CEBU City, Sept. 14, 2011—Echoing the words of Pope Benedict XVI, Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo stressed the role of the Church to become the voice of the poor in the face of injustice and oppressive structures.
“[The Church] cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice,” Lagdameo said, quoting a line from the pontiff’s celebrated encyclical, Deus Caritas Est.
Speaking before 800 church people and workers gathered at the first plenary session of the National Conference of Church People and Workers in Cebu City’s Mariners Court, Lagdameo quoted extensively from Church social documents highlighting the Church’s position on the dignity of labor and rights of workers.
He explained the development of the Church social documents from Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum that dates back to 1891, a seminal encyclical on Labor and Capital, up to Pope John Paul II’s Laborem Exercens published in 1981.
The social encyclicals, beginning from Rerum Novarum underline the Church’s “preferential option for the poor”, “the primacy of labor over capital”, and the task to fight injustice as an essential part of evangelization.
Positively pleased by Lagdameo’s address, Sr. Emelina Villegas, ICM, Board President of labor NGO, Center for Trade Union and Human Rights, noted that the Church has indeed been adapting to the changing issues of society.
“I am glad because the Archbishop presented the history of the encyclicals in a developmental manner – how the Church is adapting and responding to the changing issues that confront society. Although still reactive, the Church is somehow able to cope with our changing reality. With this, my hopes are renewed and I can see that concrete action will result from this [conference],” she said.
For his part, Kilusang Mayo Uno National Chairperson, Elmer Labog said he agrees with the Archbishop’s message that the Church must not be neutral when there is injustice.
“In these times when connivance between capitalists and the government is ever inflicting more suffering to workers and the poor, there is no room for neutrality [for the Church]. Because if the Church will be neutral, then the workers have no one else to run to and the Church might be more easily swayed by reactionary forces.”
Valid and just calls
Former Anakpawis Partylist Representative Joel Maglunsod who also attended the conference said that learning about the Church teachings on the value of labor and human work puts Anakpawis in a high moral ground to further their calls and legislative agenda for just remuneration, security of tenure, and protection of workers’ rights and freedoms.
“The teachings of the Church only validates that the proposed bills of Anakpawis are just and legitimate in the same way that these bills were aligned with International Covenants and the 1986 Constitution,” he said.
Why only now?
The conference came at the time of the Church’s commemoration of the 30th year of anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Laborem Exercens.
Lagdameo voiced out what perhaps many of the workers have been wanting to ask the Church a long time.
“What we are doing now—a national conference—why only now? After 90 years of social teachings of the church, why only now? after 30 years of LE, why only now? And until when?” Lagdameo asked to the wild applause of the participants.
We are not lacking in the tradition of the social teachings, what is lacking in us is to fill it up, he said.
He nonetheless noted that other social issues such as the environment and the status of women in Church and society need to be included in the canon of social doctrines.
Reacting to Lagdameo’s question, on why it is only now that the Church has organized a conference such as this, Labog said that it is always better late than never and the move of the Church to reach out to the workers is still a welcome development.
“We hope that this conference will result to concrete steps that will truly help the workers in organizing and forming unions. Forming church people-worker groups in economic zones in Mactan, Cavite, Mindanao and some parts of Central Luzon will be of utmost help as workers in these areas experience severe exploitation and oppression,” he said.
At least 33 dioceses and archdioceses and around 200 union and association of workers nationwide have sent delegates to participate in the historic dialogue that ends Thursday. (CBCPNews)