absence of peace, the continuing violations of human rights in conflict areas, are proximately due to their violence.  The gelling of public opinion against violence may seem like a small thing but its power to constrain soldiers and rebels from uncontrolled violence should not be under-estimated.

The second is the even-handed reporting of cases of violations of human rights.  We do not  subscribe to the definition of human rights abuses as only those committed by the States against its citizens.  Acts of arbitrary killing (“salvaging” or “liquidation”), torture, detention without trial, etc. are all crimes against the basic rights of people and must be treated as such.  Half truths, selective truths, manipulated truths–these are unworthy of anyone truly concerned with human rights.

The third is the fostering and supporting of genuine peace initiatives, uncolored and uncorrupted by any political agenda, overt and covert, and geared only toward achieving real peace.  For these to succeed, men and women truly dedicated to the pursuit of justice and peace must come together, stand together in an organized way, and even as they work together have a real care that they do not themselves lose their right not to be pawns of political blocs.

On our part as Bishops, we will try to make our social action centers and programs more responsive to the demands of peace-making and the promotion of human rights.  We put the resources we have at the service of those demands, impelled by the Gospel of unity and love.  And we invite all, our youth especially, to act seriously on the three suggestions we have made above or on any similarly Gospel-inspired initiative for peace and human dignity.

The Lord of Peace bless us all in our struggling for the justice of His Kingdom.

For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:

(Sgd.)+LEONARDO Z. LEGASPI, OP
Archbishop of Caceres
President, CBCP

11 July 1989
Tagaytay City

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A Pastoral Letter on Ecology

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines

Introduction

The Philippines is now at a critical point in its history.  For the past number of years we have experienced political instability, economic decline and a growth in armed conflict.  Almost every day the media highlight one or other of these problems.  The banner headlines absorb our attention so much so that we tend to overlook a more deep-seated crisis which, we believe, lies at the root of many of our economic and political problems.  To put it simply: our country is in peril.  All the living systems on land and in the seas around us are being ruthlessly exploited.  The damage to date is extensive and, sad to say, it is often irreversible.

One does not need to be an expert to see what is happening and to be profoundly troubled by it.  Within a few short years brown, eroded hills have replaced luxuriant forests in many parts of the country.  We see dried up river beds where, not so long ago, streams flowed throughout the year.  Farmers tell us that, because of erosion and chemical poisoning, the yield from the croplands has fallen substantially.  Fishermen and experts on marine life have a similar message.  Their fish catches are shrinking in the wake of the extensive destruction of coral reefs and mangrove forests.  The picture which is emerging in every province of the country is clear and bleak.  The attack on the natural world which benefits very few Filipinos is rapidly whittling away at the very base of our living world and endangering its fruitfulness for future generations.

As we reflect on what is happening in the light of the Gospel we are convinced that this assault on creation is sinful and contrary to the teachings of our faith.  The Bible tells us that God created this world, (Gen. 1:1); that He loves His world and is pleased with it.  (Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25 and 31); and that He created man and woman in His image and charged them to be stewards of His creation.  (Gen. 1:27-28).  God, who created our world, loves life and wishes to share this life with every creature.  St. John tells us that Jesus saw His mission in this light.  “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.”  (Jn. 10:10).

We are not alone in our concern.  Tribal people all over the Philippines, who have seen the destruction of their world at close range, have cried out in anguish.  Also men and women who attempt to live harmoniously with nature and those who study ecology have tried to alert people to the magnitude of the destruction taking place in our time.  The latter are in a good position to tell us what is happening since they study the web of dynamic relationships which support and sustains all life within the earthly household.  This includes human life.

A Call To Respect and Defend Life

At this point in the history of our country it is crucial that people motivated by religious faith develop a deep appreciation for the fragility of our islands’ life-systems and take steps to defend the Earth.  It is a matter of life and death.  We are aware of this threat to life when it comes to nuclear weapons.  We know that a nuclear war would turn the whole earth into a fireball and render the planet inhospitable to life.  We tend to forget that the constant, cumulative destruction of life-forms and different habitats will, in the long term, have the same effect.  Faced with these challenges, where the future of life is at stake, christian men and women are called to take a stand on the side of life.

We, the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines, ask Christians and all people of goodwill in the country to reflect with us on the beauty of the Philippine land and seas which nourish and sustain our lives.  As we thank God for the many ways He has gifted our land we must also resolve to cherish and protect what remains of this bounty for this and future generations of Filipinos.  We are well aware that, for the vast majority of Filipinos, the scars on nature, which increasingly we see all around us, mean less nutritious food, poorer health and an uncertain future.  This will inevitably lead to an increase in political and social unrest.

We See the Beauty And the Pain of the Earth

As you read this letter or listen to section of it being read, scenes from your barrio may come to mind.  In your mind’s eye you may see well laid out rice paddies flanked by coconuts with their fronds swaying in the breeze.  Or you may hear the rustle of the cogon grass on the hills behind your barrio.   These scenes mean so much to us and are beautiful. Yet they do not represent the original vegetation with which God has blessed our land.  They show the heavy hand of human labor, planning and sometimes short-sightedness.

For generations the hunting and food gathering techniques of our tribal forefathers showed a sensitivity and respect for the rhythms of nature.  But all of this has changed in recent years.  Huge plantations and mono-crop agriculture have pitted human against nature.  There are short-term profits for the few and even substantial harvests, but the fertility of the land has suffered and the diversity of the natural world has been depleted.  So our meditation must begin by reflecting on the original beauty of our land, rivers and seas.  This  wonderful community of the living existed for millions of years before human beings came to these shores.

