4 CBCP agencies team up against modern slavery

Bishop Ruperto Santos (Photo by CBCPNews)

MANILA, Feb. 7 2017– Catholic bishops continue to tackle the problem of human trafficking as four Church agencies have teamed up in a renewed effort to work together in the fight against modern slavery.

Bishop Ruperto Santos, chairman of the bishops’ Episcopal Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People (ECMI), said the collaboration was critical to combat a booming illegal industry of human trafficking.

“Through this (collaboration), we will have the ways and means to rebuild their (victims of human trafficking) lives,” Santos said.

The bishop made the call on Feb. 6 at a consultation and training workshop attended by leaders of the Commissions on Social Action, Youth, Women and Migrants.

Held two days before the feast day of Saint Josephine Bakhita, the patron saint of victims of human slavery and trafficking, the meeting was also attended by representatives of some dioceses in Metro Manila and different religious groups who are working in the migrants ministry.

Read: Bishop calls for redoubled efforts against human trafficking

He emphasized that through complimentary action the Church could maximize resources and make a united effort against the traffickers.

The initiative will also focus on broader education campaign about human trafficking and wider support for victims through spiritual and social services.

“Pope Francis is urging us to ‘provide victims with welcome, human warmth and the possibility of building a new life’ and that is what we are doing today,” said Santos.

Read: Look into migration’s human face, Vatican official urges world leaders

Fr. Conegundo Garganta, executive secretary of the bishops’ youth ministry, said they are committed to fight the problem in a country which have been a known source of trafficked persons in the world.

Most of the victims including women and children are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor.

“We all have to work together to totally remove this from our society,” Garganta said. (R.Lagarde/CBCPNews)

Pastoral letter on drug war grounded in truth— bishop

Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga. (Analyn Perucho/CBCPNews)

MANILA, Feb. 6, 2017– It’s not a lie that innocent people were killed and many fear of becoming victims of extrajudicial killings, a Catholic bishop said.

Disputing Malacañang’s claim that bishops have lost touch with reality, Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga said their pastoral letter on drug war only relays the sentiments of many people, especially those in poor communities.

“They are not only afraid, they become restless and disturbed that there’s no peace. And that’s the reason why it’s now ‘terror’ that they experience,” he said.

Malacañang said the bishops’ are not grounded in reality after the release of a pastoral letter raising their concerns on President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly “war on drugs” for creating a “reign of terror”.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella claimed that the crackdown on narcotics has instead turn the country “into a safer place”.

Instead of being defensive, the bishop said it would help if the government would address the unexplained killings and other concerns they raised by the Church.

Read: Bishops warn against being ‘silent accomplice’ to killings

“We all want to be safe and be peaceful so let us get rid of these senseless killings. Let us get rid of the extrajudicial killings,” Santos said.

In December last year, a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey reported that majority of Filipinos are worried of getting killed in the drug war that claimed more 7,000 lives in six months.

The poll found that 78 percent of Filipinos were afraid that they would also fall victim to summary executions.

Santos added that this is even the reason why the Church had to always come out and try to allay their fears.

“We, priests and bishops, are with the people. We feel them. We want to assure them. We want to pacify them that we are with them and we want them to be peaceful,” he said. (R. Lagarde/CBCPNews)

Bishops warn vs being ‘silent accomplice’ to killings

(Photo by CBCPNews)

MANILA, Feb. 5, 2017– Catholic bishops called on the faithful to speak out against summary killings, saying that silence makes them an ‘accomplice’ in the rising death toll of the war on drugs.

The Church leaders found disturbing the lack of strong rejection by many Filipinos of the daily killings in the country.

“To consent and to keep silent in front of evil is to be an accomplice to it,” the bishops said in a pastoral letter read in all Masses on Sunday. “Let us not allow fear to reign and keep us silent.”

It’s the same thing, they said, that if people neglect the drug pushers and users “we have become part of the drug problem.”

“If we consent or allow the killing of suspected drug addicts, we shall also be responsible for their deaths,” they said.

President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly denied that his administration is behind the extrajudicial killings in the country.

In several occasions, he also launched profanity-laced tirades against the bishops and human rights groups for criticizing his bloody war on drugs that claimed over 7,000 lives in six months.

Acknowledging their own shortcomings, the bishops said they will continue to speak “against evil” in a country “shrouded in the darkness of vice and death.”

