CBCP President on ongoing Mamasapano investigation

SEEKING TRUTH AND JUSTICE
PURSUING PEACE

CBCP Statement on the Ongoing Mamasapano Investigation

CBCP 2015 Archbishop Villegas NJ Viehland

CBCP President Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan at the end of the bishops’ plenary assembly Jan. 2015 at Pius XII Catholic Center, Manila. – NJ Viehland Photos

Congress has commenced its inquiry into that sad episode of our recent history — the slaughter of 44 gallant men of the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police.  We note that the two chambers of the Legislature have opted to conduct separate investigations when a joint inquiry would have allowed for a more expeditious investigation and would have obviated the possibility of findings at loggerheads with each other.

Truth and Accountability

The President and his advisers must give a full and satisfactory accounting of their actions in respect to this tragic loss.  The targets of the SAF operations were characterized as “high value targets”.  If the police went after them, it can only be because they were ordered to do so.  Policemen do not order themselves, not even members of the Special Action Force.  Indeed, that is what corroborated statements now clearly establish: The decision was made on the highest levels to go after these “high value targets”.  The only thing that was awaited was “the window of opportunity”, a judgment that is made by people on the ground.

Questions call for unequivocal and truthful answers.  Lives were needlessly lost because in many ways the operation was covert.  Why, for one, were the highest-ranking official of the Philippine National Police and his civilian superior, the Secretary of Interior and Local Government, left out of the loop of information, consultation and command?  It seems that a suspended police officer played more than a merely advisory role.  Why should he have been giving orders?  And if he was in fact issuing orders and commands, should it not be clear that his authority to do so, precisely because he was laboring under a legitimate order of suspension, emanated from higher levels?

The concealment of truth or the foisting of deliberate falsehood even to shield one’s superiors from embarrassment or to spare them indictment is always a moral wrong, especially in the context of legal processes and under oath.  When one swears to tell the truth and invokes the help of God, one is morally obligated to speak the truth.  We therefore urge all witnesses and all those in possession of information material to the resolution of facts in issue to speak the truth at all times.

 Heroes Among Us

As we did almost immediately after being informed of the gallant deaths of our SAF men, the CBCP extols their courage, their heroism and their fidelity to the call to duty.  We understand the heartaches of the SAF men and women who rightly have reason to feel that our leaders failed them.  While it is true that every person who dons the uniform either as a police officer or as a soldier puts his life on the line in the performance of his sworn duties, it remains the solemn moral duty of the national leadership to protect them from needless harm and to uphold their interests as well.  The human person is never merely a means, no matter how glorious, noble or desirable the ends may be!

quevedo bday bishops mejia NJ Viehland

[from right] Bishops Leopoldo Tumulak of the Military Ordinariate, Mylo Vergara of Pasig and Father Marlon Mejia, CBCP Secretary General in Cotabato City, Philippines.- NJ Viehland Photos

The Peace Process

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines offers its assistance to the pursuit of lasting peace, a settlement of differences that will allow the people of Mindanao, Muslims and Christians alike including indigenous peoples to live in peace and as equals, citizens of one Republic, nationals of one country.  We hold it to be morally obligatory for the government and for the restive segments of Philippine society to search for the paths of peace.

It is of course true that peace cannot rest on deceit, the suppression of truth and subterfuge.  This is the reason that getting to the truth of the Mamasapano tragedy is of paramount importance.  In fact we should learn from Mamasapano for we paid a heavy price to learn its lessons.  We have painfully been shown the pitfalls and the traps, the gaps and the lacunae of deals we have thus far entered into.

The goal cannot be the cessation of hostilities at any cost, but a principled settlement of the dispute, and peace born out of truth, a commitment to social justice and adherence to the fundamental law of the land!

If anything at all, Mamasapano should instill in all, especially in our legislators, a sense of circumspection in respect to examining the first draft Bangsamoro Basic Law.  Let the document be assiduously studied, fully debated and exhaustively examined.

The Moral Requisites of a Just Settlement

There has to be SINCERITY on both sides — on the side of government forces and agents and on the side of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.  Hostilities must cease while legal processes must be observed.  Officers pursuing fugitives from justice or identified terrorists can never be the legitimate objects of attack.  Similarly where a truce has been agreed on, it is incumbent on all parties to hold their fire.  The government must resolutely pursue its projects for the further development of Muslim Mindanao and for the speedy and lasting attainment of social justice so that our Muslim brothers and sisters may fully share in the resources of the country and in the strides it makes towards prosperity.

The MILF must surrender the culprits: those who cut down the SAF 44 in the prime of their youth and must not interfere with their prosecution and their trial. The video clip that went viral showing the merciless execution of SAF men who were wounded and helpless cannot and must not be shrugged off.