The Forests

When our early ancestors arrived here they found a country covered by a blanket of trees.  These abounded in living species–over 7,500 species of flowering plants, not to mention animals, bird and insects.  These were watered by the tropical rains which swept in from the seas and gradually seeped down through the vegetation and soil to form  clear flowing rivers and sparkling lakes which abounded in fish and aquatic life before completing the cycle and returning to the sea.  An incredible variety of insects lived in the forest and were busy with all kinds of tasks from recycling dead wood to pollinating flowering plants.  The community of the living was not confined to creatures who walked on the Earth.  Birds flew through the air, their bright plumes and varying calls adding color and song to the green of the forests.  Birds are also the great sowers.  They contributed greatly to the variety of plant life which is spread throughout the forest.  Finally small and large animals lived in the forest and feasted on its largesse.  Our land born out of volcanic violence and earthquakes brought forth a bounty of riches.  We stand in awe at the wisdom of our Creator who has fashioned this world of life, color, mutual support and fruitfulness in our land.

Our Seas

The beauty did not end at the shoreline.  Our islands were surrounded by blue seas, fertile mangroves and enchanting coral reefs.  The coral reefs were a world of color and beauty with fish of every shape and hue darting in and out around the delicate coral reefs.  Perlas ng Silanganan was an appropriate name for this chain of wooded islands, surrounded by clear seas, studded with coral reefs.

Creation is a Long Process

You might ask:  Why is it important to remeber the original state of our land?  First of all, it reminds us of how God in his wisdom and goodness, shaped this land in this part of the world.  It did not happen overnight.  It took millions of years of care and love to mould and reshape this land with all its beauty, richness and splendor, where intricate pathways bind all the creatures together in a mutually supportive community.  Human beings are not alien to this community.   God intended this land for us, his special creatures, but not so that we might destroy it and turn it into a wasteland.  Rather He charged us to be stewards of his creation, to care for it, to protect its fruitfulness and not allow it to be devastated.  (Ge. 1:28, 9:12).  By protecting what is left of the rainforest we insure that the farmers have rain and plants for the food that sustains us.

Our Forests Laid Waste

How much of this richness and beauty is left a few thousand years after human beings arrived at these shores?  Look around and see where our forests have gone.  Out of the original 30 million hectares there is now only 1 million hectares of primary forest left.  Where are some of the most beautiful creatures who used to dwell in our forests?  These are God’s masterpieces, through which he displays his power, ingenuity and love for his creation.  Humans have forgotten to live peacefully with other creatures.  They have destroyed their habitat and hunted them relentlessly.  Even now many species are already extinct and the destruction of species is expected to increase dramatically during the next decade as the few remaining strands of forest are wiped out by loggers and kaingineros.  What about the birds?  They used to greet us each morning and lift our spirits beyond the horizons of this world.  Now they are silenced.  In many places all we hear now are cocks crowing.  Where is the soaring eagle circling above the land or the colourful kalaw (hornbill)?

The Hemorrhage of Our Life Blood

After a single night’s rain look at the chocolate brown rivers in your locality and remember that they are carrying the life blood of the land into the sea.  The soil, instead of being the seed bed of life, becomes a cloak of death, smothering, retarding and killing coral polyps.  Soil specialists tell us that we lose the equivalent of 100,000 hectares of soil one meter thick each year.  We are hardly aware of this enormous loss which is progressively eroding away our most fertile soil and thus our ability to produce food for an expanding population.  Any comprehensive land reform must address this most serious threat to our food supply.

Deserts in the Sea

How can fish swim in running sewers like the Pasig and so many more rivers which we have polluted?  Who has turned the wonderworld of the seas into underwater cemeteries bereft of color and life?  Imagine:  only 5% of our corals are in their pristine state!  The blast of dynamite can still be heard on our coastal waters.  We still allow muro-ami fishing methods which take a terrible toll both on the young swimmers and the corals.  Mine tailings are dumped into fertile seas like Calancan Bay in Sta. Cruz, Marinduque where they destroy forever the habitat of the fish.  Chemicals are poisoning our lands and rivers.  They kill vital organisms and in time they will poison us.  The ghost of the dreaded Minamata Bay disease hangs over towns in the Agusan river basin and the Davao gulf.

Recent Destruction Carried out in the name of Progress

Most of this destruction has taken place since the beginning of this century, a mere wink of an eye in the long history of our country.  Yet in that time we have laid waste complex living systems that have taken millions of years to reach their present state of development.

We often use the word progress to describe what has taken place over the past few decades.  There is no denying that in some areas our roads have improved and that electricity is more readily available. But can we say that there is it real progress?  Who has benefitted most and who has borne the real costs?  The poor are as disadvantaged as ever and the natural world has been grevously wounded.  We have stripped it bare, silenced its sounds and banished other creatures, from the community of the living.  Through our thoughtlessness and greed we have sinned against God and His creation.

One thing is certain:  we cannot continue to ignore and disregard the Earth.  Already we are experiencing the consequence of our shortsightedness and folly.  Even though we squeeze  our lands and try to extract more from them, they produce less food.  The air in our cities is heavy with noxious fumes.  Instead of bringing energy and life it causes bronchial illness.  Our forests are almost gone, our rivers are almost empty, our spring and wells no longer sparkle with living water.  During the monsoon rain, flash-floods sweep through our towns and cities and destroy everything in their path.  Our lakes and estuaries are silting up.  An out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality allows us to flush toxic waste and mine tailings into our rivers and seas in the mistaken belief that they can no longer harm us.  Because the living world is interconnected, the poison is absorbed by marine organisms.  We in turn are gradually being poisoned when  we eat seafood.

