The Period of Difficult Transition (1966-1975)

When the Second Vatican Council ended in December 1965, it created a paradigm shift in ecclesiology, as noted earlier: from a Church understood mainly as a social institution, the self-understanding moved primarily to a Church as the people of God. The CWO was met by the challenge of the shift, and its corresponding theological and pastoral implications. The changes brought about by the council were, of course, partly noticed even in the CWO Constitution itself which was revised pursuant to the conciliar decree, Christus Dominus (nn. 37-38), and in accordance with the legal specifics provided for by Paul VI’s motu propio, Ecclesiæ sanctæ (I, 41). The revisions chiefly consisted in the altering of the name from CWO to Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and in the reformulation of its purpose which came to read thus: “to study, promote, coordinate in a way corresponding ever more to the needs of the present time the apostolate of the Church in the Philippines.” Unlike the CWO, however, the CBCP became a canonical body, a status hardly possible in the pre-conciliar period. Approved by the Sacred Consistorial Congregation on 12 December 1967, the newly amended constitution was filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on 29 Feb. 1968. (However, since this constitution was ad quinquennium experimenti gratia, it was revised and approved in July 1973, and given recognitio by the Holy See on 21 May 1974.) The episcopal commissions were augmented: created were the Commission on Seminaries, Commission on Lay Apostolate, Commission on Liturgy, Commission on Family Life, Remuneration and Distribution of the Clergy, and the Commission on Emigration. (From 1966 to 1975, the following were presidents of the Conference: Archbishops Lino Gonzaga [1966-1969], Teopisto Alberto [1970-1973] and Cardinal Julio Rosales, whose term extended to the next, even more difficult, period.)

Admittedly, however, the impact of the conciliar ecclesiology in terms of the collective theological outlook of the bishops was not immediately felt in the years that immediately followed. Like the pre-Vatican II CWO, the CBCP tended to look inwardly, and it would even seem that Bellarmine’s institutional model of the Church continued to dominate the greater part of this period, and its mission in society seemed to be premised, at least in the initial stage, still on the social-charity model. In fact, on average, most of the CWO/CBCP decisions were connected with intra-Church renewal in accord with the conciliar decrees on liturgy, ecumenism, seminaries, canon law, etc.: others pertain to the CBCP internal affairs, and the promotion of Catholic faith and doctrine (religious instruction, clerical attire, etc.). On this score, the post-1965 episcopal body was much in continuity with the post-war CWO. This is reflected in the subject matter of most of its joint pastoral statements from 1965 to 1971: religious instruction, Humanæ vitæ, priestly celibacy, the Holy Father, East Pakistan Refugees, prayer and interior life, etc. The intra-Church endeavors saw an important event when Pope Paul VI visited the country on 27-29 November 1970 which the bishops regarded as a reminder of the country’s vocation in a new world. A year before, Radio Veritas (Asia), which could be heard as far as Red China (People’s Republic of China), was founded.

This is not to say, however, that the CBCP remained on the defensive. Quite the contrary, it slowly changed its focus from defensiveness to awareness of the role of social apostolate in the mission of the Church, as it did not fail to address the problems of the time, which by 1968 through 1970, especially in the First Quarter Storm, became the issues of rallies, strikes and demonstrations in Metro Manila. Hence, the appropriateness of calling this period (1966-1975) one of difficult transition. The issues during these years of rage were the widening gap between the rich and the poor, the oligarchy and the feudal structure, the IMF-dictated economy, the country’s neo-colonial status and the US interference, graft and corruption, compartmentalized justice, and inadequate law implementation, among others. These were given expression in the student slogan, “Down with Feudalism, Fascism and Imperialism.” These years saw the resurgence of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), and its influence on students was greatly felt in the unprecedented growth of the Kabataang Makabayan (KM) in 1964. Later, a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist-oriented group of the CCP was established, and by 1969, the New People’s Army (NPA) was already attracting adherents to its program to change the society by revolution. But while some sectors of society opted for radical change, others preferred social and political reforms.

