A Pastoral Exhortation on Agrarian Reform

Beloved People of God:

• Excessive economic and social disparity between individuals and peoples of the one human race  is a source of scandal and militates against social justice,  equity, human dignity, as well as social…  peace  (Vatican II, The Church in the Modern World, 29)

Poverty and the Challenge of Faith:  Solidarity

People thirst after an ever more perfect reign of justice (Ibid. 27)

Practically everywhere in the universal Church today, we are painfully conscious of that thirst.  And we talk much of preferential (but not exclusive) option for the poor.

And we here in the Philippines?

Alas, there is no peace in our land today, though we all long for peace.  And there is no peace, because we have not yet attained the justice that brings about peace.

Where 70% of the people live below the poverty line, we see the hand of injustice.  For such a tragic situation is against the righteousness of God whose will is “that all created things would be shared fairly by all mankind under the guidance of justice tempered by charity”  (Ibid. 29).  It is his will that every person “has the right to possess a sufficient amount of the earth’s goods for himself and his family”  (Ibid.)

Poverty and inequity are a scandal of the first order for any national community, more so for one that calls itself Christian.  They challenge our faith and move us to solidarity, the call of God for all of us to form one human family bound by a love that does justice.

Hence, we must ask ourselves:  what are we doing for our own who thirst for that ever more perfect reign of justice that our faith speaks about?

Sharing in Justice

Today we are in danger of being torn apart as a nation on a problem that springs precisely from that universal “thirst for justice”:  the problem of agrarian reform–and the government’s desire to meet it in a truly comprehensive manner.

We fight among ourselves whether the government should issue or not a comprehensive agrarian reform law.  We argue among ourselves about whether we should have land reform at all; or if we accept it on principle, how compensation should be made, what the retention limits should be, whether by executive order or congressional legislation.

These are not problems we can easily brush aside.

But would they, we ask, be as insurmountable as they are now if we all decided to approach them from the perspective of our faith?

That faith in its essence is sharing –and should impel us then to sharing.  God shared himself with us fully in creation; so we must share his creation with one another.  Christ shared himself in becoming man for our redemption; so we must share him with others.  The Spirit shares himself in his indwelling in us, so we in turn must share with one another in the spirit of justice and charity.

If we were true Christians, if we shared willingly as Christians, would we need a decree or an executive order from government to do what we should as Christians do as a matter of course–to share:  the haves with the have-nots; the landed with the landless; the privileged with the underprivileged?

Option for the Poor and the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform

This year we celebrate a National Eucharistic Year.  The heart of the Eucharist is sharing–Christ sharing himself with us totally.

In this celebration God is asking us to do what we celebrate:  to share to the utmost of ourselves with others, especially with those with whom Christ himself identifies:  the thirsty, the hungry, the naked, the homeless (Mt. 25:35-46).  In the Philippines today, these are the landless, the exploited, the disadvantaged, the powerless.  These have the single most urgent claim on the conscience of the nation.  To opt for them, to share with them is a requirement of the Kingdom of God.

Therefore, under this perspective of a loving faith that does justice, we, your bishops, have no alternative as far as the question of agrarian reform is concerned:

• We  are  for as comprehensive a program of agrarian reform  as  possible–one  that will  make it possible for all, the 70% who live below the poverty line especially, to have more in order to be more (Cf. Paul VI, Populorum Progressio, 6). We believe furthermore that a genuine agrarian reform program must be realistic.  No program can be successful if it transcends  the   capabilities  of  government to manage and finance.

Pain and the Joy of Sharing:  The Paschal Mystery

As Bishops we neither have the competence nor the call from God to design the specific and technical details of socio-economic programs.  We can only point out to the proper authorities the principles of justice operative in a given situation.  Even this stand of ours will surely create dismay in some quarters who would have us do more than we can.

As in the sharing of Jesus’ life with us on the cross, no sharing with others is painless.  Whatever law or decree is passed in regard to the agrarian problem today, we knew it cannot please everybody.

Nonetheless, we urge those in authority to abide by the principles of social justice and preferential option for the poor in designing a truly realistic and comprehensive agrarian reform program.

We plead with all landed people to respond boldly and generously to the call of the gospel –to share not simply of their superfluous goods but out of their very substance (Vatican II, The Church  in the Modern World, 69).  Even superfluous goods must be measured today not so much in relation to one’s own status or accustomed way of life but in terms of the needs of others.

We highly commend those, who, prompted by the ideals of social justice are determined to share with others voluntarily without waiting for any legislative fiat.

On our part we will not seek exemption to whatever may be legislated towards a comprehensive agrarian reform program.

We urge moreover that beneficiaries of agrarian reform, motivated by the common good and in the interest of law and order, should not unjustly and forcibly pre-empt claims to lands in question prior to approval of the agrarian reform act.  The contrary would further compound injustices on all sides and forestall immediate implementation of a truly comprehensive and just agrarian reform program.

Hence we must all work together — in a generous spirit of sharing, with all its pains and joys reflective of the Paschal Mystery of Jesus to come up with an agrarian reform program that will indeed be Christian and Filipino.

To our Blessed Mother, the Mirror of Justice, we commend for her intercession and guidance our country’s total effort towards quenching our thirst for an ever more perfect reign of justice.


For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:



Archbishop of Cebu

President, CBCP


July 14, 1987

Tagaytay City



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