Hong Kong Church calls for genuine dialogue, democracy as political tension rises

Hong Kong diocese has published a statement on universal suffrage and civil disobedience in response to the increasing discussion revolving around the Occupy Central Movement and growing dissatisfaction with the current governmental system in the diocese’s Sunday Examiner newspaper, and the Chinese-language Kung Kao Po on July 28, as well as in daily newspapers in Hong Kong on July 26.

The statement calls for genuine universal suffrage in the territory and an end to what it calls processes put forward by the government that are broadly representative in name only, but not in reality.

Earlier, on July 25, Father Michael Yeung Ming-cheung in a press conference on the statement held at the Diocese Centre explained that the Church in issuing “An Urgent Call for Earnest Dialogue and Responsible Action” did not mean to intervene in political affairs of Hong Kong, but only “wanted to support the universal value of democracy.”

Read the full report on the need for genuine dialogue in Hong Kong’s political polarization published in the diocese’s Aug. 23 Sunday Examiner newspaper issue …

Catholic bishop, missionary priest file impeachment complaint vs Aquino

Retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz of Lingayen-Dagupan (right) chats with Franciscan Fr. Robert Reyes at Manila Hotel during a break in the August 26, 2013 forum on the Priority Development Assistance Fund that has since then been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. - NJ Viehland Photos

Retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz of Lingayen-Dagupan (right) chats with Franciscan Fr. Robert Reyes at Manila Hotel during a break in the August 26, 2013 forum on the Priority Development Assistance Fund that has since then been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. – NJ Viehland Photos

Former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) who is chief judge of the Church’s national marriage appeals court and a Sacred Heart missionary priest joined 26 other individuals who signed on July 21 the complaint seeking President Benigno Aquino III’s impeachment over a funds disbursement program that the Supreme Court has ruled as unconstitutional.

Complainant Archbishop Oscar Cruz, a canon lawyer who retired in 2009 as archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan serves as Judicial Vicar of the National Appellate Matrimonial Tribunal and directs the CBCP’s Legal Office. 

However, CBCP President Archbishop Socrates Villegas has stressed that his predecessor as Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan in filing the complaint is acting “alone, in the exercise of his discretion and as a result of his personal discernment.”  

Archbishop Villegas in a statement issued shortly after the complaint was filed in the House of Representatives said that the 124-member CBCP, as the “highest assembly of Catholic bishops in the Philippines neither supports the filing of any impeachment complaint against the President.”  

Co-complainant priest Fr. Benjamin Alforque of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSC) is a biblical theologian who has been teaching Sacred Scriptures in various theology schools and formation houses in the Philippines and lecturing abroad on this and various topics, including promoting justice, peace and integrity of creation.

He co-chaired the Justice and Peace Commission of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (JPC_AMRSP) and the ecumenical group Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR). A political detainee under Martial Law (1972-1981), Fr. Alforque became a founding member of the association of former political detainees in the Philippines (SELDA) and founding member also of the human rights group, KARAPATAN.

Read full text of the impeachment complaint the clergy filed with House Representatives, leaders of civil-society groups, anti-corruption and anti-pork activists, and other concerned citizens.

Read also 

Catholic bishop, missionary priest among those seeking Philippines president’s impeachment

Pork tales

 

CBCP Document: Our Moral Response to the Unconstitutionality of DAP

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines addresses a press conference at the end of the 2012 CBCP plenary assembly at Pope Pius XII Catholic Center in Manila. NJ Viehland Photo

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines addresses a press conference at the end of the 2012 CBCP plenary assembly at Pope Pius XII Catholic Center in Manila. NJ Viehland Photo

The Supreme Court has ruled that many government acts under the Development Acceleration Program (DAP) are without constitutional authority. Earlier, it ruled the Priority Assistant Development Fund (PDAF), more popularly known as the ‘pork-barrel fund’ also unconstitutional.

Why this Statement

The just distribution of the resources of the nation in accordance with the prescriptions of law and the tenets of morality is an issue of social justice. It is therefore a concern of the CBCP — and of the entire Church in the Philippines — as well.

Both DAP and PDAF involve enormous sums and while it is claimed by the government officials involved that these went into projects that benefited the people, there are serious allegations that we cannot summarily dismiss and ignore. Three senators have been charged, together with others, for the illegal use of pork-barrel funds. It is claimed that a considerable part went into ghost NGOs set up precisely to facilitate the conversion of public funds for personal and other illegal and immoral uses.

