Faith and Spirituality

Fight for justice, says Filipino Christian church council on 60th anniversary

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Fight for justice, says Filipino Christian church council on 60th anniversary

CELEBRATION. The National Council of Churches in the Philippines celebrates its 60th anniversary with an ecumenical thanksgiving service at the Cathedral of Saint Mary and Saint John in Quezon City on November 22, 2023.

Allan Peter Sinco/PonD News Asia

Bishop Raoul Victorino says the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, the biggest group of Christian churches in the country, ‘will continue to fight for what is right’

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines’ biggest group of Christian churches vowed to continue fighting for justice as it celebrated its 60th anniversary on Wednesday, November 22.

The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), known for its defense of human rights, marked its sixth decade through an ecumenical service at the Cathedral of Saint Mary and Saint John along E. Rodriguez Sr. Avenue in Quezon City. 

The service gathered around 400 people – including Protestant bishops, men and women in semi-formal or business attire, women in white veils who occupied the front pews, and even a bishop representing the Roman Catholic Church – in the 61-year-old Anglican cathedral on Wednesday morning. 

In a speech, Bishop Raoul Victorino noted the NCCP’s history of “helping the poor and the oppressed, and fighting for freedom, for truth, and for justice.” 

Victorino, 89, president of the Iglesia Unida Ekyumenikal, is one of the founding members and also a former chairman of the NCCP. He is a veteran lawyer who once served as associate justice of the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan and as chief presidential legal counsel under then-president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. 

The Christian leader, who prefers the title “bishop” over “justice,” said he was in the same cathedral when the NCCP was born in 1963.

Body Part, Finger, Hand
‘BISHOP, NOT JUSTICE.’ Bishop Raoul Victorino speaks at an ecumenical service on the 60th anniversary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines at the Cathedral of Saint Mary and Saint John in Quezon City, November 22, 2023.

“We respect the position and the stand of the NCCP on murders, on extrajudicial killings, and the oppressors. We will continue to fight for what is right and what is the truth,” said Victorino, adding that this task entails fighting “murderers” and “corrupt government officials.”

“Let us fight for justice and let us also walk humbly before God,” he added.

Victorino also referred to the red-tagging of the NCCP, the baseless claims by the government linking church members to communist groups. “If we want to stop the red-tagging of NCCP, let us show that what we are doing is all for the glory of God!” he added in a mix of English and Filipino.

Outspoken council

The NCCP includes 10 member-churches, including the prominent Iglesia Filipina Independiente or Aglipayan Church, whose bishops were red-tagged under then-president Rodrigo Duterte. 

The NCCP is known to be outspoken on social issues, as when it condemned Duterte’s anti-drug campaign and scored Israel over its “lopsided” conflict with Palestine. 

In a homily on Wednesday, the Most Reverend Brent Harry Alawas, prime bishop of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines, recounted how the NCCP spoke against the rice tariffication law signed by Duterte in February 2019.

The rice tariffication law lifted import restrictions on rice, a staple commodity in the Philippines. Alawas said this paved the way for imported rice to flood the local market to the detriment of Filipino farmers.

People, Person, Adult
PRAYER. Filipino Christians celebrate the 60th anniversary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines during an ecumenical thanksgiving service at the Cathedral of Saint Mary and Saint John in Quezon City, November 22, 2023.

Alawas said that on top of issuing a statement condemning the law, the NCCP encouraged their people to buy rice directly from farmers, even if it meant higher prices.

“Our advocacies become more effective if our people on the ground exercise the sacrificial act of taking efforts to bypass the established trading system and directly buy from our farmers at a price that will allow them to earn an income. We do this because we are called to do what is true, holy, just, pure, winsome, and of Godly virtue,” said Alawas.

Spirit of ecumenism

Bishop Mel Rey Uy, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lucena, Quezon, also spoke toward the end of the ecumenical service on Wednesday. Uy has been elected chair of the Episcopal Commission on Ecumenical Affairs of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, the coordinating body of Roman Catholic bishops in the country.

In a message to the NCCP, Uy spoke about the beauty of diversity, comparing it to different kinds of flowers in one garden. “Each flower, each plant, grows in the love of God – seeds of faith that were allowed to bloom in their own traditions, cultures, and contexts,” Uy said in Filipino.

Person, Priest, Adult
ECUMENISM. Bishop Mel Rey Uy of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lucena, Quezon, speaks toward the end of an ecumenical thanksgiving service at the Cathedral of Saint Mary and Saint John in Quezon City on November 22, 2023.

Ecumenism, he added, is about loving one another because different churches are united under one Father in heaven. It is also about showing compassion for one another.

Tayong mga Pilipino ay maawaain pero mahirap sa atin ang magmalasakit. Marami sa atin ang nagpapasakit. Marami sa atin ang nagiging sakit, pero ayaw nating pasanin ang sakit ng ating kapwa,” Uy said. (We Filipinos are merciful but it is difficult for us to show compassion. Many of us even cause others’ suffering. Many of us turn into causes of suffering, but we don’t want to bear the sufferings of our neighbors.)

He urged different Christian churches to live the spirit of being one body of Christ.

Person, Priest, Bishop
BROTHERS. Bishops under the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, as well as a Roman Catholic bishop, pose for a photo at the end of an ecumenical service on the 60th anniversary of the NCCP.

Kinikilala nating bawat isa ay templo ng Espiritu Santo (We acknowledge that each of us is a temple of the Holy Spirit),” Uy said. – Rappler.com

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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