The Church speaks, finally

By | February 18, 2017

The Philippine Roman Catholic Church has spoken.

It has taken a while but there it is, a pastoral letter read in churches last February 5, denouncing the summary killings that have taken the lives of nearly 8,000 Filipinos in the Philippine government’s so-called “war” on drugs.

I have been calling out the Church and other key sectors to make their sentiments known over the extrajudicial killings. While a few Church leaders had spoken out before, their individual voices have been like mist in the air, ephemeral and thus unheard by many of our fellow citizens.

The clergy is no stranger to the streets; they are not strangers in the streets. Some from among their ranks have for years been active in the streets, known for their activism and advocacies.

And of course the Church, through its then leader, Jaime Cardinal Sin, was instrumental in making the original Edsa People Power succeed in ousting the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

And so the Catholic Church here, as its Latin American counterparts before, has had a history of speaking out against government abuse.

It should be a welcome development for lovers of freedom and champions of individual rights. When people’s rights are trampled upon, or at least threatened, all sectors of society must involve themselves in making sure people’s lives and well-being are protected.

I’m sure the clergy will emphasize that their exhortations are not aimed at disrupting public order or destabilizing government. And I think the Church is making the point that their pastoral letter last February 5 was addressed more to the people rather than directly to the government. They want to stress more the idea and fact of the sanctity of human life.

The religious are not in the business of meddling in government. In fact, the concept of separation of Church and State is embedded in our Constitution.

But that doesn’t mean members of clergy cannot speak on what ails society or what threatens public order and well-being. The Church as an institution and clergy in their individual capacity and right as citizens can, and must, speak out against any force that threatens people’s rights, safety, and very existence.

I’ve said this many times before: The Church is one of four vital sectors in society that can keep the nation intact in the coming months, along with news media, the academe, and the military.

I have been wondering when these sectors will come alive and participate in the public discussion of the issues confronting the nation today. Now the Church has finally broken its relative silence. Some activists from academe came out during the recent controversy over the burial of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, literally “Graveyard of Heroes.”

Media carry out their reportorial duties as professionally as they can, without getting involved emotionally in covering the presidency. But media pundits have been generally muted in their assessment of the administration’s conduct of its business.

The military, the only one of the four sectors that possesses arms, is in a difficult position, primarily because it is part of the government. Will the military rank and file see it part of their duty to the nation to defend individual freedoms and the safety of citizens? President Rodrigo Duterte is conscious of this and his frequent visits with the troops are proof of that.

Many Filipinos are at this point uninvolved and detached from the daily reality of summary killings, police abuse of power, and the country’s emerging foreign relations, which is veering toward China and Russia, and away from the United States. Daily life is such a struggle that many of our fellow citizens have very little time to spend on the political, philosophical, ideological, and even moral direction the country is taking.

There is also the emerging reality that many Filipinos are unperturbed by the appalling disregard for human life manifest daily in the summary killings. That in itself is a tragedy of monumental proportions. The United States, the United Nations, and international civil society groups are more concerned about the killings than are many Filipinos.

The good news of course is that the Catholic Church has decided to speak out. As people become more frustrated with what’s happening in society, they will more and more look to the Church for leadership and guidance.