Filipino bishops slam ‘economy of exclusion’

Paterno Esmaquel II
'If in the pursuit of private interest, money has taken over life and is able in importance to push God into a corner, money has become an idol,' the CBCP says

DENOUNCING 'SOCIAL SCANDAL.' The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines slams an 'economy of exclusion' in its bi-annual plenary assembly from Jan 25 to 27, 2014. Photo by Roy Lagarde

MANILA, Philippines – The voice of Pope Francis reverberated in the Philippines on Monday, January 27, after Filipino bishops in a key statement slammed an “economy of exclusion” that “kills” the poor.

Echoing Francis, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) also denounced the “idolatry of money” at the end of its first plenary assembly under its new president, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas.

“We must understand what an economy of exclusion means for us in the Philippines. It is an economy which pampers the wealthy with mansions, multiple cars, yachts, helicopters, exotic food, outstanding education, state-of-the-art gadgetry, influence, and power,” Villegas said in a pastoral exhortation on behalf of the CBCP. (READ: Full text: CBCP on the ‘economy of exclusion’)

While such economy gives much to a few, it excludes others, especially the poor, from regular jobs that generate more than subsistence, from liberating education, minimum health care, decent and safe housing, and modern modes of communication.”

Villegas said these two problems – economy of exclusion and idolatry of money – worsen the “social scandal” that is poverty, ironically a problem of Asia’s most predominantly Catholic country.

Filipinos see this, for one, in the “shameful slime” behind the pork barrel, which Villegas condemned in a previous statement. It also shows in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, home to “the poorest of our people,” which sees a glimmer of hope in the historic arms deal signed last Saturday, January 25, by the government and the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front.  

A protegé of the late Jaime Cardinal Sin, who led the 1986 People Power Revolution, Villegas quoted Francis in warning against “an economy of exclusion and inequality.” Francis, after all, said “such an economy kills.”

“It concentrates decision-making in the wills of an entrenched elite, and reduces participation of the poor in these decisions to empty formalities. It serves the interests of the global economic elite, as these benefit the local elite, defends these interests with political, military, and media power, and disenfranchises poor people who stand in the way of their rights – even of their right to life,” Villegas said.

ECHOING POPE FRANCIS. The president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, addresses reporters in a media conference on Jan 27, 2014. Photo by Roy Lagarde

The CBCP president pushed for the proper implementation of landmark laws for the poor. He identified laws that remain “sluggishly implemented or implemented in the breach,” such as the following:

  • Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program with Extension and Reforms (Republic Act or RA 9700)

  • Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (RA 8371)

  • Urban Development and Housing Act (RA 7279)

  • Fisheries Code (RA 8550)

  • Kasambahay Law (RA 10361)

  • Magna Carta of Women (RA 9710)

  • Anti-Violence against Women and Children Act (RA 9262)

  • Family Courts (RA 8369)

  • Social Reform and Poverty Alleviation (RA 8425) 

“Here, the economy of exclusion takes on its own lethal life,” Villegas said in the statement issued after the CBCP’s bi-annual plenary assembly.

‘Daemon’ behind it

Again, he returned to the words of Francis, who said in his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel): “As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems. Inequality is the root of social ills.”

In the 6-page statement, Villegas singled out the “driving daemon” behind the economy of exclusion: “the idolatry of money.”

“If in the pursuit of private interest, money has taken over life, has co-opted substantial time in our loving and space in our thinking, is more demanding than family, more consoling than friends, determines what is right and what is wrong, is able in importance to push God into a corner, if not into oblivion, for as long as I can push my interests to the exclusions of others,’ money has become an idol,” Villegas wrote.

Citing the social teaching of the Catholic Church, Villegas reminded believers that “there is a social mortgage on private property.” Quoting the late John Paul II, he said money “must contribute to the common good.”

He said, “It is not humanity that serves money, but money that serves humanity.”

‘Don’t just blame gov’t’

NEW OFFICIALS. CBCP president Archbishop Socrates Villegas (1st from right) and other new CBCP officials take their oath during a Mass before the opening of their plenary assembly on Jan 25, 2014. Photo by Roy Lagarde/Rappler

While he criticized politicians, Villegas said the key to ending the Philippines’ “social scandal” is not just to “blame government.” (READ: New CBCP head: ‘Politics is business’)

“We need to understand our role in it, our personal responsibility for it in our individual lives and shared cultures, and return to Jesus,” he said.

In the Year of the Laity, he challenged ordinary Catholics to “lead our families back to Jesus.”

“No Christian family can flourish without prayer, worship, service to each other, and service to others. No family can be Christian reared only on junk food, trashy media, selfishness, and indifference to the needs of others,” he said.

He also urged Catholics to get involved in Church activities, and to take responsibility “for a just social order, which we in the Philippines have far from achieved.”

Earlier, Villegas also challenged bishops to make their prayers bear fruit by serving the poor. (READ: CBCP head warns vs ‘shabu of bishops’)

His statements show the broadening influence of Francis, the first Latin American pontiff who urges Catholics to reach out to the world’s “peripheries.” – Rappler.com

Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.