CBCP President on ongoing Mamasapano investigation


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

Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan
President, CBCP

CBCP mourns student death in hazing, stresses challenge to Catholic educators

Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) issued July 6 its Letter on the practice of violent initiations (hazing) that has led to deaths of students seeking membership in school-based fraternities.

At the time the Letter was released, Philippine National Police and Philippine National Bureau of Investigation were probing the death of 18 year-old Guillo Cesar Servando on June 28,  due to hazing. Three other students suffered bruises and other injuries in the hazing incident in connection with their application for membership in Tau Gamma Phi-College of St. Benilde Chapter.

St. Benilde is a college of De La Salle University owned and administered by Brothers of the Christian Schools.  

Following is CBCP’s Letter to Catholic Colleges and Universities on fraternity hazing sent to Catholic in Asia …

“Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” (Gen 4:10) 

My brothers and sisters in Christ in our Catholic schools:
Once more we must, as a nation, mourn the demise of a student of a Catholic school who lost his life at the hands of his supposed ‘brothers’ in a fraternity.  After Cain had lifted his hand against his brother, Abel, God called out to the murderer: The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground. It is one of the most detestable ironies of our time that we must so often real from the devastation of brother killing brother in clandestine organizations like many fraternities are!
If, as the Church has always insisted, our Catholic schools are to be heralds of the saving news, there is nothing more contradictory to the message our schools exist to teach than the senseless loss of young lives because of ‘initiation rites’.  We therefore condemn in the strongest possible terms all officers, members and abettors of fraternities and sororities — and other organizations by whatever name they may call themselves — that, with disordered reason, believe that violent initiation rites assure loyalty and solidarity!  To incur this moral culpability, it is not necessary to have actually hurt, maimed or killed anyone.  The preparedness and willingness to participate in violent rites of initiation is in itself already a moral wrong!
Aside from the vigilance that is incumbent on all schools, however, it is important to understand somehow why youngsters seek membership in clandestine organizations.  Often students who find themselves adrift in our campuses, or lost in their new environments will seek the assurance of ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ who will be there for them — to protect and to aid them in time of need.  They become easy prey for recruiters of fraternities and sororities. 
What this should tell our Catholic school administrators is that the licit organizations and recognized affiliations that we presently offer them are not interesting enough and do not give them that sense of security and solidarity that fraternities and like organizations seem to offer.  The Catholic school itself ought to be the community where each member finds the welcome, acceptance, affirmation and empowerment that we all need.  And the school must nurture those forms of association that strengthen bonds of friendship and love, mutual support and care, among members, so that none in the academic community may be lured to seek acceptance in shady societies.
The challenge therefore to our Catholic school administrators is to foster those organizations where there is genuine care, where the charity of Christ truly prevails, and where each is concerned that none is in want of anything that can be supplied!  The success of our World Youth Day celebrations amply demonstrates that such youth organizations inspired and founded on the Gospel and its values are possible.
But the hazing phenomenon has yet another ugly facet: the delight in the exercise of raw power.  Even the title by which some of the overlords of clandestine organizations — Master — are called already suggests that it is the unprincipled arrogation of power that leads to such condemnable displays of ascendancy over others as the violence that comes with many initiation rites.  All teachers and professors who recruit students for secret societies that include violence of any form in their initiation rites should be dismissed from our Catholic schools, after observing the demands of due process.  A Catholic school ought to be a basic ecclesial community.  But whoever has murder, injury or indignity in his heart for his brothers or sisters has thereby severed himself from such a community!  It is not acceptable for school administrators and faculty members to be members, much less officers, of societies that practice violence — especially when this is known to their students.  Not only does such membership lend a semblance of legitimacy to clandestine organizations; it is also a counter-sign of the evangelical values that ought to manifest themselves in the conduct and deportment of our Catholic school teachers who are called to be “salt of the earth, light of the world”.
“I no longer call your servants but friends…” and if we are friends of the Lord Jesus, we cannot but be friends towards each other, and one never kills or hurts or maims a friend!
“What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground.
From the CBCP, Intramuros, Manila, July 6, 2014
   Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan
   CBCP President