CBCP Document : Pastoral Statement on the Draft Bangsamoro Basic Law

Sr Cecilia Espenilia OP with Muslim girl in Luneta. - NJ Viehland Photo

Sr Cecilia Espenilia OP with Muslim girl in Luneta. – NJ Viehland Photo

GUIDE OUR FEET INTO THE WAY OF PEACE (Lk. 1:79)

Pastoral Statement of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference
of the Philippines on the Draft Bangsamoro Basic Law

To All People of Good Will:

Peace be with you! With this greeting of peace we as religious leaders share with you our thoughts on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Our Perspective as Religious Leaders

Our first stance is to listen and discern. We will especially listen to those who are directly affected by the BBL, those living in the Bangsamoro, the Muslim majority and non-Muslim minorities. We will listen to those who support the BBL and to those who oppose it. We will listen to those who believe that there has been a lack of consultation. Further, we will listen to those outside the proposed Bangsamoro territory — Muslims, Christians, Indigenous Peoples, peoples of other religious persuasions. What we receive we shall present to officials concerned.

Our overriding concern is the common good of all Filipinos. We believe that concern for the common good is also that of the negotiating panels, MILF and government. After so many years of grave discussions replete with turns and stops, they have finally reached an agreement which they believe is the basis of a just and lasting peace. We do not propose any specific political or ideological blueprint for peace.

We are not political negotiators or political officials. We are not constitutionalists or lawyers. We refrain from delving into the constitutional issues raised by many. We leave those to constitutional experts to argue and to the Supreme Court to decide.

Our mandate as religious leaders is altogether different. Ours is to proclaim, as Jesus did (Eph. 2:16), “glad tidings of peace.” Our specific concerns are the religious and moral imperatives of peace. That perspective is as always our viewpoint as religious and moral teachers.

Peace is God’s Gift

And this is the most fundamental religious teaching about peace that we share with you. Peace is God’s gift. It is given to those “among whom his favour rests” (see Lk. 2:14). It is “through the tender mercy of God” that we are led to peace by “the dawn from on high” (see Lk. 1:78=79). And Jesus himself said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (Jn. 14:27).

Because peace is God’s gift, we need constantly to pray for peace, the peace that God desires for all of us, the peace that reconciles us with one another, with God, and with all His creation. This is the kind of peace that we wish and pray for when we greet one another: Peace be with you. Salaam. Shalom.

Peace is in and of the Heart, Peace is Harmony

Peace is fundamentally in the heart, of the heart. Peace is harmony. Peace is unity. Peace is reconciliation. Peace is mutual forgiveness among peoples.

A peace agreement may be signed between the government and the Moro *(Islamic) Liberation Front (MILF). Armed conflicts may cease. But if hatred or desire for revenge or dislike or aversion consumes the heart, if deep historic biases and prejudices remain, the eruption of violent conflict is simply simmering below the surface of apparently peaceful co-existence.

Peace Comes with Justice

Peace is not the fruit of a mere handshake or an embrace. Peace comes with justice. Peace is the assurance of respect for fundamental human dignity and human rights. For the Bangsamoro, justice means the recognition of their centuries-old aspiration for self-determination, their right to chart their own destiny in dignity and freedom. For the whole country justice requires the acceptance of the overarching right of national sovereignty and national territorial integrity. For Indigenous Peoples in the Bangsamoro, justice means respect for and protection of their right to their ancestral domain already officially recognized by the Indigenous Peoples Right Acts (IPRA). For non-Muslim and nonindigenous inhabitants in the Bangsamoro, justice is a recognition and protection of their fundamental human rights, such as religious freedom and property rights. Pope Francis in his message at Malacanang emphasized this when he said: “I express my trust that the progress made in bringing peace to the south of the country will result in just solutions in accord with the nation’s founding principles and respectful of the inalienable rights of all, including the indigenous peoples and religious minorities.”

