BELOVED PEOPLE OF GOD:

At our most recent meeting (January 24-29) we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.  Our Conference started as the Catholic Welfare Organization 50 years ago, after the end of World War II, to respond to the devastation wrought by the war.  It was born out of a desire to give a concerned Church response to the bad plight of our people.

Since then, the CBCP has continued in the tradition of giving a ready Christian response to our people’s needs and sufferings resulting from natural and man-made disasters.  Or so at least we feel we have tried to do, with God’s grace.

The grateful recalling of past graces and of CBCP history has clearly shown us that from the simple charitable work of meeting the immediate welfare needs of people, our pastoral teaching and work in the social field has gone beyond welfare to development, justice and peace.  All for the sake of social renewal in the light of our faith in the Lord Jesus and His Gospel.

From such a pastoral perspective we continue to examine how political, economic, social and cultural events contribute to the total well being of people, build them up, or destroy them.

Hence, our concern for the burning issues of the day such as EVAT, rampant organized gambling, rising criminality, and anti-terrorism bills.  And in our examination of these specific individual issues, we see an underlying common thread.  They are all issues of development, justice and peace that in one way of another, positively or negatively, affect the common good of all.

Development, Justice and Peace

By development we mean the development of every person and of the whole person, of all people, especially the poor by reason of the evangelical option for the poor.  (Cf. Luke 6:18)  Several UN “Decades of Development” have come and gone, and still we witness increasing poverty and widening of the gap between rich and poor.

The causes can be analyzed to death.  Often we hear the facile attribution of our situation of poverty and underdevelopment to the many natural disasters that we have suffered and continue to suffer.  They do have something to do with our poverty.  But we cannot ignore the part human responsibility plays.  (Cf. Amos 1:6)  The unrestrained polluting of air and water resources through power plants and factories and the abusive exploitation of our natural resources through, for instance, irresponsible mining and logging, geothermal plants and dams, etc. continue unabated in many parts of our country, slowly destroying for the sake of short term financial gains for the few and powerful elite the very life system of our environment:  We live under a social structure in which graft and corruption have been deeply imbedded.

Our impoverishment, we see, are due to many factors.  But greed for power and wealth is today, more than ever it seems, the greatest contributing factor.  It has led to the worsened deprivation of many, to the exodus of men and women in quest of word abroad, to the gaining of easy money through criminality and exploitive vice.

More than ever, we are keenly aware that criminality and development are antithetical, and so are poverty on the one hand, and justice and peace on the other.  There is an intimate linkage between the one and the other.  The enduring solution to criminality and vice is thus not simply the imposition of quick justice, sadly lacking as it is, but more basically the genuine equitable development of every person in civil society.  The ultimate solution to poverty is not simply economic development but even more basically, justice and peace–justice to address the inequitable structures of society which beget poverty; peace to provide the conditions under which we can work out our development.  On justice and peace, then, true human development is based.  From justice and peace, development is begotten.

And it is good to recall here what the Holy Father said at Malacañang at his first visit to the Philippines in 1981, namely, that governments cannot sacrifice the human rights of its citizens in the name of economic development.

This deeper perspective of today’s social and economic issues compounds our concern about the directions that economic development is taking in our country and the roles that the various branches of our government are playing, whether collaborative or antagonistic vis-a-vis one another.  Their roles must be based firstly and firmly on the good of all and not on allegiances or alliances for self-interest, and certainly not on political grandstanding.

In this perspective, we direct our attention and teaching to some burning issues that vex our people today.

The Expanded Value Added Tax

It is claimed that the expanded value added tax (EVAT) serves as one component of a package of economic reforms in order, for instance, to restructure our tax system for the sake of the poor, to bridge the gap between rich and poor, to lighten the burden of the poor by having the rich carry a heavier one, to close the windows of opportunity for graft and corruption, and thus to promote the development of our people.

Clearly the objectives are laudable.  But likewise clearly, too many aspects of EVAT are regressive and thus, far from lightening the burden of the poor, EVAT seems to strengthen the bias of the tax structure against the poor.  We cannot close our eyes to the domino effect of price increases caused by EVAT.

Many enlightened people can surely see some progressive aspects of EVAT.  We do not contest such perception.  But we deplore the failure of properly educating our people regarding EVAT, its chaotic unguided implementation without the proper safeguard against abuse.  We are moreover concerned about the deeper question that perhaps EVAT may not be the tax reform measure that it is claimed to be, even as economists and technocrats, professionals and peasants debate about it.

Therefore, in the light of the economic unrest and confusion that EVAT has created and on the basis of our own pastoral perspective regarding development, justice and peace we propose the following:

  1. That abuses in the pricing of goods resulting from the first attempts at implementing EVAT be more expeditiously corrected;
  2. That the implementation of EVAT be deferred for at least another year;
  3. That the provisions that are anti-poor be struck out;
  4. That widespread education all the way to the grassroots regarding the nature and the implementation of EVAT be systematically and adequately conducted;
  5. That, failing the introduction of necessary amendments on behalf of the poor, the EVAT be repealed, and a more just tax structure be established after consultation with different sectors of our society; and
  6. That the collection of taxes be more rigorous, the moneys collected spent with greater transparency.

Organized Rampant Gambling

True human development requires the development of authentic human values.  This truth has something to say to the current debate about lotto and casinos and the investigation, apparently and sadly waning, of gambling lords.

In our Filipino context, we as Pastors cannot but strongly reprobate the circumstances and even the motives by which rampant, illegal organized gambling, such as jueteng, is operated, maintained and protected.