We Can and Must Do Something About it

It is already late in the day and so much damage has been done.  No one can pinpoint the precise moment when the damage becomes so irreversible that our living world will collapse.  But we are rapidly heading in that direction.  Even now there are signs of stress in every corner of our land.  As we look at what is happening before our eyes, and think of the horrendous consequences for the land and the people we would do well to remember that God, who created this beautiful land, will hold us responsible for plundering it and leaving it desolate.  So will future generations of Filipinos.  Instead of gifting them with a fruitful land, all we will leave behind is a barren desert.  We, the Bishops, call on all Filipinos to recognize the urgency of this task and to respond to it now.

As Filipinos we can and must act now.  Nobody else will do it for us.  This is our home; we must care for it, watch over it, protect it and love it.  We must be particularly careful to protect what remains of our forests, rivers, and corals and to heal, wherever we can, the damage which has already been done.

The task of preserving and healing is a daunting one given human greed and the relentless drive of our plunder economy.  But we must not lose hope.  God has gifted us with creativity and ingenuity.  He has planted in our hearts a love for our land, which bursts forth in our songs and poetry.  We can harness our creativity in the service of life and shun anything that leads to death.

Signs of Hope

Despite the pain and despoliation which we have mentioned, there are signs of hope.  Our forefathers and our tribal brothers and sisters today still attempt to live in harmony with nature.  They see the Divine Spirit in the living world and show their respect through prayers and offerings.  Tribal Filipinos remind us that the exploitative approach to the natural world is foreign to our Filipino culture.

The vitality of our Filipino family is also a sign of hope.  Parents share their life with their children.  They protect them and care for them and are particularly solicitous when any member of the family is sick.  This is especially true of mothers; they are the heartbeat of the family, working quietly in the home to create an atmosphere where everyone is accepted and loved.  No sacrifice is too demanding when it comes to caring for a sick member of the family.  The values we see in our families of patient toil, concern for all and a willingness to sacrifice for the good of others are the very  values which we must now transfer to the wider sphere in our efforts to conserve, heal and love our land.  It is not a mere coincidence that women have been at the forefront of the ecological movement in many countries.  The tree planting program of the Chipko in India, popularly known as the “hug a tree” movement and the Greenbelt movement in Kenya spring to mind.

We call to mind that, despite the devastation which has taken place in our forests and seas, we Filipinos are sensitive to beauty.  Even in the poorest home parents and children care for flowers.  We are also encouraged by the growth in environmental awareness among many Filipinos.  Small efforts which teach contour ploughing, erosion control, organic farming and tree planting can blossom into a major movement of genuine care for our Earth.  We are happy that there have been some successes. Both the Chico dam project was suspended and the Bataan nuclear plant mothballed after massive local resistance.  This year the people of San Fernando, Bukidnon and Midsalip, Zamboanga del Sur defended what remains of their forest with their own bodies.  At the Santa Cruz Mission in South Cotabato serious efforts are underway to reforest bald hills and develop ecologically sound ways of farming.  The diocese of Pagadian has chosen the eucharist and ecology as its pastoral focus for this year.  These are all signs for us that the Spirit of God, who breathed over the waters, and originally brought life out of chaos is now prompting men and women both inside and outside the Church to dedicate their lives to enhancing and protecting the integrity of Creation.  In order that these drops and rivulets will join together and form a mighty stream in the defense of life we need a sustaining vision to guide us.

Our Vision

We will not be successful in our efforts to develop a new attitude towards the natural world unless we are sustained and nourished by a new vision.  This vision must blossom forth from our understanding of the world as God intends it to be.  We can know the shape of this world by looking at how God originally fashioned our world and laid it out before us.

This vision is also grounded in our Faith.  The Bible tells us that God created this beautiful and fruitful world for all his creatures to live in, (Gen. 1:1-2,4) and that He has given us the task of being stewards of His creation.  (Gen. 2:19-20).

The relationship which links God, human beings and all the community of the living together is emphasized in the covenant which God made with Noah after the flood.  The rainbow which we still see in the sky is a constant reminder of this bond and challenge.  (Gen. 9:12).  This covenant recognizes the very close bonds which bind living forms together in what are called ecosystems.  The implications of this covenant for us today are clear.  As people of the covenant we are called to protect endangered ecosystems, like our forests, mangroves and coral reefs and to establish just human communities in our land.  More and more we must recognize that the commitment to work for justice and to preserve the integrity of creation are two inseparable dimensions of our christian vocation to work for the coming of the kingdom of God in our times.

Christ Our Life (Col 3:4)

As Christians we also draw our vision from Christ.  We have much to learn from the attitude of respect which Jesus displayed towards the natural world.  He  was very much aware that all the creatures in God’s creation are related.  Jesus lived lightly on the earth and warned his disciples against hoarding material possessions and allowing their hearts to be enticed by the lure of wealth and power (Matt. 6:19-21; Lk. 9:1-6).  But our meditation on Jesus goes beyond this.  Our faith tells us that Christ is the center point of human history and creation.  All the rich unfolding of the universe and the emergence and flowering of life on Earth are centered on him.  (Eph. 1:9-10; Col 1:16-17).  The destruction of any part of creation, especially, the extinction of species defaces the image of Christ which is etched in creation.

