By Rev E B Belizar, Jr., SThD
“Our humanity were a poor thing but for the divinity that stirs within us” (Bacon)
RECENTLY the leader of the republic ordered a total deployment ban of OFWs to Kuwait. This followed a series of horrific deaths of mostly household workers, many with signs of physical and other forms of abuse. The act has jolted that Middle Eastern country’s leaders. Its foreign minister came out with a condemnation of the Philippine president’s action, insisting that many other Filipino workers in his country are enjoying the benefits of its relative prosperity and that they are in close coordination with high Philippine officials on the results of the investigations related to the deaths. The Philippine government countered that the Kuwaiti government’s response is essentially too little, too late. But they are not closing the door to a lifting of the ban should conditions change in favor of protecting OFWs’ human rights and dignity.
I am no fan of the current Philippine government nor of its leaders. But, together with many others, I applaud its decisiveness on this issue. I do so not to curry favor with anyone in power. My real reason is that, as a priest, the exercise of the prophetic ministry does not only mean “criticizing, condemning, doing all it (clergy) can to lessen what is bad” in “Philippine society” but also “enhancing, encouraging, supporting what is good” in it (PCP II 346-347). The CBCP itself has lately upheld the “principle of human dignity and human rights” as primary in the moral discernment of the country’s charter change efforts. It is, incontrovertibly, a twin good we cannot give up nor compromise on.
In fact, the Church has always stood firm on her competence as well as right and duty “to pass moral judgments even in matters relating to politics, whenever the rights of man and the salvation of souls requires it” (Gaudium et Spes, n. 76). The majority of Filipinos being Catholic, the Church’s teaching on the inviolability of human life, human dignity and human rights deserves at least a hearing from this government.
That seems like a no-brainer. But the fact that this same government scarcely pays any respect to any word from the Catholic Church seems contrary to its avowed adherence to democracy which gives weight to the views of the majority. But then, again, the question is whether or not the Catholic majority is even knowledgeable of, or faithful to, the Catholic faith. This alone invites plenty of soul-searching and examination of conscience among the hierarchy and the laity.
It seems a touch of irony. The Church has been unequivocally condemning the deaths that many see as EJKs in connection with the government’s anti-ilegal-drug war. Should she now support, just as unequivocally, this government’s moves to protect OFWs’ human dignity and rights? At first blush, it is highly unlikely, considering the history of verbal abuse the Church often gets from the chief executive. But to do so is only being consistent with her identity and mission. She is, after all, “a communion”, “a sign and instrument of the intimate union with God, and the unity of all the human race” (LG 1). Clearly any abuse or oppressive behavior, systems and structures preying on human dignity and human rights hinders the unity of the human race. The Church cannot, therefore, stand idly by when poor OFWs are deprived of basic human rights. Malacañang’s spokesman insisted that Filipinos do not want to be treated differently; they simply desire to be treated, under international law, the way the Kuwaiti government treats its own citizens. In addition, the CBCP teaches: “Men and women are all created in the image of God. The human person is sacred, bearing the Imprint of the Divine” (CBCP Pastoral Guidelines for Discerning the Moral Dimension of the Present-day Moves for Charter Change, p. 1). To be from one race or another is immaterial; the basic human dignity and rights of all human beings is their common bond with the Church as communion. It is why government and Church must work together.
Though admirable, the president’s defense of OFWs’ interests may be less religious in origin and more due to emotional, patriotic and political considerations. This seems understandable. After all, the OFW vote figured prominently in his election to the highest office. Like contemporary politicians, he seems to espouse human dignity and human rights when convenient to his political interests, apart from a clear conviction of their sacred faith-inspired character.
Still, and here lies a reason for hope, it indicates some common ground between him and the Church. And indeed it is a ground the Church should not be afraid to tread for the Gospel’s sake. This surely represents grain from the chaff that she has been so familiar with, since this administration’s inauguration. Rather than simply watch the government take the cudgels singlehandedly for the oppressed OFWs, the Church needs to re-affirm her own teaching with positive action.
It is a rare opportunity. But it is always worth our every while to aim, together with any government, for the total deployment ban of inhumanity by humans towards humans, our OFWs included. On the other hand, the inhumanity that this government condemns in other countries is the same inhumanity it should condemn in its own acts, such as inhuman language and acts against its perceived enemies, misperceiving human rights and advocates as inimical to Filipino interests, depreciating human life in perceived drug and other law offenders, mischaracterizing women by their genitality and willfully seeking not to listen to, but to put down, critics and conscientious oppositors.
We all must make a stand for a total deployment ban of all inhumanity in others and in ourselves.