United front of bishops needed amid political crisis in the Philippines


Some secular leaders say they are confused by mixed signals they are getting from Catholic leaders

Supporters of vice-presidential candidate Sara Duterte, daughter of President Rodrigo Duterte, hold banners bearing her likeness during a rally in Manila on November 15, 2021. (Photo: AFP)

Filipino voters, mostly lay Catholics, want to fulfill their civic duty to actively participate in and evangelize politics.

Pope Francis has always said that “the laity are, in simple terms, the great majority of the people of God” (Evangelii Gaudium102), that “the hour of the laity” has arrived, and that, in obedience to Christ, they must engage in “better politics…sound politics”, the kind of politics that aims at social charity and the common good (Fratelli Tutti177-183).

It goes without saying that the May 2022 elections are crucial, even if “crucial is an understatement”, according to Teddy Santiago of a national group called Laiko. “It’s an emergency. It may be now or never,” he added.

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The problem is not in the desired involvement of the laity but in the perceived disunity among church leaders who are expected to show a united front in offering Christian principles for discernment.

The bishops have denied getting involved in politics, but critics say yes. President of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of the Philippines (CBCP), Bishop Pablo David, Bishop Jose Cabantan and Bishop Antonio Ledesma, both of Cagayan de Oro, Bishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, Bishop Joel Baylon, Bishop Julius Tonel of Ipil , Bishop Emeritus Antonio Tobias and many others have prayed or honored events dedicated to a particular candidate who is seen as the antithesis of the culture of death, corruption, injustice and distortion of truth .

In Agusan, Bishop Cosme Damian Almedilla provided clear pastoral guidelines on what priests and religious can and cannot do during the election period, although some reports with a twist claimed he had threatened his priests with sanctions who are directly involved in partisan politics.

“It seems Catholic voters are looking for more unified pastoral guidance from church leaders and expecting shepherds to lead by example”

El Shaddai’s founder, Brother Mike Velarde’s public endorsement of the Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte-Carpio tandem prompted El Shaddai’s spiritual advisor, Bishop Teodoro Bacani, to explain that Velarde spoke only for himself and not for the entire charismatic group. Observers have asked: Was Bishop Bacani’s quick clarification interference in politics?

Last month, former CBCP president and Archbishop of Cebu, Jose Palma, reminded his clergy that the pulpit is not the right place “to campaign for any candidate.”

“I walk a very thin line,” Archbishop Roberto Gaa de Novaliches said after admitting there were gray areas in evangelizing partisan politics, even as he stressed the importance for leaders of church to provide guidance to constituents during mass at the Quezon Memorial. Circle a few weeks ago.

Some secular leaders say they are confused by the mixed signals they are receiving amid the political crisis. It seems that Catholic voters are looking for more unity pastoral guidance of church leaders and expect shepherds to set an example, no less, when the example of episcopal harmony is essential.

When President Marcos called a plebiscite in 1975, urging the people to approve all actions he had taken as president, the Catholic hierarchy resisted it. In its 1975 statement, the CBCP managed to quote St. Thomas More’s saying, “We are the king’s good servant, but God’s first,” in reference to conscientious objectors to political exercises during martial law. , which was actually a call for civil disobedience. : Don’t go out and vote!

In 1976, when Marcos called a second referendum, asking the people to approve the continuation of martial law, the CBCP’s administrative council, led by Cardinal Julio Rosales of Cebu, encouraged Filipinos to vote, a position contrary to that of January 1975. CBCP statement.

In response, 14 bishops signed a statement titled “A Declaration for Human Dignity at the Ballot Box” which classified martial law as “a regime of institutionalized coercion and fear, deception and manipulation.” The Prelates said it would be immoral to participate in yet another “vicious farce that further degrades our people”, a position diametrically opposed to Cardinal Rosales’ statement.

In the midst of this internal division, the CBCP received an unprecedented communication from the Vatican. In a joint letter, Cardinal Sebastian Baggio of the Sacred Congregation for Bishops and Cardinal Eduardo Pironio of the Sacred Congregation for Religious urged Filipino shepherds to unite.

“They also realized that brotherly harmony was necessary to combat injustice by learning, albeit the hard way, to be attentive to the Holy Spirit speaking in this assembly”

At the CBCP General Assembly in January 1977, each bishop received a copy of the final draft pastoral letter which strongly denounced human rights abuses under martial law and insisted that the ministry of the Church was a constitutive dimension of the mission. of evangelization. “It is our task. This is our mission,” the statement read.

During deliberations on the final draft, the clash of ideas in the august assembly became so intense that the papal nuncio, Archbishop Bruno Torpigliani, who was apparently complaining about the assembly’s radical tendencies, had to intervene.

The Bishops knew that, as a whole, the CBCP was standing on high moral ground in the face of the despicable abuses of martial law. They also realized that brotherly harmony was necessary to combat injustice by learning, even the hard way, to be attentive to the Holy Spirit speaking in this assembly. In the end, the CBCP decided to become the sole voice of the voiceless and “bravely made a moral judgment, denouncing the excesses of the regime”.

Finally, the bishops unanimously put their names on the pastoral letter. And it was the very first time that all the bishops present at a general assembly put their signatures on a single declaration, a pastoral message intended to be read from the pulpit at each Mass.”by Aparri hasta Jolo.”

Msgr. Lope Robredillo of Borongan, Samar remembered 1977 as “a turning point in CBCP history” when bishops across the archipelago achieved much-needed episcopal synergy.

Can the bishops today, less than two months before the elections, organize themselves and present a united rallying front which is essential to prevent the return of a Marcos to Malacañan?

* Jose Mario Bautista Maximiano is a Catholic scholar, public educator, and author of “Catholic Social Teachings in CONTEMPORARY Philippine History: 500 YOC (1971-2021), Volume 3” (Claretian, 2022). The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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