The CBCP was not without social awareness, and it stood for the amelioration of the socioeconomic order. Indeed, at this stage the Conference, in its letters and statements, showed a better contextualization of Christian principles. Already on 8 January 1967, it issued a pastoral letter on social action and development in which it emphasized, among others, the mission of the Church in the temporal order, the relationship between evangelization and development, and, in particular, the rights of workers. In answer to the request of the PISA (Priests’ Institute of Social Action) participants, the CBCP created the NASSA (National Secretariat for Social Action) which served as secretariat of the Commission on Social Action. In the same year, it organized the National Congress on Rural Development (4-11 February) to promote a genuine awareness of the socioeconomic problems. A popular slogan at this time was “The Church Goes To The Barrio” – quite a significant development in a Church structure which was población-centered and organization-oriented. The congress was followed up by a pastoral letter on social awareness (1 May 1968). In its statement on bishops and moral leadership on 5 July 1969, it affirmed that the mission of the Church included the concern for man’s bodily and temporal welfare, though “her mission is a work of mercy and love.” Acting on the suggestion of the Pontifical Commission on Justice and Peace, it decided in 1967 to adopt the Commission on Social Action as its counterpart of the pontifical commission. Priests were trained to head the Social Action Centers in different dioceses. The following year (1 May), which Pres. Marcos himself declared as “Social Action Year,” it put out a pastoral letter on social action in which it affirmed the role of the Church in creating a more just social order. It appears, then, that in the late 1960s the CBCP saw non-conflictual development (cooperatives, credit unions, farm-goods subsidy, social insurance for farmers and fishermen, self-help projects, etc.) as its new and relevant form of social involvement. It is probably from this perspective and from the particular ecclesiology it presupposed that one is to interpret the CBCP’s response to the statement of the Divine Word Junior Clergy Conference (16 May 1969), calling on the Hierarchy to respond to the critical social situation. It must be acknowledged, however, that the development model was a remarkable step from that of social charity.

It is within the familiar framework that the Conference addressed political and government-related issues and problems. Then, by 1970, student and peasant demonstrations became more frequent, and the CBCP was at first concerned with the demonstrations themselves and the analysis of their tactics. It detected in them the dangers of Communism, and defended the Church against the accusation that it was rich. It proposed dialogue between teachers and the youth, establishment of recreation and training programs for the youth, even recommending the holding of a congress for the purpose. When the issues raised in these rallies and demonstrations led to an urgent call for a Constitutional Convention in the hope that a new fundamental law would provide new principles and provisions for solving the national crisis, the CBCP, on 25 Jan 1970, appealed to Congress for a non-partisan convention. In preparation for this convention, the Conference agreed to deliver talks and sermons about this political exercise, cooperate with other groups for honest and free elections, hold convention of priests on the subject, and allow clerics to run as candidates. It may be noted that the bishops exerted much effort and worked hard so that provisions on religious instruction and tax exemption of Church properties be included in the proposed Constitution. Six months later, as the violence in the country escalated, it issued a letter on civic responsibility, denouncing what it perceived as the evils of society, and asking citizens to participate conscientiously in the political life of the nation. Avowedly, however, there were progressive members of the CBCP who perceived that more than social charity and development were needed to restructure the Philippine society and thus solve the social ferment. Though these were a minority, this nonetheless indicates that the CBCP was being caught up in the difficult transition from the old to the new ecclesiological paradigm.

