Rev. Eutiquio B. Belizar, Jr., SThD
By the roadside
That is how I see the CBCP in its latest pastoral letter on the EJKs, the drug war and other anti-life efforts at work in our islands. As of this writing official administration sources have, predictably, dismissed it as “out of touch” and “hypocritical”, coming from “a bunch of hypocrites with no moral ascendancy”. I take it to mean that they have not really read the whole letter and are not interested in what it says.
First off, it is a sad commentary of our current government’s leaders that they rarely show the ability to receive even a constructive criticism. The chief executive and his allies appear to have chosen to see every critic as an enemy. Instead of listening, they take the feedback as a put down and respond in kind. Verbal abuse has been heaped on a previous American president, local political opponents, the United Nations, Amnesty International, the European Union and, many times, the Catholic Church. They seem to hope every abuse will drive critics away. Or justify the status quo. They may have made a mistake. To quote the letter: “We in the Church will continue to speak out against evil…even if it will bring persecution upon us because we are all brothers and sisters responsible for each other.” The Catholic bishops have put on notice that doing the prophetic ministry is not optional. It is an obligation upon God’s servants that they are. On the other hand, given the history of this administration’s behavior towards its critics, the bishops may be in for some more unfriendly “fire”. That the bishops already know, it seems, and are getting themselves ready for. But we must still hope and pray positive ones are among the consequences.
Second, the letter in simple language has spells out the spiritual-moral reasons for their concern: the sanctity of human life and therefore killing as a grave sin, the mercy of God that opens up “the opportunity to change” to “every person”. This includes criminals, addicts, pushers and other social outcasts. Even apart from any legal consideration, it also points out “the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty”.
This last is clearly violated not only by the EJKs themselves but also by the public shaming of perceived violators of the law. The bishops even go to the socio-economic roots of the drug problem and criminality: “the poverty of the majority, the destruction of the family and corruption in society”. It might be argued that even wealthy countries also have drug and criminality problems; these scourges appear to respect neither rich nor poor. But citing the moral breakdown of the family and society is, beyond doubt, hitting the nail on the head. Even the abject poverty, lack of opportunity and grindingly slow justice system in the country are but among the ugly faces of this moral breakdown. How else do we address this moral roots than by constantly “inciting” every Filipino, our political leaders, bishops, clergy and other citizens included, towards conversion and spiritual regeneration. The bishops provide us a clue to the right way of doing this ministry, that is, not from a position of moral superiority but from the platform of humility. They add, not quite incidentally, the clause “even as we acknowledge and repent of our shortcomings”. The call to conversion is for all but, say the bishops, for its bearers first of all. Here the real challenge lies.
Third, the letter also addresses the ordinary citizens’ seeming indifference and even “consent” towards the killings and the drug addiction upon us. The language is direct and blunt. “To consent and to keep silent in front of evil is to be an accomplice to it”, to “neglect the drug addicts and pushers” is to “become part of the drug problem”, to “consent or allow the killing of suspected drug addicts” is also to be “responsible for their deaths”. Still, to also expect the up-to-now silent and consenting majority to suddenly speak out for life may be a tall order. But the prophetic word has been uttered. It is now in the hearers’ court. We need to pray and work harder everywhere we are in our sun-kissed and storm-swept islands that the Spirit of the Father and the Son continue to lead us to his light and deliver us from evil inside and outside of our hearts.
St. Peter has this to say to Gospel proclaimers: “Beloved, rejoice, in the measure that you share in Christ’s sufferings…Happy are you when you are insulted for the sake of Christ, for then God’s Spirit in its glory has come to rest on you” (1 Peter 4:13-14).