Benedictine Sister Mary John Mananzan joined women legislators, whistleblowers, students and other members of Babala (warning) movement for the abolition of pork barrel and prosecution of legislators and public officials guilty of graft, corruption and plunder. NJ Viehland Photo at St. Scholastica's College museum.

Benedictine Sister Mary John Mananzan joined women legislators, whistleblowers, students and other members of Babala (warning) movement for the abolition of pork barrel and prosecution of legislators and public officials guilty of graft, corruption and plunder. NJ Viehland Photo at St. Scholastica’s College museum.

Communal Guilt

But there is no reason to direct our ire only at the three senators, nor at those presently accused, for we must humbly recognize that the propensity to make use of what is not ours to better the lives of our families or to gain access to luxuries that would otherwise be beyond us will be found in all of us.

We are all guilty by attitude and by our disposition.

We renew our call for national conversion — the conversion not only of individuals but of institutions as well! It will be well for us to remember that conversion is our response to the ceaseless call of Love Incarnate, Jesus, to ‘turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel’.

We must pray together for the grace of conversion, because the prosecution and punishment of a few will not rid the nation of the propensity to corruption that is found in us all!

Appeal to Government

We call on the Commission on Audit and on the Office of the Ombudsman to tell the nation where DAP funds went. While, indeed, in many cases, it would be impractical, unhelpful even, to undo every project funded by what the High Court has ruled to be unconstitutional means, we must nevertheless know how these monies were used, for where there was illegal and immoral application of funds, there must be restitution.

There must be accountability.

We reiterate our position that investigation and inquest cannot and must not be selective, for public perception that some are shielded while others are persecuted detracts from the confidence people must repose in their institutions.

A government that professes to tread the straight path must remain true to that profession and must be willing to let go of the corrupt in its own ranks! We in the Church will do the same.

Many of our bishops have already established systems for the accountability of our pastors and parish leaders. We have issued guidelines so that we may be more vigilant about the provenance of donations and grants. This way, we in the Church strive to respond to the demands of honesty and fairness.

Let us restore integrity in our land.

From the Pius XII Catholic Center, Manila, July 4, 2014

+ SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan
President, CBCP

Sri Lanka’s Buddhist-Muslim clashes reveal the evil of politicising religion, Hector Welgampola

In mid-June, Sri Lankan Buddhists observed Poson, the festival marking the arrival of Buddhism from India. At June end, the country’s Muslims began Ramadan, their month-long fasting season. In between these religious observances, some members of the two groups were engaged in violent confrontation.

Long before the country fell under Western rule in 1505, Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese and Tamils had lived in peace with descendants of visiting Arab traders since the 12th century. The pacific lifestyle of the native peoples had offered an oasis for the Islamic traders from the arid climes. The only prior confrontation between Buddhists and Muslim had been in 1915. If those riots led to more deaths and destruction, the magnanimity of naive leaders helped heal inter-ethnic wounds and even pave the way for the country’s freedom struggle against British rule.

Still fresh after the yet-unresolved outcome of the 30-year war in the North, the recent Buddhist-Muslim clashes in the South raise a familiar question once more. Has political freedom equipped Sri Lankans with the moral calibre to forge inter-ethnic unity from the embers of strife? The debate is still open. As yet, much is being said about seemingly sudden provocations that lit the powder keg of ethno-religious attacks and destruction. Some trace it to the harassment of a Buddhist monk by a Saudi-returned Islamic youth. Others blame it on the demagogy of a Norway-visiting Buddhist monk. However, the hate war was more than a random event.

As above allegations infer, the impact of international elements may not be discounted. In recent decades, many local Muslims and non-Muslims migrated to West Asia in search of petrodollars. Trade and tourism drew West Asians to the country. A new power equation emerged, particularly during the 30-year war with Tiger rebels. When money spoke the language of power, rulers tolerated the influx of Wahabism and even jihadism.

While echoes of the Arab spring empowered some local Muslims, the rise of militarism alongside the ethnic war in the North, did not go unnoticed. Some of them found support in the patronage of West Asian powers, even more openly than Tamil Tigers had enjoyed India’s favor under the Gandhis.

Meanwhile, the war as well as post-war victory parades entrenched a war psychosis among some Southern Sinhalese. Instead of extending the hand of peace to fellow citizens of the war-ravaged North, rulers let racism thrive in the guise of patriotism. Extremist lobbies were quick to grasp the message, just as rulers had been to benefit from the war chest of defeated rebels. Opportunism is the refuge of political ambition.

