“Comfort My People, Comfort Them” (Isaias 40:1) –
A Pastoral Letter on Filipino Migrant Workers
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
May the love and peace of Jesus be yours!
Tragic Situation of Many of our Migrant Workers
The tragic deaths of Flor Contemplacion and Delia Maga captured the attention and stirred the emotions of the entire Filipino people. Their story and that of Sarah Balabagan, a sixteen-year-old girl from Maguindanao, forcefully brought to the fore the sufferings of our Filipino migrant workers and the need to protect and assist them. Seven years ago, on February 21, 1988, we, the bishops of the Philippines, issued a pastoral letter on Filipino migrant workers, especially, on their protection. Much of that letter is still valid today but conditions and recent events in our country and abroad demand that we write another.
Call to Action
Today the Word of God to the prophet Jeremiah comes to mind: “I will break the yoke on their necks and snap their chains. They will no longer be the servants of aliens but will serve Yahweh their God…” (Jer. 30:8-9) By this message Yahweh promised to liberate the Israelites from exile in Babylon. May we not, in faith, address today this liberating promise to the tragic situation of many of our 4 million migrant workers and to the bright possibilities of a different future? Although it is God’s loving action that will fulfill this promise, we need also to expend our own human efforts for its fulfillment.
We are glad that our government has enacted the “Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995.” This important legislation, the Magna Carta of Overseas Workers, aims to provide comprehensive protection and assistance to our migrant workers. We strongly urge that it be effectively implemented.
Another positive event is the recent ratification by our Senate of the United Nations’ International Convention on the Protection of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. Let us pray and work that more nations will ratify this convention. In order to have the force of law, this agreement has to be ratified by at least 20 nations.
Important Considerations and Corresponding Actions regarding the Protection of Our Migrant Workers
Many good things come from migration. There are success stories. Remittances from Filipinos abroad have sustained families, put children through school, and raised the standard of living of many, giving them more access to the material and spiritual goods needed for their fulfillment. Our Filipino migrant workers have also contributed much to our national development. Our Filipinos abroad remit annually to our country around $4 billion. On the other hand, a considerable number of them are subjected to many evils, such as injustice, loss of life and human dignity, inhuman abuse and maltreatment, exploitation, moral degradation, broken families, loss of Faith, loneliness, and other sufferings. Because so much harm often goes hand in hand with Filipino overseas employment, the State should not promote overseas employment as a means to sustain economic growth and achieve national development. We should not sacrifice higher values for economic gains. Overseas employment should be allowed only if protective measures are in place so that the dignity and human rights of the Filipino migrant workers be not compromised or violated.
The Church teaches that a person, because of an intolerable political or economic situation in one’s country has a right to emigrate, to select a new home in foreign lands, and to seek conditions of life worthy of a human being. We, however, would like to remind our people that there is a human and social cost to overseas work. Some price is too high for just a better salary. Loss of life, loss of human dignity, moral degradation, or a broken family is too high a price.
Poverty is the main cause of Filipino migration. Most Filipinos do not want to leave our country for work. They are forced to seek their living in foreign lands because they see no viable future for themselves here. Hence, all of us, the government and the private sector, should work hard and generously for economic development. The recent tragedies that have befallen migrant Filipinas should move our leadership to summon the political will to work towards industrialization that will supply our people jobs at home. But economic development has to be guided by two basic social teachings: a) the just and equitable distribution of economic resources, incomes, and benefits, as well as equitable access to development, b) economic development that has a preferential option for the poor. Let us remind ourselves that in our country too much concentration of the wealth in the hands of a few is the cause of the poverty of the many. Let us re-examine the present economic model of development of the country, which may simply perpetuate the status quo of an unjust distribution of wealth.
Illegal recruitment is the source of so much suffering for our migrant workers. It has been with us since the beginning of Filipino migration. So many campaigns against it have been launched by both government and private sectors. But, it remains strong until the present. One main cause of the little success of the drives against illegal recruitment is the lack of sincerity, honesty , and political will of many in our relevant government agencies. We also have to point out the lack of cooperation of many migrant workers. Because of dire economic need, many become “willing victims” of illegal recruiters.
