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Our country and our faith

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The Philippine Socio-Political Landscape and our Christian Response

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord! (Psalm 33:12)

“SINCE we Filipino Catholics constitute the great majority of our nation, we hold the primary responsibility for building a just Philippine society. Contrary to the commonly voiced opinion that politics and public life are ‘dirty’ and to be shunned, PCP II ‘stands on record to urge lay faithful to participate actively and lead in renewing politics in accordance with the values of the Good News of Jesus’.” (Catechism for Filipino Catholics, n. 1193)

This, brothers and sisters, is the compelling reason for this letter. We are aware that many would rather that we desisted from public statements, especially in the wake of unpleasant incidences in the recent past!

The Church is constituted to be prophetic, and prophets are not anointed to keep their peace so that they can be quiet and live undisturbed. In our silence, we still proclaim. From prayerful silence, we teach.

We cannot protest to the Lord and say: In these troubled times, we do not know how to speak. We dare not speak, lest we be shamed, chastised, ridiculed. The words of the Lord to Jeremiah are addressed to us as well:

“Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you…See, I place my words in your mouth! Today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to uproot and to tear down, to destroy and to demolish, to build and to plant.” (Jer 1, 10)

In all things, however, it will be the love of Christ that impels us to speak (cf. 2 Cor 5:14-15): whether it be in praise or in admonition, whether it be to applaud encouraging signs and signals or to express concern over disturbing developments.

We wish nothing for ourselves. We plead for no privileges other than what the laws of the land and the paramount laws of God guarantee us. We carry no favors. We seek only to serve, for that is what we have been anointed to do!

Poverty and Our Catholic Response

The President’s heart for the poor is commendable and his swift action in addressing the everyday concerns of the poor is evident. Poverty and mass inequality are the major problems so widespread in our country. Human development in our country is massive failure.

There are, to be sure, encouraging observations in the economy. But because there is a direct relation between economic stability and the strength (or the weakness) of the Rule of Law, the picture cannot remain rosy when there are perceived fissures in the Rule of Law. Contemporary society is rules-based, and when it becomes apparent that the law inadequately safeguards expectations, the economy takes a dip and the poor suffer most.

Any news that the economy is picking up is good news for all, and we Catholics must both felicitate the government and do our part towards an even more prosperous state of affairs.

We urge our Filipino businessmen and entrepreneurs to generate not only wealth, but, more importantly, well-being for our people. The concept of “corporate social responsibility” has been a welcome development in the re-moralization of business and of the market. It must be anchored in genuine solidarity with all, especially society’s weakest and most vulnerable.

Too many Filipinos still leave the country – and leave their families and homes – to be able to assure themselves and their families of a more promising future. We exhort Filipino businessmen as well as foreign investors to make it possible for every Filipino to aspire after a fulfilling future for herself and for her family in our own land!

There is a dimension of increasing prosperity that we cannot pass over in silence:

Riches fulfill their function of service to man when they are destined to produce benefits for others and for our society…In the perspective of St. John Chrysostom, riches belong to some people so that they can gain merit by sharing them with others. Wealth is a good that comes from God and is to be used by its owner and made to circulate so that even the needy may enjoy it. (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, n. 329)

Inclusive economic growth is not only a charming concept. It is a moral imperative. Promising corporate figures must translate into fuller lives for those who live in barangays and the far-flung reaches of our Archipelago!

Rights of Labor

The President boldly announced that he was putting an end to the regime of contractualization and to better the lot of those who, while employed for a period of less than six months, find themselves jobless, no matter their diligence and dedication, and must once more go on the hunt for jobs.

The Church joins the President in this resolve because it is as concerned about the travails of those who work under contracts that make use of them for a time – but guarantee that they never get to enjoy the benefits of permanent employment.

We are not unaware that there have been concerns expressed by the management sector about the slow-down in the economy if contractualization and out-sourcing are outlawed. We do not pretend to have answers for these delicate and complicated issues, but of one thing, we remain sure: There is no moral justification for the exploitation of the working Filipino, and for denying the laborer the benefits of permanent employment.

We urge the President, his Cabinet and the Legislature to be resolute in this respect and to side with those who have for so long labored under the exploitative conditions of contractualization.

The War on Drugs

We are very disturbed by the possibility that high-ranking officials could have been involved in the drug-trade. The investigation must be thoroughgoing and must spare none.

In this respect, the Church offers its facilities, even its churches and rectories, for the rehabilitation of users and substance-dependents. We urge our pastors to involve the services of qualified guidance counselors and psychologists who are active in the service of the Church.