Mary, Mother of Life

We Filipinos have a deep devotion to Mary.  We trun to her for help and protection in time of need.  We know that she is on the side of the poor and those who are rejected.  (Lk 1:52)  Our new sensitivity to what is happening to our Land also tells us that she is on the side of life.  As a mother she is pained and saddened when she sees people destroy the integrity of creation through soil erosion, blast-fishing or poisoning land.  Mary knows what the consequences of this destruction are.  Therefore as Mother of Life she challenges us to abandon the pathway of death and to return to the way of life.

Taken together the various strands of our Christian vision envisage a profound renewal which must effect our people, our culture and our land.  It challenges us to live once again in harmony with God’s creation.  This vision of caring for the Earth and living in harmony with it can guide us as, together, we use our ingenuity and many gifts to heal our wounded country.

This Is What We Suggest

In the light of this vision we recommend action in the following areas.

a)  What each individual can do

Be aware of what is happening in your area.  Do not remain silent when you see your environment being destroyed.  Use your influence within your family and community to develop this  awareness.  Avoid a fatalistic attitude.  We are people of hope, who believe that together we can change the course of events.  Organize people around local ecological issues.  Support public officials who are sensitive to environmental issues.  Become involved in some concrete action.  There is much that can be done by individuals to reforest bald hills and prevent soil erosion.

b)  What the Churches can do

Like every other group, the Church as a community is called to conversion around this, the ultimate pro-life issue.  Until very recently many religions, including the Catholic Church, have been slow to respond to the ecological crisis.  We, the bishops, would like to redress this neglect.  There is a great need for a Filipino theology of creation which will be sensitive to our unique living world, our diverse cultures and our religious heritage.  The fruits of this reflection must be made widely available through our preaching and catechetical programs.  Our different liturgies must celebrate the beauty and pain of our world, our connectedness to the natural world and the on-going struggle for social justice.  We would like to encourage the administrators of our catholic schools to give special importance to the theme of peace, justice and the integrity of creation in their schools.

Since programs, however laudable, will not implement themselves, we suggest the setting up of a Care of the Earth ministry at every level of Church organization, from the basic Christian communities, through the parish structure and diocesan offices right up to the national level.  This ministry could help formulate and implement policies and strategies which flow from our new and wider vision.  The idea is not so much to add another activity to our pastoral ministry, but rather that this concern should underpin everything we do.

c)  What the Government can do

We ask the government not to pursue short-term economic gains at the expense of long-term ecological damage.  We suggest that the Government groups together into an independent Department all the agencies which deal at present with ecological issues.  This Department should promote an awareness of the fragility and limited carrying capacity of our islands’ eco-systems and advocate measures designed to support ecologically sustainable development.  Obviously the Department  should have an important contribution to make to related Departments like, Education (DECS), Health, Natural Resources (DENR) and Agriculture.  There is also a need to encourage research into the eco-systems of our land and the problems they face in the future.  The Department should publish a state of the environment report for each region and for the country as a whole each year.  Above all the Department needs legislative teeth to insure that its policies and programs are implemented.

d)  Non-governmental organizations have a very important role to play in developing a widespread ecological awareness among people.  They can also act as a watch-dog to ensure that the government and those in public office do not renege on their commitment to place this concern at the top of their list.

Conclusion

This brief statement about our living world and the deterioration we see all around us attempts to reflect the cry of our people and the cry of our land.  At the root of the  problem we see an exploitative mentality, which is at variance with the Gospel of Jesus.  This expresses itself in acts of violence against fellow Filipinos.  But it is not confined to the human sphere.  It also infects and poisons our relationship with our land and seas.

We reap what we sow; the results of our attitude and activities are predictable and deadly.  Our small farmers tell us that their fields are less productive and are becoming sterile.  Our fishermen are finding it increasingly difficult to catch fish.  Our lands, forests and rivers cry out that they are being eroded, denuded and polluted.  As bishops we have tried to listen and respond to their cry.  There is an urgency about this issue which calls for widespread education and immediate action.  We are convinced that the challenge which we have tried to highlight here is similar to the one which Moses put before the people of Israel before they entered their promised land.

“Today I offer you a choice of life or death, blessing or curse.  Choose life and then you  and  your  descendants  will  live.”  (Dt. 30:19-20).

For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:

(Sgd.)+LEONARDO Z. LEGASPI, OP, D.D.
Archbishop of Caceres
President, CBCP

January 29, 1988
Tagaytay City

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First Sunday of Lent, February 21, 1988

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The Philippines, more than any other country in Asia, has witnessed these past years an unprecedented exodus of its people to all points of the globe.  It is estimated that, at present, there are three million Filipinos abroad:  permanent migrants, overseas workers, seamen, and other kinds of expatriates.  If each belongs to a family of five, then around fifteen million Filipinos are directly affected by migration.

Moved by the pastoral solicitude of the Church, we wish to address to you this message on the occasion of National Migration Day.

The most obvious cause for the big outflow of Filipino workers to other countries is economic.  The search for work and a better standard of living, or even survival, pulls young people and couples from their places of origin.  There is hardly a community or barrio in the country which does not have people abroad.  The official and unofficial repatriation of money (roughly estimated at US$1.5 billion annualy) from Filipino migrants around the globe has sustained families, put children through school and, as the largest dollar earner of the nation, even saved the government during these times of economic crisis.  It is, indeed, an opportune time, during this National Migration Day, to reflect upon the situation of our migrants, overseas workers and other expatriates.