The first duty of Filipino diplomacy is the protection of its citizens and not the facilitation of the activities and business of government functionaries. All Filipino migrant workers, whether legal or illegal, are entitled to the protection and care of the State by virtue of their Filipino citizenship. We are not encouraging illegal migration nor do we suggest that our government justify it. But, even illegal migrant workers retain their basic human rights and our embassies should consider it their prime duty to protect these rights. Illegal workers, precisely because of their illegal status, are the most vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. The more so, if their own government abandons them.
We are calling attention to the fact that more than half of our overseas workers are women. Pope John Paul II reminds us that they are the most vulnerable and often suffer the most. Many of them are mothers with families at home. We urge our government that in the formulation and implementation of policies and programs regarding migrant workers its appropriate agencies should be gender-sensitive, should take into special consideration the situation of our women workers. We also urge the family life apostolate of our parishes to take a specific pastoral care of the families left behind by our overseas workers.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2241 teaches: “The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.” A migrant worker does service to the receiving country. It is also a fact that the work of a migrant worker benefits more the receiving country than the country of origin. Justice demands that the receiving country protect the migrant worker.
We take this opportunity to thank the many local churches abroad who, with love and compassion, take pastoral care of our Filipino migrant workers, who are almost everywhere in the world.
The Duty of the Church to Provide Pastoral Care to Our Filipino Migrant Workers
We again exhort the whole people of God – bishops, priests, religious, and laity – to give more attention and pastoral care to our migrant workers and their families. The Philippine Church has done much for our Filipino migrants. We appreciate the selfless work that our priests, religious sisters and lay workers do for our Filipino migrants. However, due to the vastness of the work (4 million migrants) and the limitations of personnel, it is not enough.
Every diocese must implement what the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines says in No. 108: “…We also need to provide pastoral and social care for the migrant workers and their families. In that way their spiritual and material welfare is served, their rights protected, and their faith strengthened.” There is also need to stress that the Church should accompany our people wherever they go. When the Israelites were wandering in the desert for forty years, God accompanied them as a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire during the night. The Philippine Church should “journey with” our migrants through our priests, sisters, and lay pastoral workers. “Journeying with” our Filipino migrants, they are called to nourish and strengthen their faith, promote their rights and protect them from abuses. Whenever they are able, they should provide social assistance to our poor migrants. Let them also be the guides of our Filipino migrants in their integration to the country which receives them. In that way, they enrich with authentic Filipino values the community that receives them and are in turn enriched by the culture they are integrating to. (Article 56 #3 of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines).
Witnessing for Christ
“For every pain, there is a joy; for every sacrifice, a corresponding good; for every cross, a resurrection.” (Pastoral Letter of CBCP on Migrants, February 21, 1988). Pope Pius XII, on July 23, 1957, said: “The phenomenon of the modern emigration undoubtedly follows its own laws, but it is really Divine Wisdom which makes use of human events, including sad ones at times, in order to fulfill the design of salvation for the benefit of the whole of mankind…” We are convinced that this is true with regard to Filipino migration. On May 17, 1987, in his homily during the Mass for Filipinos in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope John Paul II told the Filipino overseas workers: “Indeed, in Europe you are called to be the new and youthful witness of that very Faith which your country received from Europe so many generations ago.”
Because of the evils that often accompany Filipino overseas employment, we do not promote overseas employment for the purpose of evangelization. We, however, exhort you our Filipino brothers and sisters who are already working abroad to live truly Christian lives. Lead lives of love. In that way, “you are telling the world of Christ’s Love”. (Theme song of World Youth Day).
May the migrant Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and St. Lorenzo Ruiz, our migrant saint, bless and protect our migrant workers and their families. May they “comfort them and turn their mourning into joy, their sorrow into gladness”. (Jer. 31:13)
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:
(Sgd.)+CARMELO D.F. MORELOS, D.D.
Archbishop of Zamboanga
July 10, 1995
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines
The Official Website of
“Comfort My People, Comfort Them” (Isaias 40:1) – A Pastoral Letter on Filipino Migrant Workers