The CBCP stands with the widows and orphans of the fallen to demand Justice and the indictment of the culpable.  It must also explain satisfactorily why international terrorists were within the territory supposedly occupied by them.

Finally, the arms and ammunition captured from the SAF and from other lawful agents of the Republic of the Philippines must be returned.  Justice and peace demand restitution of what one has wrongfully taken.

Solidarity in Prayer

The CBCP remains one with the grieving families of our fallen SAF men, as well as with the families of all who lost loved ones in this armed encounter.  Whether Christian or Muslim, we believe in a God who does not allow those who remain faithful to him to be lost.  We turn now in this moment of grief to the One Father of us all for consolation, strength and hope.

Appeal for True Patriotism

This is not the time for political opportunism.  This is not the time for adventurism or grandstanding.

While resolute action is necessary on the part of all, precipitous action and recourse to extra-constitutional measures will only visit more harm and misery on our people.

 The CBCP cannot lend its support to any movement that may bring greater suffering for our people.  We would do well to join in the debate spiritedly, to be zealous in ferreting out the facts and to be unyielding in demanding accountability.  But it is also our moral duty to be law-abiding citizens, animated at all times by the Gospel that insists that we love even those who we may find difficult to love!

No Peace Without Humility

 The Kingdom of God is as much a gift as it is a project, for while only God can make his kingdom come among us, he calls us all not only to preach it but, by our deeds, to make its presence tangible and real for the world.  Peace is the mark of this kingdom, and so it is that for a Christian there is no other way but to work for peace.  But time and again we have been taught that clever calculation, crafty speech and pompously worded documents never bring lasting peace.  It is when we humble ourselves and pray, and allow the Spirit to lead us that shall find that path of peace.

 The CBCP therefore invokes God’s Spirit even as it pledges that bishops individually and collectively will make themselves and their resources available for the demands of arriving at a lasting solution to the problem of turning swords into ploughshares.

From the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Intramuros, Manila, February 16, 2015

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

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

Philippines debating the law to give more autonomy to Islamic south

Read story: Draft Law Brings Hope, Faces Challenge of Religious Extremism

Tapatan sa Aristocrat - Bangsamoro Law, (l-r) Melo Acuna, Retired Commodore Rex Robles, Atty. Anne Basman, former DILG Secretary Rafael Alunan III - by NJ Viehland

Tapatan sa Aristocrat – Bangsamoro Law, (l-r) Melo Acuna, Retired Commodore Rex Robles, Atty. Anne Basman, former DILG Secretary Rafael Alunan III – by NJ Viehland

 

Bangsamoro table Basman 2014 09221

Bangsamoro table Rex Roblesm2014 09221

Cardinal Quevedo: Church’s shared mission of portraying God’s love, justice and peace

 

Quevedo Ateneo Award NJ Viehland

Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, Archbishop of Cotabato in southern Philippines accepted Sept. 16 the Bukas Palad (open hands) Award from the Jesuits’ Ateneo de Manila University. In his response, he reminded people attending the special school convocation that every member of the Church shares in the “common mission” of showing others that God loves them and plans to let truth, justice and peace prevail.

Following are excerpts from Cardinal Quevedo’s message delivered after he accepted the citation from Ateneo President Father Jose Ramon Villarin,

 

Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato, Sept. 16, 2014, Quezon City - by NJ Viehland

Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato, Sept. 16, 2014, Quezon City – by NJ Viehland

… Most profoundly I thank the Ateneo de Manila University, its Board of Trustees, its distinguished president Fr. Villarin, and the Awards Committee for this meaningful award. I am deeply humbled by the award.
Quevedo citation Ateneo NJ Viehland
For forming me to be a missionary to the poor, my vocation which is the basis of this award, I thank my religious congregation, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI). To portray the Lord’s Gospel to the poor, to be specialists in difficult missions… that is the charism handed down to every Oblate by our founder Saint Eugene de Mazenod. 
This is the reason that we Oblates of Mary Immaculate have chosen to work among the people of Maguindanao, Tawi-tawi and Sulu.

Quevedo Ateneo Bukas Palad NJ Viehland

Most of all I thank the Lord, the giver of all good gifts. Everything that I am, everything that people say I have merited because of certain modicum  of skill or talent, everything is simply and absolutely God’s gratuitous gift.
All is grace, said Saint Therese, and that quotation also was given also by our mathematician.
I’m afraid to sit beside her …after…if I pass addition, then I can do the rest….She quoted Rahner – quite understandably, she quoted a Jesuit … 