Some Concerns of Justice

Some of these rights may be inadequately or inappropriately articulated in the BBL. Many believe, for instance, that a time-free 10% requirement to have a referendum for inclusion into the Bangsamoro will effectively expand the Bangsamoro territory through the years because of the sheer force of population immigration. Others see the need for a clear elaboration of the Bangsamoro exclusive right over education so as not to endanger the nature and purpose of Christian religious educational institutions. Still others are concerned about the ambiguous concept of contiguity by water, and see dangers of a Bangsamoro territory slowly expanding through time.

Many are also disturbed that there is a lot of misinformation and misinterpretation with regard to certain provisions of the BBL, as for instance, the provisions on land. Presently attempts to grab land or drive away their lawful owners by force of arms and even by murder, under the pretext of ancestral domain, are creating fear and tension, among certain communities in the Bangsamoro. The reported rise of shadowy civilian militias for self-protection recalls the tragic past of “Ilagas” and “Blackshirts” in the 1970s. This is totally unproductive and ironic when we understand the BBL as a promise of peace and harmony.

Such concerns we bring to the attention of MILF and government peace negotiators, as well as of legislators who are tasked with refining the draft BBL.

Peace Comes with Fairness and Equity

We all desire that the provisions of the BBL express fairness and equity. For this reason we hope that the BBL will ensure equal opportunity for integral human development for all the peoples in the Bangsmoro. We desire a BBL that will respect various cultures, religious beliefs and traditions. We wish to be assured that the BBL will provide equal access to educational, economic, political benefits and resources.

It would be a travesty of fairness and equity if, for instance, jobs are denied to capable persons simply because of ethnic, cultural, religious or gender considerations. Discrimination would be a direct contradiction to the fundamental Bangsamoro aspiration for self-determination that responds to deep feelings of neglect and marginalization.

Peace is Unity through Dialogue

Isaiah the Prophet spoke of a messianic time when the Word of the Lord shall come to the people. “They will beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Is. 2:4).

We are at the cusp of a new Mindanao history when arms of destruction are replaced by productive tools for human development, when men trained for war are trained for wise and prudent governance. In some countries innocent civilians are persecuted or even killed, their homes devastated, places of worship destroyed. May this not be so in our country.

We, therefore, commend the consensus decision of both negotiating sides for the decommissioning of military forces and arms. We also pray that the form of government in the Bangsamoro will unite the different cultures together for the common good. We appeal to emerging political parties that they effectively remove the neglect and isolation of the poor from decision-making and make them active partners for their integral development. We ask legislators to ensure that the provisions of the BBL as well as their implementation will be forces of solidarity and not of division.

We make a special appeal to all sectors, groups, and political movements of the Bangsamoro to come together in dialogue towards a consensus position on the BBL.

Dialogue is the way to peace, not the use of arms. This has been the experience of successive negotiating panels on both the MILF side and the government’s. From hostility to openness, from aggressive onesidedness to mutual respect and understanding, from contestation to trust and friendship – this is the road of authentic dialogue. When the encounter of persons from opposite sides is authentically human, it is the Spirit of the Lord that draws them together finally as friends. And friendship is an expression of love — “the common word” for Muslims Christians, and peoples of other religions.

Final Pastoral Observations and Recommendations

In the light of the above moral and religious considerations:

1. We commend the perseverance of the negotiating panels of both the government and the MILF that, even with changes of key personnel through the years, persevered in the peace process, changing the nature of tense and troubled negotiations into trustful dialogue for peace.

2. We commend the realism of the MILF vision to dialogue towards self-determination while respecting and preserving national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

3. We appeal to Congress to sift objectively and wisely through the results of their Mindanao-wide consultation and ensure that the fundamental Bangsamoro aspiration for self-determination be effectively enshrined in the final BBL, together with the twin national principles of national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

4. We strongly recommend that the fundamental human rights and freedoms of the non-Muslim peoples in the Bangsamoro – Christians, peoples of other faiths, and Indigenous peoples — be respected and promoted as already enshrined in existing laws, such as property rights and the IP ancestral domain.

5. We recommend the inclusion of a provision in the BBL that would make it impossible in the future for any radical extremist group to exploit or change the democratic framework of the Bangsamoro government so as to deny both the doctrine and practice of religious freedom.