We are aware of the many serious problems of morality, poverty, and injustice that affect people, especially women, who migrate from the provinces to the big cities in our own country.  They are often exploited in the tourism industry.  However, on this occasion we focus our attention on the plight of migrants and overseas workers.

Our reflection moves us, first of all, to thank the Filipinos abroad for the manifold sacrifices they have undertaken for us here at home.  Their endurance in the face of adverse conditions, their determination to turn risks into opportunities, their courage in the face of real physical threats (for example, seamen in the Persian Gulf) and moral dangers are to be admired.  The courage of these migrant workers has shown us how to believe in life and to hope against many odds.

Although much has been done by our priests, religious sisters, and lay faithful, we wish to humbly acknowledge before our migrants and overseas workers the limitations that beset the Philippine Church in its pastoral care for them and their families.  But, as we become more and more a nation of migrants, we are training and assigning more church personnel, clergy as well as laity, to this particular ministry.  We appeal to the Major Superiors of Religious Men and Women to  do likewise.  The need for pastoral care is great and urgent.  Although many good things come from migration, it is also attended by many evils, such as exploitation, broken families, moral degradation, loneliness and other psychological sufferings.

We are particularly concerned about some factors surrounding this massive migration in our midst:

  1. Illegal recruiting agencies have preyed upon the gullibility of people desperate for work and any means of survival.  How can we expect the rights of our Filipino  brothers  and sisters to be respected abroad if we do not  put  our  house  in  order first?  We urge our government agencies concerned  to  leave no  stone  unturned  in  stopping  these  exploiters  from  the “trading of human beings .”  We encourage our parishes and other local christian communities to inform their people about the official  legal  channels  whereby  inquiries  can be made and job placements obtained.
  2. Over  the  last  year,  we have witnessed not only a record number of  people  leaving  for  work o verseas  but  also  an upsurge of cases of exploitation and abusive treatment of our workers  abroad.  We  earnestly  urge  that  our  government, through its official representatives,  take  stronger  and  more effective  measures  in  protecting  the  rights  of our Filipino expatriates.

We support the decision of Her Excellency, the President to  ban   temporarily  the  deployment  of  Filipina  domestic helpers  abroad  until  protection  for  them  is assured.  This temporary   ban  of  deployment  should  also  apply  to  our Filipina  entertainers  with  regards   to  countries   where   a considerable number of them are subjected to inhuman abuse and exploitation.

As far  as  the  countries of destination are concerned, we are mindful of the fact  that  the  quality  of  ancient  and modern  civilizations  is  often  measured  by  the  degree  of tolerance  and  compassion  extended  by  the  people  to  the stranger in their midst.

  1. The  actual  poverty  of  the majority of our people leaves them little choice when faced with the option to migrate.  With the last local election,  the  democratic  structures  have  been fully  restored  in  our  country.  We exhort all our people, in and  out  of  government,  to  pray  and  work   hard  for  the economic recovery of our country so  that  fewer  and  fewer Filipinos  will  be  forced  to  leave  our  country  because  of poverty.

We appeal also to the churches of destination throughout the world to treat with compassion “all strangers in their midst”.  We are both aware and grateful for the fine work that has already been done by many of these local churches.

For every pain, there is also joy. For every sacrifice, there is a corresponding good.  Migration of peoples, in whatever form or for whatever reason, has always foreshadowed the unfolding of greater designs of God.  On May 17, 1987, in his homily during the Mass for Filipinos in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope John Paul II told the Filipino overseas workers:  “Indeed, in Europe you are called to be the new and youthful witness of that very Faith which your country received from Europe so many generations ago.”

We exhort you, our Filipino brothers and sisters abroad, to live your Christian Faith wherever you are.  In that way like St. Lorenzo Ruiz de Manila, our migrant Saint, you are giving witness for Christ to all the world.

May the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, who were migrants in Egypt, bless, protect, and accompany our migrants and their families.

For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:

(Sgd.)+LEONARDO Z. LEGASPI, OP
Archbishop of Caceres
President

January 29, 1988

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We may not] close our eyes to another painful wound in today’s world:  the phenomenon of terrorism, understood as the intention to kill people and destroy property indiscriminately, and to create a climate of terror and insecurity, often including the taking of hostages.  Even when some ideology or the desire  to create a better society is adduced as the motivation for this inhuman  behavior; acts of terrorism are never justified.  Even less so when, as happens today, such decisions and such actions, which at times lead to real massacres, and to the abduction of innocent people who have nothing to do with the conflicts, claim to have a propaganda purpose for furthering a cause.  It is still worse when they are an end in themselves, so that murder is committed merely for the sake of killing.  (John Paul II, Solicitudo Rei Socialis, no. 24).

Our Violence .  Hardly a day passes without a murder or more being headlined in our newspapers.  Our sensibilities are battered day in, day out, with reportage of killings and ambuscades, of slaughter and violence–acts of terrorism all.  The insensitivity of those who kill with impunity, we fear, is slowly becoming ours  too:  ours — because we are silent; ours — because we stand by and take no steps to put a stop to all those killings.

Our silence and inaction are all the more reprehensible when we look at the most recent non-combatant victims and consider the kind of people they represent:

  • policemen
  • human rights advocates and lawyers
  • Church people committed to non-violence
  • peace workers
  • rebel returnees
  • ordinary  men  and  women  tagged  as “informers” for or
  • “supporters” of one or another political group

Common to all of them is one simple fact — simple, but for that very reason most horrifying in its implications:  they were killed, most of them, on the mere suspicion that they were working for the Communists or, on the contrary, for the military; or, even more condemnable, for the reason that they sought justice for themselves and others.