Quevedo Ruiz Ateneo Awards NJ Viehland

Yes, everything is grace. There are no surprises. There are no coincidences. And if coincidences are really signs of God’s providence, then truly providential it must be to be made an Oblate cardinal and receive honors in this year of the Lord 2014, the 75th year of Oblate missionary presence in the Philippines. We will wait for our own suppression. Then we will celebrate restorationIt is also the 50th anniversary this year of my priestly ordination.
But from a wider perspective, this award reminds us of our common mission to portray God’s reign of salvation. God’s reign of justice and peace, of truth and love, particularly for the poor and the marginalized. Let us all keep our mission focus as priest and bishop. “The reign of God,” “the reign of justice and peace.” That perspective is indeed deeply related to the Christian identity – my identity and yours. To be Christian is nothing more and nothing less than to be disciple in mission.
This is the emphasis given to the Christian identity by our own pope – Pope Francis [another Jesuit. At least we now know that there is an infallible Jesuit.]
For being a missionary disciple is to tell the story of Jesus – the God made poor for our sins. Jesus who walked and lived among the poor, Gentile or Jew, to be ultimately their peace.
The dialogue of Jesus with a non-Jew, the double negativity of being a Samaritan and a woman…
I’m very happy that there is finally a woman awardee for Lux in Domino Award for the Ateneo. It’s a good beginning for the Ateneo. (I am a Jesuit product, so I can make jokes about them…)
The dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan woman has to be a paradigm for building harmony and peace in our country today. We live in the cusp of Philippine history where just and lasting peace in Mindanao is in the final stages of realization – of mutual respect and understanding, persistence, patience, the wisdom of peace negotiators the past thirty years are God’s gifts for the peace process.
Cardinal Orlando Quevedo's birthday guests included former Muslim autonomous region officials - by NJ Viehland

Cardinal Orlando Quevedo’s birthday guests included former Muslim autonomous region officials – by NJ Viehland

When finally peace will have been realized, whatever contributions I may have given to it, and to the integral development of indigenous peoples and poor farmers in my own Archdiocese of Cotabato, all those are God’s gifts that we may be in solidarity with one another day by day, my dear friends – solidarity among us peoples of different cultures and beliefs as we live. Saint John Paul II has observed, “The fruit of solidarity is peace.”
Once again, thank you very much.

Aquino sends Bangsamoro draft law to congress, kicks off stakeholders’ dialogues

Cotabato,NJ Viehland

Cotabato,NJ Viehland

President Benigno Aquino III has submitted to the Philippine Congress the proposed law providing for the establishment of the Bangsamoro political entity that is seen as key to establishing and promoting peace and development in the southern Philippines.

Bangsamoro entity created by the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)

An update from the Institute on Autonomy and Government (IAG) reported that the Senate and House of Representatives can now proceed to deliberate on the draft law. 

Congressman Rufus Rodriguez will chair the Special Committee that will take up the proposed law in the Lower House. The House of Representatives will create a 75-member ad hoc committee to “review, evaluate and propose legislation” based on the draft BBL.

Its functions include:

* Study, deliberate on and act upon all measures referred to it inclusive of bills, resolutions and petitions, and recommend for approval or adoption by the House those that, in its judgment, advance the interests and promote thr welfare of the people;

* Establish appropriate system and procedures to ensure that constituencies, sectors and groups are given sufficient opportunities to be heard;

* Pursue dialogues and consultations with affected sectors and constituencies;

* Require the submission of studies, research and position papers;

* Engage the services and assistance of experts and professionals from the public or private sector as may be needed;

* Conduct hearings and inquiries in aid of legislation on matters within its jurisdiction;

* Act on measures referred to it and render a report to the plenary for its consideration.

Senate discussions will be led by the Committee on Local Government, chaired by Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. Members include Senator Antonio Trillanes IV (Vice chair) and member Senators Paolo Benigno Aquino, Pia Cayetano, Manuel Lapid, Loren Legarda, Aquilino Pimentel III, Cynthia Villar, Sonny Angara, Grace Poe. Senators Ralph Recto, Alan Peter Cayetano and Juan Ponce Enrile are Ex-Officio members.

IAG in an e-group notice said with the NGO Philippine Center  for Islam and Democracy (PCID) it will continue to report on deliberations on the BBL in Congress.

In Cotabato City, southern Philippines, the institute will collaborate with Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Philippines political foundation, Notre Dame University of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) and Notre Dame Broadcasting Corporation (NDBC) and launch a series of talk shows to foster understanding of the proposed BBL.

The talkshop series will bring together members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), experts, civil society leaders, and key stakeholders to discussions, analysis and debates on the salient features of the BBL certified as urgent by the President for approval by Congress.

IAG senior policy adviser, Oblate Fr. Eliseo Mercado Jr., meanwhile will reconvene the Bangsamoro Study Circle group in a series of special sessions to study the draft bill for greater participation of stakeholders in the discussion of the issues that confront the general public.

Concerned people are invited to study the proposed law and submit their views and opinion on the draft law to info@iag.org.ph , which will publish  comments on its website’s opinion section. 

IAG will also publish updates on Facebook and Twitter @IAGorgph using hashtag #BBLWatch