6. We pray to our Lord God for wisdom for our legislators so that they would keep in mind the good of the Bangsamoro and the common good of all Filipinos.

Conclusion

We believe that regarding the centuries-old conflict in Mindanao we are, with a significantly improved BBL, truly at the threshold of a just and lasting peace. We place our concerns of peace in the hands of our Blessed Mother Mary, the Queen of Peace, so that through her maternal intercession her Son, Jesus who is himself our “Peace” (Eph. 2: 14), may always be with us “to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

For and on behalf of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:

+ SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS, D.D.

Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan January 22, 2015

*reprinted from CBCP News, with correction

Thanksgiving : one year after deadly typhoon

Baby Israel by Emylou Antigua

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Emylou Antigua has a happy reminder of the devastating typhoon that battered the central Philippines a little over a year ago: her son, named for the Israeli medical team that helped deliver him.

American Jewish Pins toys JDC photo

Danny Pins, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee chief financial officer for Africa and Asia region distributing toys and food to children in northern Cebu, Philippines. (Courtesy of JDC)

For Chief Financial Officer Danny Pins of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee his group’s response to Haiyan is “personally rewarding.”

Catholic mom, Jewish financial officer – what they are grateful for in their experience related to typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda…

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Flashback: Why Pope Francis’ supposed “revolution” isn’t new for some in Asia

By NJ Viehland

AMOR, NJ Viehland

Religious women postulants offer flowers at Mass at 2013 AMOR meeting in Tagaytay City, Philippines/ NJ Viehland Photos

Taking renewal in the Church as the overarching theme of its structure, reflection and activities through the past four decades, the FABC has drafted what Father Arevalo calls a “map for evangelization in Asia.”

        

NCR PCNE tagle arevalo by NJ Viehland

Father Catalino Arevalo (right) with Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila at the 2013 Philippine Congress on the New Evangelization in Manila / NJ Viehland Photos

 MANILA — “It’s a new world,” Jesuit Father Catalino Arevalo, premier theologian of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), says 40 years after the Catholic association was formally established.

         Retracing the FABC’s journey in an interview at Loyola House of Studies in Quezon City, he marveled at how “the average Catholic person today with all the new media is very different from the ordinary Catholic person when I was a young priest at 40 in 1960.”

         He said he never imagined that people in the mountains of Bukidnon province would see the multi-awarded Grammy winner Lady Gaga on television nor the Philippine popular artists as they performed more than 560 miles northwest in Manila. In his view, this reflects a similar situation in many Asian nations.

         In bringing the Gospel to the peoples of Asia, “we are like Jesus and the first disciples,” said the priest who has advised Asian Church and other leaders. “We have to start anew.”

FABC, Mapping Evangelization in Modern Asia

          More than 50 presidents and delegates of the 19-member bishops’ conferences (were to be) guided by this same spirit of renewal and vision of evangelization when they gathered in Vietnam for the Tenth FABC Plenary Assembly (X FABC Plenary Assembly) Nov. 19-25, 2012 , [1] the latest of such assemblies. They represented local Churches stretching from Kazakhstan in Central Asia to East Timor (Timor Leste) in Southeast Asia. The theme of that year’s assembly was: “FABC at Forty Years – Responding to the Challenges of Asia: The New Evangelization.” 

         The delegates were joined by resource persons as well as observers from the Vatican, other continental bishops’ groups and funding agencies, all accompanying the bishops as they reflected on opportunities and pastoral challenges that society presents the Church in Asia in the 21st century.

         The FABC plenary assembly, held every four years, usually brings together about 100 bishop-delegates with about the same number of resource persons to study a particular theme, pray together and draft a statement at the meeting’s close.

X FABC group picture

Xth FABC Plenary Assembly in Xuan Loc, Vietnam, Dec. 2012 / NJ Viehland Photos

         The working document for the event invited the delegates to discern how the Church can spread the Gospel in societies of Asia impacted by dynamics triggered by globalization, cultural diversity, poverty and many other factors. They will also try to take account of concerns such as: migrants and refugees, indigenous peoples, population, religious freedom, threats to life, social communications, ecology, laity, women, youth, Pentecostalism and vocations.