There is something very wrong in a society which allows people like them to be murdered without let or hindrance.

An armed conflict is going on between government and rebel forces of all kinds.  But this fact is not, should not be, license for anyone to kill freely those whose politics does not agree with his.  War or no war, there are laws–from God, from ourselves–that bind us to more human and humane behavior.

Four years ago, in a pastoral letter on respect for life (Let There Be Life, July 11, 1984), we condemned the use of “secret marshalls” by the past government.  At that time we said:

[The idea of secret marshalls] goes against our concept of man and the value we put on human life.  Criminals, no matter how base, do not become by the fact of their crime (uproven in any case) brute animals, losing all claims to rights, to bodily integrity, due process and the like.

And we adverted to the basis of other killings then:

Citizens are being “salvaged” or “liquidated”, in the first instance because they are suspected of being “subversives”; in the second, because they are considered “enemies of the people”.  In both instances, as in the killings by secret marshalls, people are deprived of life without a chance to justify themselves.  This is a sin against life, but more so, a sin against human dignity.

What we said four years ago still applies today.  Despite their variant motivations, Rightist death squads, Leftist “Sparrow Units”, political hitmen, and other hired guns are, to our mind, no different from one another.

Our Response–Solidarity.   Speaking out as we do now against the heinous violence that marks our country today seems to be a futile gesture — like battling with bare hands a typhoon in full gale.  But we are not powerless.  There are things we can do even in our unarmed vulnerability to terrorism and violence.  If we can “come together, reason together, pray together, act together”, as we did once before, we can, in solidarity with one another, come up with an answer to the violence of our day, to the war that is ruining us all and preventing our economy to progress.

Hence, we strongly make this appeal:

To the government and the military :  Peace and order will never be attained at the expense of the citizens’ ordinary rights.  We appeal then for more discipline to be shown by our armed forces in dealing with our people especially in war-ravaged areas.

It is on record that grave offenses against life and property have accompanied the military’s use of armed religious fanatical sects and undisciplined armed vigilantes.  The use of all illegally armed and undisciplined armed group must be discontinued, their arms taken away from them.

To rebel forces of left and right :  We appeal to their sense of patriotism and true democracy.  We believe that forced taxation and conscription, kidnapping and hostage-taking are terroristic. Destroying people–fellow Filipinos– for the purpose of attaining power is not the way to build up the democracy we all aspire for, not the way to gain sympathy for one’s cause.

To our people :  We must speak out in no uncertain terms, show our disapproval of all who would destroy our peace by armed means; we must work strenously, in concert with one another, for peace by peaceful means, imaginatively create together the peace that comes from justice.  We must all come together, pray together and think up together what we have to do as Church to put a stop to the violence of our day.

We ask those who witness the commission of crimes to report them to the authorities and to have the courage to testify before courts of law.  We know we are asking much from them, but these crimes cannot be stopped unless brave witnesses come forward.

We entreat the courts to swiftly administer justice in criminal cases, and the authorities to give adequate protection to witnesses.

We urge our legislators to review existing laws and improve them for the better administration of criminal justice.

We ask the people of media to be truthful in their reporting, and to exercise more care that their very manner of reporting does not incite to more killings or encourage violence.

An Appeal to End the War.   We believe that instances of violence and violations of fundamental human rights are simply related to the bigger problem of war and its causes.  “War and military preparations are the major enemy of the development of peoples.”  (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, no. 10)

For this reason we say:  Let us stop this war.  No worse calamity can befall a nation than the killing of brother by brother.

Let us begin to talk once more about ending it.  We ask both the government and all rebel forces to stop fighting and to sit down again to search for peace.

We end by paraphrasing the words of our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II:

…  The solidarity which we propose is the path to peace and at the same time to development.  For [our nation’s] peace is inconceivable unless [ we and our leaders] come to recognize that inter-dependence in itself demands the abandonment of the politics of blocs, the sacrifice of all forms of economic, military or political imperialism, and the transformation of mutual distrust into collaboration.  This is precisely the act proper to solidarity among individuals and nations.  (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, no. 39.)

We pray we will be able to create that solidarity against violence, and , even more, exercise that love of neighbor as of ourself (cf. Lk. 10-27) for our peace, for the salvation of our nation.  May the Lord, the King of Peace, through the intercession of Mary, Queen of Peace, grant us the solidarity we seek.  May we all become peacemakers and thus be called children of God (cf. Mt. 5:9).

For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:

(Sgd.)+LEONARDO Z. LEGASPI, OP, D.D.
Archbishop of Caceres
President

July 12, 1988
Betania Retreat House, Tagaytay City

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We are saddened by the bloody incident last Thursday, 22 January 1987.  We deplore the use of violence in the confrontation.

We commend those who died to the loving mercy of God our Father.  We pray for strength for their bereaved families.  For those who are still in hospitals and clinics, we ask the Lord for their speedy recovery.

As the investigation is being conducted by men of integrity and competence, we appeal for sobriety, restraint and patience.  We also appeal to everyone to refrain from  irresponsible comments and destructive rumormongering.  We have hopes that truth will come out and justice will be done to those concerned.

For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:

(Sgd.)RICARDO J. CARDINAL VIDAL
Archbishop of Cebu
President

January 26, 1987

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A Pastoral Statement
of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines

Beloved People of God

“Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”  (1 Cor 1:3).

