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:
- 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
July 12, 1988
Betania Retreat House, Tagaytay City
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