Such gambling in whatever form is immoral, given our particular socio-economic, cultural and religious situation.  Its very illegality breeds corruption among officials, police, and military officers.  The manner and frequency of illegal gambling systematically fleece the poor of hard earned money, so necessary for their families, feeding as it does, on the penchant of the Filipino for rist-taking, often irrational, on the basis of swerte or of bahala na, and resulting in the loss of money for the greatest majority of gamblers.

Without doubt rampant illegal gambling is but one manifestation of organized criminality, operated by syndicates, ending up in the corruption of many and the loss of incredible amounts of personal and public money.

Many attempts are being made to legalize all forms of gambling, even as lotto and casinos are legal.  But again for us as pastors, given the fatal lure of gambling to the Filipino psyche, the legalization of organized gambling in order to raise funds, even for development, is a form of de-moralization–the gradual erosion of moral values necessary to a development-oriented work ethic, such as diligence and industry, accountability and transparency.

The poor and the needy are victimized the most.  They are often the most prone to gambling addiction, as the deadly attraction of easy and quick riches beckons them to disaster.  Therefore, the legalization and proliferation of gambling establishments are nothing more than an abject surrender to a morally debilitating vice.

For reasons like the above we strongly oppose organized rampant gambling, be it lega or illegal.  Our development as a people is not merely economic.  It has to be more.  It must be moral and spiritual as well.  We, therefore, strongly urge that the investigations now going on against gambling lords be pursued relentlessly until these are brought to justice and the complicity of government officials, police, and military officers be brought out into the open and punished.

On Rising Criminality and the Anti-Terrorism Bill

It is absolutely impossible for justice, peace, and development to flourish in a climate of violence and criminality.  But daily through mass media we learn of killings and robberies, kidnappings and rapes, and of many other crimes.  In our country human life seems so cheap.  The dignity of the human person is violated easily and wantonly–although, it must be said, criminality is not on the rise everywhere:  In the countryside, more often than not, lawlessness is by no means the norm.

More alarming than the increase in crimes in the urban areas is the apparent incapacity of government authorities to prevent them or to punish the perpetrators.  And worse, we read newspapers stories reporting that not infrequently the supposed guardians of the law are themselves the criminals.

To deter and detect crime, our legislators have proposed various bills.  Doubtless their intentions are laudable–at face value.  But we strongly reject proposed provisions that threaten the basic liberties of our people such as tapping wire and cable communications, prying into bank deposits and financial papers, arresting and detaining people without any warrant–all on the basis of suspected terrorist intent or of committed crime.

Such measures give the distinct impression that the very means supposedly intended to curb terrorism will be used to terrorize citizens themselves or curtail legitimate dissent.

Instead of such measures, laws already in place against criminality need only be faithfully and rigorously implemented, without fear or favor.  We further urgently require:

  1. The proper coordination of all government agencies in the war against crime and criminals;
  2. The swift but just resolution of cases of crime by our courts of justice–which themselves must be above suspicion of collusion with or leniency towards crime lords;
  3. The speedy removal of notorious violators of human and civil rights from the ranks of the police and military;
  4. The strict and thorough screening of applicants to the police force and the military and their continuing value formation;
  5. The provision of sufficient personnel and material resources to all government agencies involved in the prevention and punishment of crimes;
  6. The solid cooperation of all the citizenry and of all media of social communication in the campaign against crime; and
  7. The ban on the bearing of firearms in public by other than accredited officers of the law and army personnel be enforced.

In all these we must have recourse to prayer:  for the protection and guidance of the Lord, for the conversion of criminals, for the courage to speak up and be counted toward the prosecution of crimes, for the reign of justice and peace.  We pray that the Word of the Lord may make progress and be hailed by many others; for it is the Lord who will strengthen us and guard us against all evil.  (Cf. 2 Thes. 3:1-3)

Conclusion

As the Catholic Bishops’ Conference celebrates its 50th anniversary, we have become more than ever aware of our country’s poverty and underdevelopment, the great imbalances in its economic and political structures, the negative aspects of our culture that reinforce and highlight the dark shadows of our landscape.

Our need as a people is not only for development, justice and peace in  the economic and political fields.  These, admittedly, are absolutely imperative.  But at the very origin, center and apex of true development is a religious and spiritual dimension.  For there is no true human progress when there is no spiritual development.  (Cf. Amos 6:4-6)  This is a non-negotiable dimension.

This is why, in the context of the day’s burning economic and social issues, we have to point out what we have already recommended in 1991 at the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP-II)–the need for all of us to have a eucharist spirituality .  For it is Jesus in the Eucharist who exemplifies for us what it means to give life, to promote and develop life–and have it abundantly.  (Cf. John 10:10)  It is by eucharistic acts of loving and serving, of sharing and self-offering, generously and unselfishly, that true human development can be achieved, that justice and peace can reign.  In a certain sense then we can say that the fruit of the Eucharist is development, justice and peace.

As we thank the Lord for 50 years of CBCP service, we ask you to be in solidarity with us:  that we may respond to the critical challenge of development in our society with courage and wisdom; that we may face the mystery of God’s future–which is also ours–with hope and trust in his justice, love and peace.

Trusting in the powerful intercession of Mary, the Blessed Mother of God, to help us in our common striving for the good of our people and nation, we end with her exultant hymn of gratitude:  “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior for He has done great things for me.” (Luke 1:46-49)

For and in the name of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:

+OSCAR V. CRUZ, D.D.
Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan
President, CBCP

January 28, 1996

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