In the absence of a magnanimous patriotic upswell or a Marshal Plan for nation-building, opportunism became an easy path for the establishment’s survival. Momentarily, it tolerated the anti-minorities stance of a few zealots who seemed to capture the momentum of chauvinist Sinhala-Buddhist political groups. Unsurprisingly, their first targets were Evangelical Christian communities. But in the face of international reaction to such arson and plunder, political godfathers changed strategy.

The revised master plan was to kill two birds with one stroke! Ambitious godfathers had watched the collapse of the Norwegian government which once supported the Tamil Tigers. Reportedly, Norway’s new rulers were lobbied to counter their predecessors’ support for the Tigers by backing the Southern ethno-religious surge. It worked. The key Buddhist monk who engaged with Norway became the firebrand of new-born Bodu Bala Sena (BBS, army of Buddhist power). Like India’s Shiv Sena (army of god Shiva) which had attacked Ayodya’s Babri Mosque, BBS led sporadic anti-Islamic campaigns in various parts of the country before the mid-June clash in Southern Sri Lanka.

And now, weeks after that wave of death and destruction, there has been no end to the gimmicks of spin doctors of all political parties seeking to get as much mileage as possible from that disaster. Their ultimate aim is to exploit it to enhance their power base for the elections due in 2015. Goons responsible for the mayhem are blamed or defended with that goal in view. It is not mere politicisation, it is vicious political exploitation. Amid such mean power games, possible economic pressure from 14 Islamic nations adds to the threatened loss of employment to a million locals working there. And instead of getting trapped in such exploitative power play, local or foreign, all religions should rally to rescue people from further abuse. Religious leaders must exit comfort zones of political privilege, and fearlessly champion moral integrity. Otherwise, the future could be far more dismal than during the ethnic conflagration that raged for three decades.

In particular, Christians have a moral duty at a time when the future of the nation is threatened. This season sacred to both Buddhists and Muslims, is also sacred to Christians as the season of Corpus Christi. The festival of fellowship obligates Christians to promote justice, peace and moral uplift, not to connive in exploitative politics. It obligates mutual empowerment with moral integrity – sustenance for the long march of nation-building.

Veteran Asian Church journalist Hector Welgampola from Sri Lanka  retired Executive Editor of the former Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) based in Bangkok. Before joining UCAN, Hector headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka. Since retiring from UCAN Hector has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita. He authored the resource book Asian Church Glossary and Stylebook

Veteran Asian Church journalist Hector Welgampola from Sri Lanka retired as Executive Editor of the former Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) based in Bangkok. Before joining UCAN, Hector headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka. Since retiring from UCAN Hector has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita. He authored the resource book Asian Church Glossary and Stylebook

Do more to stop “anti-Muslim” riots- Islamic nation reps to Sri Lanka president

Ambassadors and Heads of Mission and High Commissioners representing Muslim nations in Sri Lanka reportedly met with Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa at Temple Trees and declared that all Sri Lanka Sinhala Buddhists will stand to lose their jobs in their nations and other barriers would be place on Sri Lanka immediately due to government’s failure to stop “anti-Muslim” sentiments and violence spreading nationwide.

Officials at the meeting reportedly represented governments of Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Indonesia, Kuwait, malaysia, Maldives, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestine, Turkey, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The report cites the UAE Ambassador saying that his government believes the president’s brother and Defense Secretary Gothabhaya Rajapaksa and the military’s links to the anti-Muslim sentiments and violence.

Officials at the meeting reportedly gathered by Cabinet Minister Rauf Hakeem expressed dissatisfaction and warned Rajapaksa that if the anti-Muslim riots and attacks around the island are not stopped, there will be “severe repercussions” on him and his government diplomatically and economically.

Violence persists even after the Sinhalese who comprise 74 percent of Sri Lanka’s population celebrated victory in May 2009 against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who fought a bloody 26-year separatist war.

This time police are pointing the finger at a Buddhist extremist group called Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) – meaning the army of the Buddhist power – led by ethno-fascist monks as leading the riots last week that left 4 people dead, 80 wounded and hundreds of homes and shops destroyed.

Since the outburst of riots last week, all Arab and Islamic countries have placed an indefinite travel ban on Sri Lanka. This has reportedly significantly contributed to Sri Lanka’s tourism revenue the last two years.

