Bishop Pabillo’s voice: Source of light, hope in dark times
Bishop Broderick Pabillo deserves praise not just from Catholics, but from all Filipinos. He has contributed a valuable element lacking in today’s national governance — a reasonable approach to solving crises. The bishop’s indignant and firm riposte at the latest move of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases comes from a critical and creative mind that seeks the spiritual good of his flock. His approach can be useful in pursuing not merely the spiritual aspect, but also the other facets surrounding this present crisis.
The good bishop has pointed out the flaws of the system now in use in proposing solutions and tactics. He was right in demanding clarity of concepts and strategies. How do you define “mass gatherings” in the first place, for example? Is a worship service, kept to the minimum of participants and adhering to health protocols, necessarily an illegal mass gathering? He was also correct in insisting that actions, before being imposed, should go through open, enlightened, and participative consultations. Decisions from above that do not take into account the actual situations and do not involve the people who will be affected are oppressive, if not unrealistic, prejudiced, and ineffective.
It was clear that the bishop was unfazed by the negative reactions of regime supporters and even of bullying threats from a spokesman who should be reminded that he is a mere mouthpiece and not a decision-maker. What mattered most to Bishop Pabillo was doing his responsibility as a cleric and as a citizen. His pastoral statement consisted neither of vitriol nor empty rhetoric, if you return to the text itself. Nowhere did he call for defiance, since he himself vigorously enforces to this day the protocols in the churches under his care. He, however, did challenge the concerned officials to think and act rightly this time, and hopefully in the future. Surprisingly, they responded to his challenge positively.
The Church, imperfect and far from spotless, nevertheless has 500 years of direct encounter and experience in helping the sick and the dying, the hungry and the homeless, the depressed and the unemployed, and it has done more than its responsible share during this pandemic. It has also not failed to add its voice to the clamor for the rights of marginalized, indigenous, targeted, and tagged individuals and groups. In an atmosphere that tries to quell the opinions, suggestions, and questions of people, and that tries to dismiss dissenters as nonpartners in dialogue, the bishop’s voice and directive to his church come as a source of light and hope. Bishop Pabillo not only spoke out; he first provoked his own people to be seriously decisive, participative, and reasonable. Those in power who heard his voice learned a valuable lesson, too.
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