It is by no means unknown that youth turn to drugs when they feel lost, unaccepted, unsure of themselves or despondent. Our priests and religious should offer their friendship so that young lives may not be ruined. Many times, there is nothing more healing than a listening ear and an open heart! These, our priests and religious can and should provide.

But the daily reports of suspects and detainees shot by law-enforcers supposedly because nanlaban sila or nang-agaw ng baril are very disturbing and truly distressing. There is no way that a government can credibly claim that it is waging a relentless war on drugs to preserve life – while in the process abetting, encouraging or fomenting the destruction of life thought – wrongly – to be unworthy!

We laud the efforts of the Commission on Human Rights for its vigilance, and we assure them of the support of the CBCP. We are aware that many times, the CHR has been the victim of vilification, its endeavors ridiculed and despised. But it is doing what the Constitution has mandated it to do – and we stand with the Commission on Human Rights.

The observations of international watchers and monitoring groups should not be cavalierly dismissed as statements of those who do not know the reality “on the ground”. These are specialized agencies of an international stature, and when they warn that human rights are egregiously violated, their warnings ought to be heeded by any conscientious government.

There can be no opposition between the campaign against drugs and the campaign for human rights. In fact, any opposition renders one or the other meaningless and fruitless. We seek the elimination of the drug trade and an end to the proliferation of habituating substances because they constitute a real threat to well-being. But we cannot be consistent in this resolve by denying some the right to their own well-being, fundamental to which is the right to life!

Pending Legislative Measures on Family Life

We have been asked by various committees of the Legislature to comment on different pending measures on family life and related issues. We have always dutifully complied with requests and, through instrumentalities of the CBCP, filed our comments.

Are they however given serious consideration? Are they heeded?

Pope Francis – God’s present-day gift to the Church – has articulated the fundamental position of the Church: Not in doctrine alone, but also in its praxis, the Church must be for the world the face of mercy – the true sacrament of Jesus, who is “merciful like the Father” – who gazes on all with the same eye of mercy as the Father’s!

We reiterate our opposition to the bill to restore the death penalty. Pope Francis says the death penalty does not render justice to victims, but instead fosters vengeance. Calling opposition to the death penalty as signs of hope, Pope Francis loudly says “Nowadays the death penalty is unacceptable, however grave the crime of the convicted person. It is an offence to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person; it likewise contradicts God’s plan for individuals and society, and his merciful justice.”

We appeal for concerted police and local government efforts to destroy the web of illegal gambling in our barangays, towns and cities. We re-state our previous statements denouncing illegal gambling in all its forms and opposing its legalization. We must vigorously combat the expansion of organized and systemic legal gambling, such as e-bingo, small town lotteries, and casinos.

We take heart at the proposals for greater respect of all persons and for an end to discrimination on the basis of gender and sexual orientation. And while we recognize – in fact, appreciate – the sincere and constructive relations that can exist between persons of the same sex, we sense a threat to the institution of marriage and to the family as we have always known it, proposals that make same-sex unions analogous to and treated in the same manner by the law as marriages!

The disturbing incidences of teen-age pregnancies, of substance-abuse, of school truancy, even of suicide by youngsters all point to dysfunctional families. The solution, we hold in faith, is to strengthen the family. We cannot support then any legislative measure that detracts from the protection, care and regard due the traditional family.

We will continue to teach that marriage is the stable, sacramental union of man and woman and that it is through the personal encounter of husband and wife that new human life emerges – that distinguishes it from the production of technological objects and thus seals it with the dignity that sets all human life apart!

We thank the Supreme Court for having urged caution and circumspection in the enforcement of the recently passed RH Law. The Catholic Church continues to insist that parents make responsible choices both in respect to the number of children and to the spacing of births. This has been the constant position of the Church. But it urges Catholic spouses to shun the ways of selfishness, opening their union to new life and, at all times, avoiding mutual self-degradation by recourse to means that are inconsistent with the dignity of the human person, whether these be means of artificial contraception (and worse, abortion) or of artificial reproduction!

Final Exhortation

We have a Gospel to preach. We have the person of Jesus to proclaim. We will do so, in season and out of season. We are enemies to none. We endeavor to be merciful.

We, your bishops, acknowledge our own faults. We know we are sinners. Our failings are always before us. Repeatedly, we have begged for forgiveness for our own shortcomings and sins.

But though wounded – and perhaps, precisely because of our wounds – God entrusts to us the yoke of the Gospel and commands us to preach it to all the world.

Bear no grudge against us, then, for doing what the Lord commands us to do for He alone is Lord – long after kings and sovereigns lose their crowns, long after governments come and go, long after powers reign and long after they wane – Jesus, the same yesterday, today and forever.

From the Permanent Council of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, November 22, 2016

Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan
President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines

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