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Common ground for Church and Du30?

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Human Face

Common ground for Church and Du30?

/ 12:26 AM February 16, 2017

At the Meet the Inquirer multimedia forum last Monday, the guest in the hot seat was the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines president, Archbishop Socrates Villegas of the Lingayen-Dagupan archdiocese. The forum focused on the strongly worded CBCP pastoral letter on the drug killings that was read Feb. 5 in parishes that received it on time.

In the backdrop was President Duterte’s bloody war on drugs that has resulted in daily body counts that now total more than 7,000, and counting. This unrelenting war and the so-called extrajudicial killings (EJKs) have earned international attention and rebuke. Expletive after expletive was Du30’s reaction to critics.

To those concerned about how the pastoral letter might intensify the President’s regular tirades against the Catholic hierarchy and clergy, the archbishop made it clear that it was not—repeat, not—addressed to Mr. Duterte or Malacañang but to the Catholic faithful in general. It was not a call to arms.

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The archbishop made it clear that the CBCP was not at war with Malacañang despite the President’s contemptuous regard for the Church and his regular sweeping statements about the sins of Church leaders. Listen to how Du30 taunts, sneers, jeers. One can’t help thinking that the Church’s good works in many fields, the heroic and saintly deeds of its members in remote and dangerous places where the government is practically absent, are simply spat upon, unappreciated.

Is the Church simply turning the other cheek for more slapping and cursing? Are the bishops afraid of President Duterte? The archbishop’s answer: “No.” What we should be afraid of, he stressed, is sin. If I may paraphrase his reply: We should be afraid of the evil that is abroad in the land, the wrongs we commit against one another.

The archbishop’s reaction to Du30’s tirades: “If you are telling us that we are a bunch of sinners, hypocrites and shameless followers of Jesus Christ, the answer is yes. We churchmen and women are imperfect; we struggle, we fall, we rise again… The Church’s moral ascendancy does not depend on the people who lead it but on God.”

Being the protégé of the late Jaime Cardinal Sin, the 56-year-old, articulate CBCP president referred to the outspoken cardinal’s own “critical collaboration” stance during the martial law years when the dictator Ferdinand Marcos ruled with an iron hand. Sin walked the tightrope, did a balancing act. Well, in the end, he roused the country to go out there and face armored tanks. The rest is history.

Already, some bishops (Archbishop Villegas would not name them) are reaching out to the former seminarians in the Cabinet, among them Cabinet secretary, Leoncio Evasco, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia and Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno. Evasco is, in fact, an ordained diocesan-priest-turned-communist-rebel, tortured and imprisoned during the Marcos years. When Mr. Duterte was mayor of Davao City, Evasco was his chief of staff.  Evasco later became the town mayor of Maribojoc in Bohol.

The bishops are trying to find common ground with this administration—this strange administration, if I may say so.

For starters, might the mining issue be common ground?

When Pope Francis came to visit in 2015, the CBCP-National Secretariat of Social Action and the Alyansa Tigil Mina issued a joint statement on mining. It referred to the 1995 CBCP call for the repeal of the Philippine Mining Act (Republic Act No. 7942), citing the “devastating effects and the adverse social impacts of mining that will destroy both environment and people that will lead to social unrest.”

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On Wednesday’s Inquirer’s banner story said: “Gina kills 75 mine deals” and called her move a “Valentine’s Day massacre.” The subhead read: “Environment Secretary Gina Lopez cancels 75 mining contracts as a ‘gift of love’ to the Filipino people, drawing protests and threats of legal action from the mining industry.”

But it seems Lopez has the President’s ear. Yet, her confirmation as environment secretary could be massacred.

The devastated vastness wrought by irresponsible mining is a curse on the Filipino people. Here, on the wounded landscape, the Church and the Duterte administration could find common ground.

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TAGS: church, Commentary, news, opinion, President Rodrigo Duterte
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