“We will do this even if it will bring persecution upon us because we are all brothers and sisters responsible for each other,” they said.

The pastoral letter came barely a week after the bishops from across the country gathered in Manila for their biannual plenary assembly.

‘Reign of terror’

While they agree that the narcotics trade needs to be stopped, they reiterated that killing suspected drug pushers and users and not giving them due process is not the solution to the problem.

The prelates said they are concerned not only for those who have been killed but also about the situation of the victims’ families whose lives “have only become worse.”

“An additional cause of concern is the reign of terror in many places of the poor. Many are killed not because of drugs. Those who kill them are not brought to account,” they said.

Except for self-defense, the prelates said killing is a “grave sin” as to push illegal drugs.

“We cannot correct a wrong by doing another wrong. A good purpose is not a justification for using evil means. It is good to remove the drug problem, but to kill in order to achieve this is also wrong,” they added.

Poverty, corruption

The Church leaders also called on the government to get to the bottom of the drug problem and criminality–poverty and corruption.

“We must also give priority to reforming rogue policemen and corrupt judges. The excessively slow adjudication of court cases is one big reason for the spread of criminality,” according to them.

Without naming Durerte in their letter, the bishops urged “elected politicians to serve the common good of the people and not their own interests”.

“We must all work together to solve the drug problem and work for the rehabilitation of drug addicts,” they said. (Roy Lagarde/CBCPNews)

CBCP exec lauds closure of 23 mining operations

Fr. Edwin Gariguez, Nassa executive secretary (CBCPNews)

MANILA, Feb. 3, 2017–The social action arm of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines welcomed “to the highest level” the closure of 23 mining operations in the country.

Fr. Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of the National Secretariat for Social Action – Justice and Peace, said this shows the government commitment to fight environmental degradation by the industry.

“Truly, mining in watershed and fragile island ecosystems should not have been permitted,” said Gariguez, who is known for championing the cause of the environment and indigenous peoples.

“The government is serious in repairing its gross mistake in the past – where all that matters is the corporate interests at the cost of the environment,” he said.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) yesterday ordered the closure of 23 mines, mainly nickel producers and mostly located in functional watersheds.

Saying that “it’s time for social justice,” DENR Secretary Gina Lopez said one cannot run a business to the detriment of the environment and the local communities.

Gariguez added that Lopez deserves to be confirmed by the Commission on Appointments (CA).

“Gina Lopez should be confirmed by the CA for standing to what is right and in defending people’s well being, over and above corporate greed.

Earlier, former Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles also wrote a letter asking President Rodrigo Duterte to keep Lopez sa DENR chief.

At a prayer march in Quezon City on Thursday, he also called on the Filipinos to support Lopez in her campaign to protect the environment. (R. Lagarde/CBCPNews)

Death penalty only perpetuates violence, warns Cardinal Tagle

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle (CBCPNews)

MANILA, Feb. 2, 2017– Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila has warned that capital punishment might only fuel a cycle of violence.

The cardinal said the use of the death penalty by the government would only legitimize violence as a solution to problems.

“There is a danger that the death penalty might legitimize the use of violence to deal with every wrongdoing,” Tagle said in a pastoral guidance issued Thursday.

He said that penalties are “not (to) be imposed for vengeance but for correction of offenders and for the good of society.”

According to him, Catholic teaching also opposes death penalty because the risk of executing the innocent can never be eliminated.

“There is real danger that the death penalty might be applied to an innocent person,” Tagle said.

“We need to reform institutions so they would safeguard justice while preventing the spread of a culture of violence,” he added.

Like other countries that have abandoned the use of death penalty, the cardinal called on lawmakers to instead find other means to suppress crimes while giving offenders the chance to reform.

“We need to reform institutions so they would safeguard justice while preventing the spread of a culture of violence,” he said. “A culture of violence dehumanizes. A culture of justice, integrity, and hope heals.”

Noting that death penalty is not a solution to criminality, Tagle also said that the root causes of the problem must be addressed, including providing solutions to poverty.

“To help solve these roots of criminality, the Church and the state need to protect and strengthen the basic unit of society, which is the family,” he said. (Roy Lagarde/CBCPNews)

Bishops stand firm against death penalty

Philippine bishops celebrating the Eucharist during their plenary assembly held January 2017 (Photo by CBCPNews)

MANILA, Jan. 30, 2017– Violence against violence? It won’t solve anything, the country’s Catholic bishops have warned Monday.

