Faith and Spirituality

[OPINION] CBCP and the minefields of engagement

Inday Espina-Varona

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

[OPINION] CBCP and the minefields of engagement

David Castuciano

If the Church really wants to work for social justice, it should first clearly, strongly call for a revisit of the NTF-ELCAC’s mandate, instead of sitting on a table that legitimizes institutionalized repression

Philippine Catholic bishops are shepherds of the faithful in a country rocked by conflict due to yawning economic, political, and social inequities.

Since Vatican II, bishops in Asia’s largest Catholic majority have combined nurturing their flock’s spirituality and helping them fight unjust structures, systems, and actions, that block human beings from living in full dignity as children of God.

From the Martial Law era of Ferdinand E. Marcos to the present, the Catholics Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and its members have reiterated this duty.

“Let us fight any force and structure of oppression, exploitation, and the use of the poor to advance their selfish interests and welfare,” Cardinal Jose Advincula of Manila said in November 2021. He also stressed that “protecting human rights is neither optional nor secondary but must be at the heart of the Church’s mission.”

Father Amado Picardal, a priest who has been threatened for doing just that, noted that the 1971 Synod of Bishops’ document “Justice in the World” carried the same message.

Vatican 2

In the Bible, Jesus Christ says many things about working for justice. In the modern age, the Church’s highlight on justice came with Vatican 2. It opened in 1962 and closed in 1965. Pope John XXIII presided over the opening session.

Pope Paul VI took over after his death in 1963; he has always been identified with the changes Vatican 2 brought into the Church that, for too long, had been defined by its exercise of temporal power, at times more than Jesus Christ’s message of salvation.

Vatican 2 did not upend the Church’s basic doctrine. Instead, Pope John XXIII directed delegates “to present it in an exceptional way to all the men of our time” – in the context of contemporary problems.

In this country and much of the developing world, that meant “the Church’s solidarity with humanity instead of its separation from the secular world.” The Vatican News notes the offshoot: Church leaders spoke frequently about the Church’s preference for the poor and suffering, and became strong human rights advocates.

For our huge clan in Negros, the country’s fourth largest island, Vatican 2’s reality was presented by the late Bishop Antonio Fortich. The cleric who convinced Pope John Paul II to speak openly on oppression in Marcos’ golden age constantly reminded the government that brutal tactics only worsen a rebellion fueled by socio-economic injustice.

‘Joel Abong died in my arms’: Starvation, rage in Negros during ‘golden years’

‘Joel Abong died in my arms’: Starvation, rage in Negros during ‘golden years’

Fortich engaged all comers: rebels, charity workers, activists, diplomats, uneasy landowners, and a succession of military administrators of Martial Law. He was always ready to listen. He was even more ready to publicly slap down trite, dangerous excuses for unjust actions and policies.

As the military’s hamletting strategy and food blockades felled so many rural folk, especially children, Fortich grabbed headlines with a one-liner, “Hunger knows no color!”

Context matters

The representatives of the CBCP’s Episcopal Commission on Public Affairs (chaired by Bishop Reynaldo Evangelista as chairman, with Fr. Jerome Secillano as executive secretary) said they will keep the Church’s justice thrust in mind in engaging with the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) as private sector representatives.

The NTF-ELCAC initially crowed that it was the CBCP joining. CBCP president and Kalookan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David swiftly corrected misimpressions.

David acknowledged that one of the Commission’s task is engagement. The Commission claimed it intends to provide “moral-ethical approaches to dealing with the problem of insurgency.”

But within the CBCP, there is doubt about the wisdom of that move.

“Can this Commission engage the said government body in a dialogue without having to join its ExeCom as member – i.e., as private sector representative?” David asked. That question will be a hot topic in the upcoming meeting of the CBCP’s Permanent Council.

I asked Fr. Jerome for an explanation. His response: “Membership in ELCAC doesn’t mean being co-opted by the government. It means having the proper forum and mandate to articulate church concerns and issues affecting the people.”

“Execom members are not military personnel. They are mostly Cabinet secretaries. The focus now is not the militarization of the problem but the delivery of basic social services and provision of livelihood.”

“The fact that the ‘whole government approach’ is now the policy of the government means that insurgency is now not just a military problem. Different approaches and different solutions are needed.”

No question about engaging with the government to spur delivery of social services to the poor.

But the good representatives of the Episcopal Commission should be reminded: Under the whole of nation doctrine and the NTF-ELCAC policies, aid to barangays is not so much based on NEED, but on how well the community’s leaders kowtow to the military’s ways of defeating Asia’s longest-running insurgency.

The Philippine Constitution lays down the basic rights of citizens, “provisions and guarantees for individual and collective development in politics, society, culture, and the economy.”

The basic premise of NTF-ELCAC tramples on the Constitution. It makes rights transactional; reward or punishment based on slavish adherence to an anti-insurgency campaign marked by human rights violations. (READ: What Marcos excluded from SONA: Human rights, justice, peace)

If the Church really wants to work for social justice, it should first clearly, strongly call for a revisit of the NTF-ELCAC’s mandate, instead of sitting on a table that legitimizes institutionalized repression. –

The views expressed by the writer are his/her own and do not reflect the views or positions of Rappler.

1 comment

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  1. ET

    Thanks to writer Inday Espina-Varona’s inspirational article entitled,
    “CBCP and the minefields of engagement.”

    It is worth hoping that
    NTF-ELCAC officials and most especially President Marcos Jr. will heed
    the concern of the CBCP on “the delivery of basic social services and
    provision of livelihood.” But added to such call, should be an emphasis
    on the respect of the People’s Constitutional Rights
    in the implementation of the government’s counter-insurgency plan.

    Unfortunately, our military officials
    are trained under the “utak pulbura” orientation, which is focused mainly on the “means of violence.” In addition, some civilian officials, especially VP Sara Duterte, including some “Red Taggers”, are having such a mindset, too.

    NTF-ELCAC’s understanding of the Whole of Government and Whole of the Nation approaches is based on such orientation, which is very traditional and flawed. This is because it does not include the true, sincere and actual respect of the People’s Constitutional Rights.

    Unless President Marcos Jr.’s government and the succeeding ones will correctly implement the Whole of Government and the Whole of the Nation approaches, the problem of
    the 54-year-old Philippine Communist Insurgency shall endure.

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