We write you once more during this hour of crisis, of transition for our nation, in order to guide and give hope, to strengthen and encourage.

Realities

We continue to long anxiously for a just and lasting peace.  This hope was at the root of the dramatic change that overtook our country in February 1986.  It motivated those who labored to draft a new Constitution, a covenant for peace.  It has been the impulse for our political leaders to begin repealing repressive decrees, instituting changes in the government, and working out a ceasefire with rebels so that peace would finally have a chance, and end 17 long years of bloodletting.

But there are those who make it difficult for us to have peace, those who strive to sabotage the efforts towards peace, and wish to destabilize the present government.  There are those who continue to believe that only through violence can radical change be possible.  These various forces constantly exert such pressure as to make it well nigh impossible for trust to be built and for serene and rational conversation to take place among contending parties.

Rumors of war and coup d’etat, threats of violence and reports of massacres, continuing taxation by rebels and bandits, terrorism, warlordism and extortion make justice and peace-making extremely difficult agenda.  The web of graft and corruption that has so long bedeviled our national life has not been swept away.  The plight of the poor, of farmers and workers, of the ordinary person has yet to find substantive resolution.

Requirements of Peace

A just and lasting peace, we realize, is not the fruit of four days of people power nor of seventeen years of revolution.  It is not the work of one leader no matter how respected, how sincere and peace loving.

Peace is the fruit of justice (cf. Is. 32:17; Jos. 3:18)  patiently, consistently, and unceasingly pursued.  It is the work of everyone.

The task of forging a just and lasting peace is as delicate as that of nourishing love between persons.  It requires the building of trust upon trust, the healing of wounds, the humbling of oneself for the sake of the other, the respect for the other’s dignity, the sacrifice of narrower interests for the broad interests of the common good.  For peace is not simply the cessation of conflict and hostilities, though this is necessary.

Peace is from the heart.  We cannot build peace by way of force and violence nor by way of manipulation and deception — and injustice.

Peace has to be built on the values of the Kingdom of God, on Gospel values and on the authentically human values of justice and truth, of freedom and love.  It is only on such a foundation that we can build genuine and lasting peace.  That is likewise the only environment in which peace can flourish.

Declarations

Therefore in the light of the Gospel values that are so necessary for all who strive for true and lasting peace, we as pastors declare the following shared convictions:

  1. We believe that to work for peace, we must seek justice by working towards effective land reform.  We call on the government to work out soon, and in dialogue with all affected sectors, short-term and long-term responses to the clamor of farmers.
  2. We denounce extremists in any political camp who, in relation to the draft Constitution of the Philippines and the coming plebiscite, attempt to sabotage the efforts towards peace, violate freedom of conscience by threats, acts of violence and of disinformation.
  3. We deplore the violence at Mendiola on January 22, 1987.  We deeply sympathize with the families of the victims and support the initiatives of government and the concern of citizens to uncover responsibility for the tragic event.  The senseless destruction of human life, already in itself abhorrent, is, in the context of peace initiatives, an objectively destabilizing factor.  And so would any concerted mass action that is manipulated to provoke violence.
  4. We urge the principle of rational and sincere dialogue between brothers as the way of peace at all times.  Demonstrations, rallies and other mass actions must themselves be forms of dialogue and lead to further dialogue.
  5. In order to dissipate the confusion among people, we wish publicly to say now what we have in the past directed only to those involved.  We believe and teach that it is inconsistent with the Gospel values for lay faithful, priests, religious brothers and sisters, seminarians and church workers to support or join organizations or movements that espouse violence as the road to social transformation, that promote and intensify class struggle, instrumentalize the faith and religious symbols; exploit or manipulate pastoral and religious resources and activities, and in effect, make deception a value in furthering their objectives.  These we believe, are not the way of evangelical truth, justice, and peace.
  6. Priests, religious brothers and sisters, seminarians and church workers, involved in such activities are urged to refrain from leadership roles which identify them with the Church.  The faithful will recognize that those who engage in the aforementioned activities do not act according to the Church’s mind and with her support.  We hereby also reiterate the condemnation, already made by the Church on previous occasions, of ideologies that profess either atheistic communism or liberal (materialistic) capitalism.
  7. We believe that genuine social transformation can, indeed, take place even without violence, if we truly follow the way of justice and peace.  This, we Filipinos, have shown at EDSA.  For this reason, we express once more our commitment to work for that transformation through our various pastoral and social programs, to side with the poor by assisting them towards integral liberation and condemning whatever oppresses them.

Conclusion: The Eucharist as Peace

As we see the magnitude of the problems before us, we are strengthened and encouraged by our faith in the Lord.  “He is our Peace”.  (Eph. 2:14)

The “great peacemaking act” of the Lord was his sacrifice on the cross through which we have become his brothers and sisters.  Peace is now possible (cf. John Paul II, Homily at Quezon City Memorial Circle, Feb. 19, 1981).  We believe that in the Eucharist “we re-present to the Father the sacrifice of His Son and we receive in return the gift of reconciliation and peace–the gift of Jesus Himself.  Jesus, the Prince of Peace, communicates Himself and becomes our peace”  (Ibid.).

The Lord is bidding us in this National Eucharistic Year to work for justice and peace.  He is bidding us to live the peace we have received, to proclaim and communicate it to our nation in travail so that we may, indeed, be One Bread, One Body, One People.

May the Eucharistic Lord quench our thirst for justice and bless our efforts for peace.

