The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines has declared 2015 the Year of the Poor. It is part of a nine-year preparation for the 500th anniversary of the first Mass and baptism in the Philippines. You can read their opening message for the Year of the Poor here. They invite us to look at Jesus on the cross. Jesus is fully one with the unwashed, the oppressed, the scorned, the powerless, the miserable, and the outcaste. Do we identify with the poor and the pushed aside in any way? Are we prepared for the crucifixion that may come with such identification? How might we become more fully one with these of our sisters and brothers that Jesus so loved?
The Catholic Bishops of the Philippines reflect on the joy of the Gospel and the Church of the poor in their pastoral exhortation To Bring Glad Tidings to the Poor. What role does money play in your life? Does it take up more time than love, more space than thinking? Does money make more demands on you than your family? Do you find it more consoling than friends? How do you feel about the answers?
Philippine Bishops say No to Death Penalty The Catholic Bishops of the Philippines oppose calls for restoration of the death penalty in their country. In a statement issued on 14 September 2016, Archbishop Socrates Villegas asks Catholic law-makers not to support any attempt to restore the death penalty. Speaking on behalf of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, he asks Catholic jurists to study the issue and use ‘proper judicial proceedings’ to oppose the re-introduction of capital punishment. He appeals to them to consider attenuating or mitigating circumstances so as not to impose the death penalty. Life is God’s Gift The Bishops acknowledge that Catholic teaching has not always opposed the death penalty. However they explain that, over time, with better understanding of the human person, our moral sense evolves. They say that the Church now sees opposition to the death penalty as a demand of human dignity. In every human person is that incomparably precious breath of life from God himself, as we read in the book of Genesis, “the Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). It is this Divine gift of life, sublime and unsurpassable, that the death penalty takes away. It is the breath of life, the gift of the Creator, that every judicial execution snatches and cuts short. To every man and woman is open, by the Savior, Jesus Christ, the invitation to the fullness of life. Every man and woman is a person redeemed by God’s own Son, made an adopted son or daughter of God, and heir to the promise of the Resurrection. This is the dignity of the human person. It is this dignity that the death penalty transgresses! The Philippine Bishops recall how Pope John Paul II also took this position, saying that the new evangelisation requires “followers of Christ who are unconditionally pro-life”. Furthermore, Pope Francis says that “it is time then to rid ourselves of the obsolescent notion that a person who commits a heinous wrong forfeits his right to life.” A Legal Responsibility The Bishops also make the case that the Philippines has a responsibility under international law not to reintroduce the death penalty. They explain that the government took on this obligation when it ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. For example, Article I of the Protocol says: No one within the jurisdiction of a State Party to the present Protocol shall be executed. Each State Party shall take all necessary measures to abolish the death penalty within its jurisdiction. Full Statement Read the full statement here.
Catholic Bishops react to Extrajudicial Killings Archbishop Socrates Villegas’ pastoral appeal to law enforcers calls for an end to extrajudicial killings. Archbishop Villegas is Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan, and president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines. He was speaking in the wake of a spate of extrajudicial killings of people accused or suspected of drug crimes. Archbishop Villegas notes “an increasing number of reports that suspected drug-peddlers, pushers and others about whom reports of criminal activity have been received, have been shot, supposedly because they resisted arrest.” He deplores the rise of vigilantism. He describes “bodies, apparently of homicide or murder victims, showing up on whom placards announcing their supposed crimes are writ large.” Read the Pastoral Appeal Issued on 20 June 2016, Appeal to Reason and Humanity, points out five guidelines for the use of force. Guidelines Firstly, law enforcers may shoot in self-defence, but strict criteria need to be met. Secondly, “to kill a suspect outright” is not “moral justified” no matter how much surveillance has been conducted. Suspicion is not certainty, and “punishment may only be inflicted on the grounds of certainty.” Thirdly, if a suspect attempts to flee, non-lethal measures should be used to stop the suspect. Fourthly, the Bishops say plainly that it “is never morally permissible to receive reward money to kill another.” Law enforces should not behave like bounty hunters or become guns for hire. Finally, it is the duty of every Christian to stay away from participation in or cooperation with vigilantes. In fact, it is their responsibility to report such activity.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines has issued a pastoral statement called Striving for a Just Peace, the Moral Road, setting out a moral vision for a Bangsamoro Basic Law. It acknowledges grievances and the mistrust that has built up between the Muslim minority in Mindanao and other actors, and points out principles for a just path forward for all. It does not promote any of the competing drafts of a Bangsamoro Basic Law being debated in the Legislature.