Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Church and Political Turmoil in the Philippines

Bishop moves

The current restive political climate punctuated by the ZTE-NBN corruption scandal has brought to the fore the Church’s role in the Philippine political sphere. Friday’s protest rally in Makati brings to a boil the simmering unrest of activists in civil society. At this juncture , there are renewed calls agitating for the Church to take on a more decisive stance. With the political situation in turmoil, many anti-administration groups have hoped that the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) would rally the citizenry in calling for the resignation of President Arroyo, along with key government officials. Thus far, the CBCP has released an official statement detailing the socio-political ills afflicting the nation, while calling for a “Communal Conversion towards a Social Conscience”. More recently, CBCP president Archbishop Angel Lagdameo said in a more strongly worded statement that

“Truth hurts. Truth liberates. But the truth must be served. The truth will set our country free. Only the truth, not lies and deceits, will set our country free. This truth challenges us now to communal action.”

CBCP has stopped short of fully opposing the administration with the calls for Arroyo’s resignation, to the dismay of oppositionists who had hoped that the bishops take on a leadership role in a confrontational stance against the government. Yesterday’s Inquirer editorial goes to the extent of rebuking the bishops in its perceived abdication of its pastoral duty:

“The people may not be marching in the streets now, but it is because they’re waiting for the clarion call of our bishops. But the bishops seem to have jettisoned their moral and pastoral duty.”

The editorial certainly draws an obvious allusion to People Power 1, when the late Cardinal Jaime Sin enjoined the masses in a move that eventually led to the ouster of strongman Ferdinand Marcos’ rule in 1986. There is that expectation that the bishops would similarly assume a prominent activist posture against the government.

The question now is that whether the current prevailing conditions demand an equally activist intervention by the Philippine bishops in the political affairs as supposedly mandated by its pastoral duty. In our situation, perhaps we need to look back to 1986 and prior events to draw parallels. But since politics is as old as society, it is well worthy that we look even much further back - and draw the parallels from Scriptures itself.

The key scripture on the topic is Romans 13:1-7. It tells us why we need government, who gives its authority, and what is its rightful role. …

“Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience' sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. “...

How did Jesus himself relate to political authority? While Jesus refuses the oppressive and despotic power wielded by the rulers of the nations (Mark 10:20) , he does not directly oppose the authorities of the times. His pronouncement (Luke 20:22-25) on the paying of taxes to Caesar was that which was echoed by Paul. We remind ourselves that when Paul wrote his letters to the believers in Rome, they were living under the powerful and often immoral Roman rulers. Although Roman law was admirable in many ways, it was under Roman rule that Christians were to suffer some of their most severe persecution.

Where then do we draw the line?
The Apostle Peter drew the line when he said : We ought to follow God rather than men, when he was being forced by the Roman forces not to speak publicly about Christ. John the Baptist spoke out against the immoral lives of King Herod and his wife, even though he faced prison.
Along these lines, let us take off from the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church:

The right to resist

400. Recognizing that natural law is the basis for and places limits on positive law means admitting that it is legitimate to resist authority should it violate in a serious and repeated manner the essential principles of natural law. St. Thomas Aquinas writes that "one is obliged to obey...insofar as it is required by the order of justice. Natural law is therefore the basis of the right to resistance."
There can be many different ways this might be exercised; there may also be many different ends that may be pursued. Resistance to authority is meant to attest to the validity of a different way of looking at things, whether the intent is to achieve partial change, for example, modifying certain laws, or to fight for a radical change in the situation.

Social Doctine and the inculturation of faith

523. This Christian anthropology gives life to and supports the pastoral task of inculturation of the faith, which aims at an interior renewal, through the power of the Gospel, of modern man's criteria of judgment, the values underlying his decisions, the way he thinks and the models after which his life is patterned. “Through inculturation the Church, for her part, becomes a more intelligible sign of what she is and a more effective instrument of mission”. The contemporary world is marked by a rift between the Gospel and culture, by a secularized vision of salvation that tends to reduce even Christianity to “merely human wisdom, a pseudo- science of well-being”. The Church is aware that she must take “a giant step forward in her evangelization effort, and enter into a new stage of history in her missionary dynamism”. The Church's social doctrine is situated within this pastoral vision: “The ‘new evangelization', which the modern world urgently needs, ... must include among its essential elements a proclamation of the Church's social doctrine”.

Acting with prudence

548. Prudence makes it possible to make decisions that are consistent, and to make them with realism and a sense of responsibility for the consequences of one's action. The rather widespread opinion that equates prudence with shrewdness, with utilitarian calculations, with diffidence or with timidity or indecision, is far from the correct understanding of this virtue. It is a characteristic of practical reason and offers assistance in deciding with wisdom and courage the course of action that should be followed, becoming the measure of the other virtues. Prudence affirms the good as a duty and shows in what manner the person should accomplish it. In the final analysis, it is a virtue that requires the mature exercise of thought and responsibility in an objective understanding of a specific situation and in making decisions according to a correct will.

Therefore, considering the the Church's social doctrine and its Scriptural basis, the CBCP's posture in the current political turmoil might be taken in the proper perspective. For our bishops to point out a specific political option as the Gospel choice, it has to be consistent with the tradition of social doctrine as it goes back to its foundations in Scriptures, consistent right down through Pope Pious XIth's Rerum Nevarum, Vatican II's Gaudium et Spes, and now up to Pope Benedict's Spe Salvi. A recurring theme all throughout is that while the Church advocates social action for the common good, the ultimate goal is for the conversion of hearts. This social doctrine is now called to bear down upon the current Philippine situation - a hotbed of conflicting opinions, emotions, and blurred facts. We take into account for example, that the Ombudsman is still in the process of initiating an investigation. Amidst such circumstances, and against the backdrop of the Church's Social Doctrine, we may very well get an insight behind the bishops' prudence.

It must be said that government - even good government - does not hold the ultimate answers to our social and personal needs. Thus the CBCP, while it highlights the social ills and recommends its closure through "communal action", eventually emphasizes conversion of the hearts and the scriptural admonition to Reform and Believe in the Gospel (Mark 1:15).

What to hope for

Thus while we work towards a communal conversion of hearts, it does not preclude our duties as conscientious citizens to fight for the common good, within the realms of the Church's social doctrine. In redeeming society and the individual, the frustration that we usually inflict upon ourselves in a highly secularized world is when we rely solely on the application of science or political structures. In the words of Pope Benedict: ...Certainly we cannot “build” the Kingdom of God by our own efforts—what we build will always be the kingdom of man with all the limitations proper to our human nature...our daily efforts in pursuing our own lives and in working for the world's future either tire us or turn into fanaticism, unless we are enlightened by the radiance of the great hope that cannot be destroyed even by small-scale failures or by a breakdown in matters of historic importance...

We pray for true reform.

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