For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:

(SGD.)RICARDO J. CARDINAL VIDAL
Archbishop of Cebu
President, CBCP

January 26, 1987

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A Pastoral Exhortation on Agrarian Reform

Beloved People of God:

Excessive economic and social disparity between individuals and peoples of the one human race  is a source of scandal and militates against social justice,  equity, human dignity, as well as social…  peace  (Vatican II, The Church in the Modern World, 29)

Poverty and the Challenge of Faith:  Solidarity

People thirst after an ever more perfect reign of justice (Ibid. 27)

Practically everywhere in the universal Church today, we are painfully conscious of that thirst.  And we talk much of preferential (but not exclusive) option for the poor.

And we here in the Philippines?

Alas, there is no peace in our land today, though we all long for peace.  And there is no peace, because we have not yet attained the justice that brings about peace.

Where 70% of the people live below the poverty line, we see the hand of injustice.  For such a tragic situation is against the righteousness of God whose will is “that all created things would be shared fairly by all mankind under the guidance of justice tempered by charity”  (Ibid. 29).  It is his will that every person “has the right to possess a sufficient amount of the earth’s goods for himself and his family”  (Ibid.)

Poverty and inequity are a scandal of the first order for any national community, more so for one that calls itself Christian.  They challenge our faith and move us to solidarity, the call of God for all of us to form one human family bound by a love that does justice.

Hence, we must ask ourselves:  what are we doing for our own who thirst for that ever more perfect reign of justice that our faith speaks about?

Sharing in Justice

Today we are in danger of being torn apart as a nation on a problem that springs precisely from that universal “thirst for justice”:  the problem of agrarian reform–and the government’s desire to meet it in a truly comprehensive manner.

We fight among ourselves whether the government should issue or not a comprehensive agrarian reform law.  We argue among ourselves about whether we should have land reform at all; or if we accept it on principle, how compensation should be made, what the retention limits should be, whether by executive order or congressional legislation.

These are not problems we can easily brush aside.

But would they, we ask, be as insurmountable as they are now if we all decided to approach them from the perspective of our faith?

That faith in its essence is sharing –and should impel us then to sharing.  God shared himself with us fully in creation; so we must share his creation with one another.  Christ shared himself in becoming man for our redemption; so we must share him with others.  The Spirit shares himself in his indwelling in us, so we in turn must share with one another in the spirit of justice and charity.

If we were true Christians, if we shared willingly as Christians, would we need a decree or an executive order from government to do what we should as Christians do as a matter of course–to share:  the haves with the have-nots; the landed with the landless; the privileged with the underprivileged?

Option for the Poor and the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform

This year we celebrate a National Eucharistic Year.  The heart of the Eucharist is sharing–Christ sharing himself with us totally.

In this celebration God is asking us to do what we celebrate:  to share to the utmost of ourselves with others, especially with those with whom Christ himself identifies:  the thirsty, the hungry, the naked, the homeless (Mt. 25:35-46).  In the Philippines today, these are the landless, the exploited, the disadvantaged, the powerless.  These have the single most urgent claim on the conscience of the nation.  To opt for them, to share with them is a requirement of the Kingdom of God.

Therefore, under this perspective of a loving faith that does justice, we, your bishops, have no alternative as far as the question of agrarian reform is concerned:

We  are  for as comprehensive a program of agrarian reform  as  possible–one  that will  make it possible for all, the 70% who live below the poverty line especially, to have more in order to be more (Cf. Paul VI, Populorum Progressio, 6).

We believe furthermore that a genuine agrarian reform program must be realistic.  No program can be successful if it transcends  the   capabilities  of  government to manage and finance.

Pain and the Joy of Sharing:  The Paschal Mystery

As Bishops we neither have the competence nor the call from God to design the specific and technical details of socio-economic programs.  We can only point out to the proper authorities the principles of justice operative in a given situation.  Even this stand of ours will surely create dismay in some quarters who would have us do more than we can.

As in the sharing of Jesus’ life with us on the cross, no sharing with others is painless.  Whatever law or decree is passed in regard to the agrarian problem today, we knew it cannot please everybody.

Nonetheless, we urge those in authority to abide by the principles of social justice and preferential option for the poor in designing a truly realistic and comprehensive agrarian reform program.

We plead with all landed people to respond boldly and generously to the call of the gospel –to share not simply of their superfluous goods but out of their very substance (Vatican II, The Church  in the Modern World, 69).  Even superfluous goods must be measured today not so much in relation to one’s own status or accustomed way of life but in terms of the needs of others.

We highly commend those, who, prompted by the ideals of social justice are determined to share with others voluntarily without waiting for any legislative fiat.

On our part we will not seek exemption to whatever may be legislated towards a comprehensive agrarian reform program.

We urge moreover that beneficiaries of agrarian reform, motivated by the common good and in the interest of law and order, should not unjustly and forcibly pre-empt claims to lands in question prior to approval of the agrarian reform act.  The contrary would further compound injustices on all sides and forestall immediate implementation of a truly comprehensive and just agrarian reform program.

Hence we must all work together — in a generous spirit of sharing, with all its pains and joys reflective of the Paschal Mystery of Jesus to come up with an agrarian reform program that will indeed be Christian and Filipino.

To our Blessed Mother, the Mirror of Justice, we commend for her intercession and guidance our country’s total effort towards quenching our thirst for an ever more perfect reign of justice.

For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:

(Sgd.)RICARDO CARDINAL VIDAL
Archbishop of Cebu
President, CBCP

July 14, 1987
Tagaytay City

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