THE Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines yesterday issued a strongly worded pastoral letter on President Duterte’s extra-judicial killings, signalling a new phase in the uneasy relationship between the morally indifferent President and the country’s most numerous Church. It was a high moment for the Church. In my parish, the letter, which was read at the end of the Mass, was greeted with rounds of thunderous applause from the parishioners.
The bishops had earlier issued four other statements on various issues after their January plenary conference. But the pastoral letter was embargoed until yesterday. At Sunday mass, it was finally read. The bishops spoke against the summary killings and vowed to continue speaking even at the risk of being persecuted by DU30, without mentioning his name. They called upon the faithful to speak out more strongly too.
It was the first time the bishops spoke as one against the killings. They indicated they were ready to be persecuted for doing so. “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.
DU30 has tried to prevent the Church from speaking out by intimidating bishops and priests with calumny and slander, as he tried to do to Novaliches Bishop Emeritus Teodoro Bacani, whom he accused outrageously of having two wives. Bacani riposted by challenging DU30 to produce even just one. Last July, the bishops decided not to take a common public stand on the month-old killings, but left it to individual bishops to issue their own pastoral statements, if they liked.
Uniting the bishops, the religious and the laity
This prompted some people to wonder what was keeping the hierarchy from speaking out against the evil that was already so evident. In one column, I proposed that the laity, as the “Church’s militants,” act on their own, even without any active prodding from the bishops. With the bishops’ response, the laity, religious and clergy can now move together as one in their fight for God and country.
In their pastoral letter, the bishops called on the faithful to abandon their silence and to denounce evil more openly. “To consent and to keep silent in front of evil is to be an accomplice to it. Let us not allow fear to reign and keep us silent,” they said. “If we consent or allow the killing of suspected drug addicts, we shall also be responsible for their death…” If people neglect the drug pushers and users, “we have become part of the drug problem,” they said.
They called on the government to put a final stop to the drug killings. Following the brutal police kidnapping and murder of the Korean national Jee Ick-joo, DU30 suspended police operations against suspected drug dealers, which had already killed close to 7,000 suspects; but the so-called “vigilante killings” have been reported to continue. Not a single “vigilante” has been identified, arrested or killed, leading to speculations that they are either rogue policemen in disguise or sparrow units contributed by the New People’s Army.
Killing is no solution
The bishops pointed out that while the drug problem is an evil that must be dealt with, killing drug suspects is the wrong solution to it. “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.”
The bishops said the killings have created a “reign of terror” in many places, and “many are killed not because of drugs. Those who kill are not brought to account.” In all these killings, not only the victims have suffered, but the lives of their families have also become worse. The bishops said, “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.” At the same time, “we must work together for the rehabilitation of drug addicts,” they said.
Four other documents
Prior to their pastoral letter, the bishops issued four teaching documents. These included a statement on the death penalty, a statement on the proposal to lower the age of criminal liability, pastoral guidelines on the use of social media, and a statement on ”amending the Constitution.”
All expressed a common position of the bishops on these important issues, but they could probably have explored stronger arguments.
Take the death penalty issue. Although we can never talk enough of the Gospel of Life, and the evil of the culture of death, which DU30 would like to propagate through the proposed capital sentence, we cannot simply keep on repeating it. The unthinking herd in Congress, which follows whatever DU30 says in his sleep, needs to be reminded that as long as our national police are involved in Murder, Inc., and witnesses are easily suborned or intimidated, and prosecutors and judges easily corrupted, we cannot put the death penalty in the hands of such a corrupt and dangerous criminal justice system where only the rich and the powerful have rights.
The rubber-stamp Congress also has to be reminded that as a sovereign state, we have long entered into an international treaty that commits us not to execute a single criminal, yes, criminal, which constitutes a permanent bar to the death sentence. For the government to renounce this treaty commitment is to return our country to a state of barbarism, as far as the rest of the world is concerned. Not even DU30 can afford anything like that.
On DU30’s proposal to reduce the age of criminal liability from 15 to 9, it is useful to consider that criminal syndicates increasingly use minors in certain types of crimes not because of any defect in the existing law, but simply because the criminal gangs are less inhibited. The solution to it is simply more honest, efficient and effective police work, and not to make infants criminally liable if they are used by criminals in the commission of certain crimes.
If Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez is convinced that nine-year-olds should be held liable for certain crimes, would he be prepared, a broadcaster friend of mine wants to know, to allow nine-year-olds to be licensed to own a gun, drive a motor vehicle, or possibly run for Congress, if not for President? This is reductio ad absurdum, but it seems the only way to demonstrate to the present Congress the absurdity of their most harebrained ideas.
The third document —“Pastoral guidelines on the use of social media”—is a technical document that could be most useful in understanding the new phenomenon called social media. Laymen and clergy should get as much education as possible on the new technology. It should, as a minimum, help us to understand what trolls and bots are, and why they behave the way they do.
In a recent incident, a senator complained that while close to 7,000 suspected drug addicts have been summarily killed, some suspected rogue policemen were simply made to do some “push-ups” for their suspected involvement in rub-outs. What travesty of justice, the senator was trying to point out. Unfortunately, his remarks offended some of DU30’s trolls, and they quickly crucified him by lecturing him on human rights. Has he not heard of “the rule of law and due process” that he should expect something harsher than “push-ups” for the “scalawags”?
The fourth document—“Amending the Constitution”—has a more extensive reach. It concedes, without a fight, that the present Constitution will be revised or amended because those in power would like to do it. But the document calls on the people to participate in the process. It mentions a number of important provisions of the present Constitution which it believes must be preserved at all costs. These include the following:
*Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.” (DU30 has already flushed this down the drain.)
*“Public office is a public trust. All public officers must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.” —The drug killings have rearranged this provision to read, “Public office is as the office-holder defines it. He is accountable only to himself, and the nation must be accountable to him.”
*“The State values the dignity of every human person and guarantees full respect for human rights…No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.” —Close to 7,000 murdered drug suspects can no longer speak, but why don’t we ask their immediate families?
*“The State shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception…The State recognizes the sanctity of family life and shall protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution.” —The RH Law, under Aquino, put the State in control of the reproductive faculties of married couples, in violation of the moral law and the Constitution. Now DU30 wants strict implementation of this unconstitutional law, which the Supreme Court in one of its more benighted rulings has declared “not unconstitutional.” DU30 even wants to put a limit to the number of children a couple can have.
Time to act is now
The constitutional problems the bishops mention in this document are not problems that will occur only if and when the Constitution is amended or revised by the rubber-stamp Congress. They are occurring now. And we must intervene right now. It is not too late for the bishops to point out that the entire effort to revise or amend the Constitution—to include federalism—is a defective and diseased process. The Constitution itself excludes the President from any role in amending or revising the fundamental law, and yet the whole effort to change the Constitution is a declared project of the President.
The Congress and the people alone have rightful roles to play in this process, but the Congress must authentically represent the genuine wishes of the people, and not the whimsies of a capricious President. A Congress composed of the President’s unreconstructed lackeys has no right to propose constitutional changes on behalf of the sovereign electorate. These points should be clear to the bishops, so that they could raise them, with the fullness of their moral authority, and stop the rape and destruction of the Constitution in the guise of necessary constitutional change.