In a statement released after their 3-day plenary assembly in Manila, the prelates said that the death penalty is no different from the crime it punishes.

That’s why it is regrettable, CBCP President Archbishop Socrates Villegas said, that there are “strident efforts” to restore the capital punishment in the country.

“When we condemn violence, we cannot ourselves be its perpetrators, and when we decry murder, we cannot ourselves participate in murder, no matter that it may be accompanied by the trappings of judicial and legal process,” he said.

“Throughout the world, the trend against the death penalty is unmistakable, and international covenants, one of which the Philippines is party to, obligate us not to impose the death penalty,” said Villegas.

The release of the statement also coincided a day before the House of Representatives begins its plenary debates on the death penalty bill on January 31.

The measure allows courts to impose death as punishment for a wide range of heinous crimes, particularly drugs, rape and murder.

Villegas reiterated that the Gospel of life is at the heart of Jesus’ message.

“It is this Gospel we must preach. It is this Gospel that we must uphold,” Villegas said.

“We therefore unequivocally oppose proposals and moves to return the death penalty into the Philippine legal system.”

“Though the crime be heinous, no person is ever beyond redemption, and we have no right ever giving up on any person,” he added. (Roy Lagarde/CBCPNews)

Stop killings too, bishop urges PNP

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo (Photo by CBCPNews)

MANILA, Jan. 30, 2017 — After the police force stopped its “war on drugs”, a Catholic bishop urged the agency to make drastic efforts to end the summary executions and vigilante killings of suspected drug pushers in the country.

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo said it is the right thing for the Philippine National Police to do amid reports that some officers used the anti-drug campaign to mask their criminal activities.

“Knowing that they’ve stopped the war on drugs, it means they should stop the extrajudicial killings,” Pabillo said.

National police chief Ronald dela Rosa on Monday ordered a halt to anti-drug operations following the killing of a South Korean businessman by rogue officers.

In a press conference, Dela Rosa said they would focus first on “cleansing” their ranks of scalawags following the kidnapping, leading to the death by strangulation of Jee Ick-joo, on the grounds of the national police headquarters.

Pabillo also said he is hoping the government would “really push through” with it, adding the suspension would result in more former drug addicts undergoing rehabilitation.

“Many people didn’t want to come to the programs because of fear. Now, if the fear factor is out, we can work more on rehabilitating them,” said Pabillo.

More than 7,000 have been killed in a drug war since President Rodrigo Duterte took power last June 30. (CBCPNews)

Anti-RH lawyer receives CBCP’s highest award

Atty. Maria Concepcion Noche receives the Jorge Barlin Golden Cross Award from CBCP President Archbishop Socrates Villegas after a Mass at the Sta. Maria Goretti Church in Manila, Jan. 28, 2017. (CBCPNews)

MANILA, Jan. 28, 2017– The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines conferred its highest award, the Jorge Barlin Golden Cross, to pro-life lawyer Maria Concepcion Noche.

The bishops cited Noche for her “outstanding and genuine service” to the Church, “exemplifying the ideals” of the first Filipino bishop Barlin.

The CBCP, led by its president, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, gave the award to Noche on Saturday at the Pius XII Center in Manila where the bishops are holding their 114th plenary meeting.

Daet Bishop Gilbert Garcera, chairman of the CBCP’s Commission on Family and Life, said the Church recognized the “missionary disciple” for her efforts to protect the sanctity of human life.

“She has been steadfast in the defense of the Catholic teaching and Filipino values in particular with the rights of every Filipino from conception to natural death,” Garcera said.

Noche heads the Alliance for the Family Foundation Philippines, Inc. which was among the groups that questioned the provisions of the RH law before the Supreme Court.

She also served as the counsel of various anti-RH groups during the hearing at the high court.

In 2014, the SC upheld the constitutionality of the RH law but struck down several “unconstitutional” provisions of the measure that pro-life advocates found highly objectionable.

The anti-RH groups particularly lauded the SC for declaring unconstitutional part of Section 7 which requires health facilities owned by religious groups to provide family planning methods.

The court also junked contraceptives that may cause or induce abortion and the prohibition against health care providers who refuse to perform RH services.

In her acceptance speech, Noche recalled the difficulties they’ve been through in defending a “popularly unpopular position” on the RH law.

