Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Ecological conversion

WHEN Cardinal Mario Bergoglio assumed the Petrine ministry and took the namesake of St. Francis, a Filipino archbishop already surmised that the new pontiff will pursue an agenda inspired by St. Francis of Assisi, namely: the poor, the environment and peace. He was right. 

During his inaugural address in March 2013, Pope Francis already outlined this when he said, “I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill:  Let us be ‘protectors’ of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.”

It was no surprise then that his much-awaited encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, would take prominence in the agenda of his pontificate.  He spoke on behalf of the poor while bewailing poor governance and bad business for placing “speculation and the pursuit of financial gain” ahead of the common good.  He pointed the “tragic rise in migrants,” to escape poverty caused by environmental degradation.  He chastised global inequality and called for a “true ecological approach” that will “hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor”.

The encyclical points out how the poor have been seriously hurt by demographic segregation in modern society, which is partly due to “the fact that many professionals, opinion makers, communications media and centers of power, being located in affluent urban areas, are far removed from the poor, with little direct contact with their problems.” In the end “this lack of physical contact and encounter, encouraged at times by the disintegration of our cities, can led to a numbing of conscience and to tendentious analyses which neglect parts of reality,” (No. 49).

Both the environment and people, especially those in the peripheries, fatally suffer injury from the worsening structural evils proliferated by economic and political ends.  Says the encyclical, “Human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation,” (No. 48). 

The root causes are, of course, not in the stars but in the human heart.   In 1988, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines issued its first landmark pastoral letter on ecology, “What is happening to our beautiful land”.  It said, “At the root of the problem we see and exploitative mentality, which is at variance with the Gospel of Jesus. This expresses itself in acts of violence against fellow Filipinos.  But it is not confined to the human sphere.  It also infects and poisons our relationship with our land and seas.”

At the end of the day, the call to good stewardship of creation may actually be a call to conversion of the heart.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Economic charter change

LAST week the House of Representatives has passed on second reading the so-called economic charter change bill formally known as Resolution of Both Houses 1 (RBH-1).  Co-authored by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., and Senator Ralph Recto, RBH-1 seeks to enable the removal of constitutional restrictions on foreign ownership of Philippine businesses and property through the insertion of the phrases “unless provided by law” into the pertinent provisions of the Constitutions.

            The Resolution that was well endorsed by administration lackeys of both Houses of Congress provides “that a voice of three-fourths (3/4) of all its Members, each House voting separately, and pursuant to Article VII of the Constitution, to propose amendments to Articles XII, XIV and XVI of the 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines, with the following proposals…”

            Judging from posts in social media and from comments of independent groups and individuals, this move to change the Constitution is emerging to be very unpopular.  For one, this administration and its party line is plunging into the pit of a serious credibility crisis. They never bothered even to approximate their promised legislations that could have substantiated their slogans and probably bolster this country to real prosperity—the likes of the antipoverty bill, the freedom of information bill, the anti-dynasty bill and a couple more.     Some well-meaning citizens harbor suspicions of some sinister plot from somewhere in the corridors of power that stand to benefit once the country open wide its doors to foreign capitalists.  

But granting that amendments to the economic provisions of the Constitution happens, this will only be a formality of a “de facto” invasion of foreign capitalists that has been wrecking havoc to Philippine economy for some years now.   Through the labyrinth of intricate corporate layering and dummies, foreign tycoons from neighboring Asian countries are in control of the country’s economy by being the majority owners of the Philippines’ public utility enterprise. These tycoons are presently the controlling stockholders of the country’s biggest public utility firms in electric power, communications, water, transportation and, more so, other big businesses such as mining.

Thanks to the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, who rushed to pose these questions:   1. What do we, as a nation, stand to gain from relaxing the provisions now deemed restrictive?  2.  How are we assured that the resources of the country, both natural and human, benefit Filipino nationals principally?  3.  What are the human, social and environmental costs of lifting present limits to foreign participation in Philippine economic and business affairs?

Truth to tell, whenever moves to amend the Philippine constitution are in the offing, one can be more or less certain that they are meant to advance a political agenda that is not inclusive.  This country has not yet reached a political maturity wherein the common good is given prominence.  The Philippine political culture is what needs changing, not the charter. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The new “anawim”

DURING his May 24 Regina Caeli address at St. Peter’s, Pope Francis has strongly called on the international community to help several boat loads of refugees that are reportedly still stranded after attempting to sail across the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea.