         The Holy See approved the statutes of the FABC in 1972. This voluntary association of bishops’ conferences in South, Southeast, East and Central Asia was formed “to foster among its members solidarity and co-responsibility for the welfare of Church and society in Asia, and to promote and defend whatever is for the greater good.” 

        Since the start, Father Arevalo has served as a resource person, writing adviser and theological consultant for the FABC. Bishops who pioneered the federation were just settling back in their dioceses after the close of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II, 1962-1965). They forged their plans for the FABC as local Churches in Asia grappled with questions on how to spread the Gospel in a “new world” being born after the colonial period

        Taking renewal in the Church as the overarching theme of its structure, reflection and activities through the past four decades, the FABC has drafted what Father Arevalo calls a “map for evangelization in Asia.”

Local Church

         “The FABC already made a general map of evangelization in Asia” in the 1970s, Father Arevalo pointed out, and its primary agent has always been the local Church.

          When Asian bishops came to Manila during the visit of Pope Paul VI in 1970, they met to discuss setting up a permanent structure by which Asian Church leaders could gather regularly to share their experiences and develop among themselves what local Churches could do to bring the realities of Vatican II to life in Asia. “Local Church” refers to the Church in each country, Father Arevalo explained, and the FABC gatherings were envisioned to “begin with bishops, but not just bishops.”

         Among those who gathered in 1970 were several prelates who would be instrumental in bringing the FABC to life, including Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan of Korea, Cardinal Valerian Gracias of India and Cardinal Justinus Darmojuwono of Indonesia, as well as Archbishop Mariano Gaviola of the Philippines and Bishop Francis Hsu of Hong Kong.

         In 1971, Bishop Hsu convened a meeting in Hong Kong for the presidents of 13 episcopal conferences, a gathering that would become the FABC Central Committee. Today, 19 episcopal conferences in Asia are FABC members : Bangladesh, East Timor, India – CBCI (Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India), India – Syro-Malabar, India – Syro-Malankara, India – Latin Rite, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Laos-Cambodia, Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Taiwan (ROC), Thailand and Vietnam. The newest member is the bishops’ conference of East Timor, which was launched just this year. Previously, the youngest member was the Bishops’ Conference of Kazakhstan, which officially joined the FABC in 2008.

         The FABC also has associate members in nine Asian places that have no episcopal conference. Three are dioceses: Hong Kong and Macau in China, and Novosibirsk in eastern Russia. Four other associate members are in Central Asia: Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The remaining two are Mongolia and Nepal.

         In India, four distinct episcopal conferences belong to the federation. The bishops’ conference of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and that of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church represent the Oriental rite, while the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India represents the Catholic Church of the Latin rite. CBCI, the general body for the whole country, was among the FABC’s founding members.

         The first FABC plenary assembly in 1974 brought hundreds of bishops together in Taipei. The statement and recommendations they issued under the title “Evangelization in Modern Day Asia” spell out the perspective of the Asian context, as well as the FABC vision and approach to evangelization in the region.

         The statement stresses that the local Church immediately and primarily must be the agent, the subject of evangelization, in contemporary Asia. Father Arevalo elaborated that instead of always waiting for instructions from Rome on exactly what to do, “The Vatican Council already said it is time now for each of the local Churches to reflect and define how they see and how they prioritize the work that they must do.” Even so, he added, the FABC has always acknowledged that local Church activity would always work together with Rome.

         “It’s just like a man and a woman who are married now,” he continued. “Must they ask their grandmother or grandfather what they do each day of their lives? No. They get advice and direction from the grandfather or the grandmother, but it’s their responsibility to know what they must do with their own family, following with fidelity what their grandparents taught them also. So that’s the meaning of the local Church’s priority of responsibility.”

Part 2 Triple Dialogue

[Written for a project: 40 Years of FABC, September 12, 2012]

[1] The Xth FABC Plenary Assembly was actually held Dec. 10-16, 2012 to make way for a surprise consistory then Pope Benedict XVI set for Nov. 24 to create new cardinals, including Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila.

published with permission, FABC Office of Social Communication Executive Secretary