Heidi M. Pascual*
Publisher & Editor
* 2006 Journalist of the Year for the State
of Wisconsin (U.S.-SBA)
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Reflections on a Pastoral Letter
by Heidi M. Pascual
I attended the Sunday Mass on February 3 in the Roman Catholic Cathedral located in the town of Pila, province of Laguna, as I usually do at
least twice a month, because of a personal pledge to visit the National Shrine of St. Anthony de Padua, the town’s patron saint, as often as I can.
It was no ordinary Mass, I should say, because the Homily focused on the reading of the pastoral letter by the Catholic Bishops Conference of
the Philippines (CBCP) on various societal issues, particularly on the prevalence of the culture of violence and the existing animosity against the
Catholic Church by the current government, though the letter did not directly mention Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. (This pastoral letter
was addressed to the Filipino people, dated Jan. 28, 2019.)

The pastoral letter began with an apology to the Filipino people for it took the bishops a long time to study and ponder upon the accusations
levelled against the Catholic Church. I think the response was triggered by the recent bombing of a Cathedral in Jolo, Sulu, in Mindanao Island,
which killed more than 20 people and injured more than a hundred. I remember that prior to this incident, three Catholic priests had been killed
by unknown gunmen since late 2017.

As many Filipinos know, the Catholic Church has been a focus of Duterte’s attacks because of its open criticism of Duterte’s war on drugs
resulting in deaths of many lowly drug users and pushers, not of drug lords and smugglers. The pastoral letter actually said the CBCP is not
against Duterte’s war on drugs, for it favors the cleansing of society from drugs, a menace that victimizes the poor.  CBCP doesn’t want to
interfere with the government, but it also wouldn’t want to negate its obligation to protect its flock by expressing the truth. Despite reported death
threats, the bishops are going ahead to fulfil their role as the voice of the voiceless.

It is sad that Duterte’s insults against the Church even targeted the core faith/belief of a majority of the Filipino people. Media reports in the
recent past documented Duterte’s doubt about the Catholic doctrines, even calling God “stupid” and questioning the Bible’s theory on creation.
As a Roman Catholic myself, I can’t swallow the cruel words of the Philippine president. He may be the “cleanest” president of the country in
terms of his determination to get rid of drugs and corruption, but his mouth is the source of the dirtiest words I have ever heard. In fairness to
Duterte, though, I salute his actions against erring government people, even his closest allies and friends. No president in the Philippines has
ever removed from office high officials accused of graft and corruption as fast as he does!

Going back to the content of this pastoral letter, the CBCP highlighted human rights and dignity of people, regardless of their status in life.  While
it completely agreed that those who committed crimes must face the consequences of their actions in the court of law, they must also be treated
humanely. Extra-judicial killings, particularly of those suspected of being enemies of the government or those against certain armed groups,
have no place in a civil society.
I commend the CBCP for its very strong stand against
what is wrong in society’s governance. Indeed, there is
separation of church and state in all democratic
governments, but sometimes, as spiritual leaders of a
big community, our priests and pastors must speak up
just to bring awareness to the flock. On this earth, it is
also necessary to help people understand the
difference between good/right governance and
bad/wrong governance. I used to dislike priests talking
about politics in the pulpit, but nowadays, I feel it is
necessary because not everyone seems to know about
human rights violations. I hear some people expressing
admiration for the cleansing of the Filipino society in
terms of less violent crimes committed against property.
However, they are not focused on how many people are
getting killed without the benefit of due process.

I will continue to pray hard for the healing of this
animosity between CBCP and President Duterte; for the
change of strategy of the Philippine government in
regard to its war on drugs (by focusing on the sources
and financiers rather than the users who are mostly
victims); and for peace and order in Mindanao to reign,
so that Muslims and Christians can live harmoniously
and cooperatively in that part of our country. With the
recent approval of the Bangsamoro Law that created an
autonomous Muslim region in Mindanao, I am hopeful
that secessionist movements will end, and love and
harmony will prevail.

Please pray for us, as well. Thank you.