            “I continue following with great concern the events of the many refugees in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea.  I express my appreciation for the efforts made by those countries that have expressed willingness to welcome these people who are facing great suffering and danger.  I encourage the international community to provide them with the necessary humanitarian assistance,” exhorted the Pontiff.

            According to reports, these “boat people” who are still being tossed at sea were transported by human traffickers and later abandoned amid crackdowns by Thailand government.   The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that some 2,000 people are presently stranded in the Bay of Bengal and another 1,500 in the Andaman Sea.   Indonesia and Malaysia have committed to take some of these asylum seekers that are mostly Rohingya Muslims escaping persecution in Burma.   But other Asian countries are still adamant to allow them to land on their shores, for one reason or the other.

            The president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Archbishop Socrates Villegas lauded the Philippine government for opening its shores to our Asian brothers who have suffered enough in their homeland and continue to suffer at sea for several weeks now.  Villegas refers to them as the “Anawim of the Lord today”.  They are “refugees in flimsy boats, making their way to our shores, having endured appalling conditions aboard these vessels… many of them lost their lives in the attempt to find some haven.  They navigate to our waters tired, famished, desperate—many of them carrying the dead bodies of their children in their arms.”

            Says Villegas, “While it is maybe true that there is no legal obligation on the part of the Republic of the Philippines or that any other any other country to grant asylum to every refugee or displaced person, there is a moral obligation to protect them from the harm they flee from.  There is a legal obligation not to forcibly repatriate them.  And by all precepts of morality and decency, there is an obligation not to leave them to the mercilessness of the elements on the high seas.”  For sure the Filipino will always welcome refugees.  It is part of the Filipino culture that gladly transcends even legal requisites that other Asian countries find so hard to surpass.

            The Philippine has a happy track record of being hospitable to refugees.  From the 70s until the 90s this country has hosted hundreds of thousand refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. It may be good to know that the CBCP has already issued four pastoral statements in pursuit of the cause of “boat people”, namely:  “Because I was a stranger and you made me welcome” in 1975; “I was a stranger….” in 1979; “Statement of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines on refugees” in 1980; and “Refugees—the ‘Anawim’ of the Lord today” in 2015. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Christ’s witnesses, not aid workers

“WHOEVER lives the mission of Caritas is not simply a charity worker, but is a true witness of Christ, one who seeks Christ and allows Christ to seek him, one who loves with the spirit of Christ, a spirit of gratuitousness and gift.  All our strategies and plans remain empty unless we carry this love in us.”  This was what Pope Francis told the over 300 Caritas delegates from across the world at the opening mass of the 20th General Assembly of Caritas Internationalis held at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on May 12.   Caritas Internationalis which is the main charity arm of the Catholic Church is slated from May 12-17 on the theme “One Human Family, Caring for Creation.”
This certainly differentiates substantially the charity work of the Catholic Church from the humanitarian work of well-funded philanthropists.   In Ecclesia in Europa, Saint Pope John Paul II already pointed out that serving the mission of the Church “by means of a charity that evangelizes is the commitment and the responsibility of everyone.” (No. 33).   With the values of the Gospel in tow, it is “caritas” that, more than anything else, evangelizes especially by witnessing to the “joy of the Gospel” even in the midst of poverty, injustice and suffering.
Pope Francis told the delegates that the source of the organizations’ global work “lies in the simple and docile welcome of God and neighbor…This is the root.  If you cut this root, Caritas dies.”  It is in this spirit that even the social and organizational structure of these charitable institutions should manifest.   “Let us ask the Lord for the grace to understand the true dimension of Caritas, for the grace not to fall into the deception of believing that well-organized centralization is the way, for the grace to understand that Caritas is always on the periphery, in every particular Church…The Caritas of each particular church, even the smallest, is the same. There is no big Caritas or small Caritas, all are the same.” 
For Pope Francis, belief in God and assisting others go hand in hand.  Faith according to him is “to welcome God and express this in service to our brothers and sisters.  Word, sacraments and service lead to and nourish each other… to wash the feet and bathe the wounds of the suffering and to prepare a table for them…  All our strategies and plans remain empty unless we carry this love in us.  Not our love but his.  Or better yet, our love purified and strengthened by his love.”