“I’m truly grateful to God for the singular opportunity to put my legal knowledge and skills at the service of life,” she said.

“This recognition comes as the most welcome consolation and a much needed boost and inspiration to spur me on,” said Noche. (CBCPNews)

CBCP head calls for pastoral courage amidst a changing world

CBCP President Archbishop Socrates Villegas delivering his message at the Opening Session of the 114th Bishops' Plenary Assembly. (Roy Lagarde / CBCPNews)

MANILA, Jan. 28, 2017–Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan has opened a gathering of more than 90 bishops on Saturday by urging them not to let the Church become a “shell institution”.

Speaking at the start of the bishops’ plenary assembly at the Pius XII Center, he said the “rapid changes” in the society calls for deeper understanding for church people to address fundamental human needs.

The head of the Catholic bishops’ leadership said it is imperative for churchmen to acknowledge them so that their “pastoral praxis” can better answer the needs of the country.

“We can be victims of change, but we can be its authors as well as its guardians,” Villegas said in his prepared speech titled “The Church at the crossroads”.

“The transitions need our attention. The shifts in paradigms need shifts in our pastoral approaches,” he said.

It is understandable, he said, that Churches are among the shell institutions or those that have become inadequate to the tasks they are called to perform.

The outer shell remains, but the inside has radically changed, he said, adding that this is happening even in families, relationships, decision making and almost everywhere.

“We still carry the shell but the shell can be deceptive, illusory and fictitious,” according to the him.

“We issue pastoral letters but are we still understood and relevant to the struggles and visions of our people? Can we listen to gutter language without judgment? Are we not becoming shell institutions—lovely to see with nothing inside?” he said.

But the archbishop recognized some fears within the Church that they might be “compromising the Gospel and moving with the world rather moving the world with the power of God.”

“There are challenges needing answers,” said Villegas.

“A defensive Church will not inspire and ignite souls. I have many questions but I lack answers. With you I search for answers and ask the Spirit to inspire and set our hearts afire,” he added.

Villegas is presiding his second to the last plenary assembly as CBCP president. He is set to relinquish his post by December after completing his second term in office.

CBCP officials have a two-year term in office, and are eligible for a second two-year term, for a maximum of four years.

As of this posting, 82 out of the 91 active bishops and nine of the 41 honorary CBCP members are attending the three-day meeting.

Among the agenda of the plenary assembly include a discussion on the current “socio-political climate”, the ethical use of social media, and the proposed change to the Constitution to give way to a federal system of government.

In a message to the CBCP, Pope Francis sent his “fraternal best wishes” as the Filipino bishops reflect on the Church’s mission in the country.

The Pope also assured the bishops of his prayers “that your deliberations may be guided by the Holy Spirit, and bring light of faith to bear on the pressing issues facing the Filipino people.” (Roy Lagarde/CBCPNews)

CBCP to discuss federalism in plenary assembly

CBCP 112th Plenary Assembly in Cebu City in January 2016. (CBCPNews)

MANILA, Jan. 27, 2017–The proposed shift to a federal parliamentary form of government will be one of the topics for discussion when bishops from across the country meet in Manila starting Saturday.

The gathering, known as a plenary assembly, is discussing the country’s “sociopolitical landscape”, apart from ecclesiastical matters.

CBCP Secretary General Fr. Marvin Mejia, however, did not elaborate the social concerns the plenary is going to tackle.

He said the CBCP has invited some experts to discuss issues on federalism being pushed by President Rodrigo Duterte.

“First, what is federalism? According to experts, it has different types. There’s a need for discussion before any statements can be made and that’s what the bishops are doing. They reflect and pray,” Mejia said.

The three-day assembly will start with a 6am Mass to be presided by Papal Nuncio Archbishop Guiseppe Pinto at the Pope Pius XII Center on UN Avenue in Paco, Manila.

Mejia added that the bishops will also discuss the trends in social media to advance evangelization and reflect on the ethics of digital life.

He said the discussion is also in the light of the spread of fake news and deceptive memes attacking the Catholic Church.

Although not part of the plenary, Mejia said the bishops are also set to watch a documentary film on extrajudicial killings on Sunday night.

The CBCP currently has 87 active and 41 honorary members who are expected to attend the biannual meeting that will be presided by Archbishop Socrates Villegas, who is now in his last year as president. (Roy Lagarde/CBCPNews)