Sri Lanka’s highest foreign exchange earner is also reportedly from expatriate labor remittances from the Middle East and other Muslim countries, which has been the sole provider for Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves.

Imposing restrictions on Sri Lankan labour in the Middle East and Muslim countries, could send the country’s economy plunging overnight, the report said.

Last year alone, these nations provided almost US$ 2 billion in grant aid to Sri Lanka for development projects in education, medical and health care, the report added.

If Islamic countries restrict oil supplying, Sri lanka will be compelled to import from Russia at three times the price per barrel of crude oil.

 

 

Interview: Franciscan Sister Crecensia Lucero, human rights defender

[updated June 21, 4:21 a.m.]

Sister Crecensia Lucero SFIC (left) marched to campaign for protection of human rights to avoid repetition of abuses during and around the martial law period 1972-1981. Photo Courtesy of Philippine Center for Human Rights/Task Force Detainees https://www.facebook.com/TaskForceDetaineesofthePhilippines

Sister Crecensia Lucero SFIC (left) marched to campaign for protection of human rights to avoid repetition of abuses during and around the martial law period 1972-1981. Photo Courtesy of Philippine Center for Human Rights/Task Force Detainees https://www.facebook.com/TaskForceDetaineesofthePhilippines

Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception Sister Crecensia Lucero reflected on her ministry with victims of human rights violations spanning more than 40 years. The journey she traced is marked by work she and young sisters and lay partners did to serve needs of political prisoners and their families during years when the country was placed under military rule (1972-1981) and years of “restored democracy” that followed. The road has brought her to an expanded ministry thriving in  partnerships with farmers struggling to transform exploitative systems, indigenous peoples and members of other sectors collaborating to end people’s suffering due to various forms of “injustice ” around Asia.

In an interview with Global Sisters Report (GSR), Sister Lucero explained challenges, successes and “heartaches” in the history of Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFD). As co-chair, she describes how evolving challenges are impacting perspectives and strategies of her social justice ministry and the charism and mission of her congregation. Beyond words and ideas, however, she demonstrated these concepts and strategies in various dialogues and training seminars GSR covered earlier in the year.

A fact-finding mission representing Christian groups visited the site of an attack on the convent of Father Jose Francisco Talaban of Infanta Prelature in June 2010 presented to the Commission on Human Rights and human rights advocates, including Sr. Cresencia Lucero initial information they gained from probing groups and individuals in Casiguran town, Aurora province where some indigenous people and other groups are opposing the development of an economic zone. NJ Viehland Photos

A fact-finding mission representing Christian groups visited the site of an attack on the convent of Father Jose Francisco Talaban of Infanta Prelature in June 2010 presented to the Commission on Human Rights and human rights advocates, including Sr. Cresencia Lucero initial information they gained from probing groups and individuals in Casiguran town, Aurora province where some indigenous people and other groups are opposing the development of an economic zone. NJ Viehland Photos

Sister Crecensia Lucero SFIC (right, in habit) witnessed the presentation last year of report of an ecumenical fact finding mission on residents' opposition to the planned APECO export processing zone development project in Casiguran, Quezon to the Commission on Human Rights in Quezon City, northeast of Manila. By NJ Viehland

Sister Crecensia Lucero SFIC (right, in habit) witnessed the presentation last year of report of an ecumenical fact finding mission on residents’ opposition to the planned APECO export processing zone development project in Casiguran, Quezon to the Commission on Human Rights in Quezon City, northeast of Manila. By NJ Viehland

Read full interview published by GSR. GSR is a project of National Catholic Reporter that reports how consecrated women participate in the mission of the Church.

The Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP) established TFD in 1974 to assist political prisoners when the “dictatorship” of the late President Ferdinand Marcos banned organizations. TFD provided moral spiritual, legal and material support to prisoners and their families. Franciscan Sister Mariani Dimaranan, an ex-political detainee, directed the organization until 1989, when Lucero took over as director. Sister  Dimaranan continued as chair until her death in 2005 at the age of 81 years.

In 2012, Sister Lucero was again nominated co-chair of the Task Force’s Board of Trustees with Order of Carmelites Philippines Father Christian “Toots” Buenafe up to this year.

 

Cambodian migrants return empty-handed from Thailand – Channel News Asia

Fearing arrest by Thailand’s new army rulers, tens of thousands of Cambodian migrant workers have fled the country. But many of them are returning home to bleak work prospects and an uncertain future.

Read this story of migration and Asian families