At the end of the day, it’s all about faith, love and the spirituality of charity workers—and not simply about mobilizations and strategic social action work that even makes use of high-level corporate systems.   And here comes the rub.  If only to deliver and manage a most systematic charity work, some catholic charitable institutions hire top-level workers sans the Catholic values cited by Pope Francis.  Of late, for instance, an international Catholic charitable institution was accused of hiring workers that oppose fundamental Catholic moral teachings.  Hereabouts, many are just too secular and too mainstream. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Eucharist and the poor

THE members of Pontiļ¬cal Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses that includes the national and local committees that are tasked to prepare for the 51st International Eucharistic Congress gathered in Plenary Assembly in Cebu City this April 24-28, 2015.Te Plenary convened around 82 international and local delegates of bishops, priests, religious and lay from 47 countries.

Foremost in the agenda of this signal gathering was the presentation of the theological and pastoral perspectives that will serve as the mooring of the forthcoming Eucharistic Congress that will be held on Jan. 24-31, 2016 in Cebu City. In the previous congress that was held in Dublin, Ireland in June 2012 the Eucharist was seen as “communion”. This time it will be seen as “mission”.

The Plenary pointed out that “the mission of the Church in Asia has to be undertaken in dialogue with the poor. This is because while the continent is rich in culture and its people are rich in human and religious values, a great multitude of them live in situations of poverty, powerlessness, marginalization, victimization and suffering ... They are poor not because their continent lack natural and material resources but because they are deprived of access to material goods and resources... Oppressive and unjust social, economic, and political structures keep them from enjoying the rich natural patrimony of their lands.”

The Holy Eucharist, which according to the theological reflections of the Plenary Assembly is the “Church’s dialogue with the poor” upholds the values that negate the causes of poverty such as selfishness and greed. “It calls into question apathy and confronts oppressive totalitarian leaderships that put political and economic advantages above people...(it) challenges utilitarianism, consumerism, and materialism that treat the poor and the weak as commodities and tools...”

This theology, however, does not trickle yet into the perspectives and lives of most of the faithful. Perhaps the greater mission is to make the Eucharist understood by the greater majority of the faithful, who are mostly the poor, in the midst of natural or folk religiosity and fanaticism that blur the Eucharist from where it should be.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Peacemaking and the BBL

ONE of the more objective thought on the issue of peacemaking and the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is that of Archbishop Socrates Villegas which, as he premised, he is sharing neither as president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines nor as archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan, but “as a Filipino and a believer in Christ”.  Dated in time for the celebration of “Araw ng Kagitingan” (The Day of Valor) on April 9, he titles his piece “Bataan Valor, Peacemaking and the Draft BBL”.
Admittedly, the Mamasapano clash last January has triggered deep-seated apprehensions on the peacemaking efforts in Mindanao particularly on the draft BBL, which should not be the case. Providentially or otherwise, this incident made even the general public more serious about this draft legislation.  But to equate peace and the BBL would be a careless association that may in fact be counterproductive in the long haul.   “What threatens the prospect of peace most, however, is equating it with the present BBL and threatening the return of violence and bloodshed should the Legislature fail to pass it intact!,”  says Archbishop Villegas.  

The threat of bloodshed if the BBL draft is not passed in toto was made of late by no less than the president himself and the head of the peace negotiating panel.  Says the archbishop,  “Our sights should be set not on a truce, not on some tenuous cessation of hostilities, and for this, principles must be explicated, clearly discussed and rationally agreed on. This is what I refer to as ‘principled peace’. And warning that we shall have war unless BBL is passed does not make for principled peace!”

On its constitutionality, the archbishop opines, “It is my position that all suggestions, insinuations or hints that the Constitution will be amended to accommodate the provisions of the BBL cease. The Constitution is not a document that can be dealt with in patch-work fashion whenever we enter into negotiations with any restive sector of the Philippines. In this respect, the decision of the Supreme Court in the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domains (Province of North Cotabato v. GRP Peace Panel, 2008) ought to be the juridical sieve through which the BBL should be examined. If we pass anything now, let us enact a document that we are morally certain will withstand constitutional challenge before the Supreme Court. I have paid close attention to the arguments of the legal experts summoned by the houses of Congress to shed light on the Constitutional issues, and I am convinced that there are some very crucial points of constitutional law that ought to be resolved. Glossing over them will not be helpful at all, and it is neither my place nor my competence to pass upon them now.”

The abating stature of the Aquino administration may actually be another big factor that could be dragging the current peacemaking initiative an uphill climb—at least in the bar of public opinion.  Everybody wants peace.  But a good one.