But to what extent the paradigm shift in Church’s understanding of itself and its mission after the Second Vatican Council impacted on the collective ecclesiological outlook of the CBCP is probably nowhere shown more clearly than during the years of the Marcosian regime from 1972 to 1986. Ostensibly declared on 21 September 1972 to save the Republic from Communism, the oligarchy and the Muslim rebellion, and to reform the society by a “revolution from the center,” martial law – despite its grandiose rhetoric – eventually showed its true colors: with the democratic institutions dismantled, Marcos acquired almost unlimited concentrated state powers clothed with a veneer of legality by the 1973 Constitution, curtailed the freedoms of the media, revoked the writ of habeas corpus, forbade assembly, strike and mass action, legalized arbitrary arrest and detention, engaged in disinformation, and gave the military almost unlimited authority. In the process, thousands of oppositionists and suspected “subversives” were jailed (around 70,000 by 1977), a climate of surveillance and fear prevailed, and a sense of powerlessness engulfed most people. With US support, he beefed up the military to more than 150,000 in 6 years, to more than 150,000 in 6 years, and to more than 275,000 in 8 years, and flung open wide the country to the world market. A new oligarchy began replacing the old one. The economy deteriorated, and the foreign debt, which amounted to only $600 million when Marcos became president, ballooned from $2.2 billion in 1972 to around $28 billion at the end of his regime. The poor became poorer, and violation of human rights was almost pandemic. In the face of these realities that altered the people’s lives, the CBCP met head on with a new challenge which almost eclipsed many side but grave issues.

In general, it may be said that the responses of the CBCP to the challenges under the new dispensation underwent uneven development, and were not always homogeneous. Five days after the declaration of martial law, its Administrative Council made public a letter recognizing the right and duty of civil authorities to take appropriate steps to protect the sovereignty and assure peace and security of the nation, and asking martial law implementors to exercise prudence and restraint and respect human dignity, and the people to be calm and law-abiding under the new political realities (26 September). But despite the uneasiness of a number of bishops, and despite such important issues affecting the nation as the abolition of Congress and the Referendum of 1973 through National Assemblies, and despite the appalling realities brought about by the new order, the CBCP was generally silent in the first five months, nay, in the first three years of the martial law regime (1972-1975). Of course, in its first plenary meeting in 1973, the bishops agreed to organize a CBCP liaison group with the government, but then the issues were intra-Church: radio stations closed, Catholic schools, Chinese priests’ integration with Philippine society, and cases of priests having difficulties with martial law. This concern for the interest of the institutional Church is reflected in its various decisions. In the same year, it made a stand on contraception vis-à-vis the government policy, and condemned sterilization which a decree of Marcos’ made officially acceptable. Late in the year, as a result of the Church’s protest against military actions on Church property and personnel, a Church-Military Liaison Committee (CMLC), which, among other tasks, monitored arrests, detentions, and subversive activities, was established, with the Citizens’ Committee on Justice and Peace at the local level as counterpart. And also, the CBCP petitioned the reopening of the closed radio stations. Thus, apart from a few cases, like the putting up of a fund for the families of detainees, most decisions which touched on the martial regime were relative to the defense and protection of the Church’s vital, legitimate interests.

The same may be said of most of its joint statements and pastoral letters. During these three martial-law years, most of them never had the major problems spawned by the regime as primary focus: Statement on Drug Abuse (1972), Pastoral Letter to the Priests of the Philippines (1973), Pastoral letter on the Population Problem and Family Life (1973), Moral Norms for Catholic Hospitals and Catholics in Health Services (1973), Lenten Pastoral Letter on Alay Kapwa (1975), and Ang Mahal Na Birhen: Mary in the Philippine Life Today (1975). These are rather numerous when compared to those directly related to martial law. But even these latter were very circumspect and, when viewed against such grim realities as arbitrary arrests, mysterious disappearances, and torture of prisoners, which martial law continued to leave in its wake, mild. For instance, its joint statement on evangelization and development, issued on 25 July 1973, among others, accepted the goals of the new society, though it cautioned against their pursuance at the cost of dignity and freedom. The same may be said of its 31 January 1975 statement on the referendum of 27 February 1975, although with reference to conscientious objectors, it managed to quote St. Thomas More’s dictum, “We are the King’s good servant, but God’s first.” It would seem, then, that during the first three years, the CBCP as a whole did not condemn martial law; but it did not make any endorsement, either. At least it may be safely said that the majority of the bishops did not want to court the antagonism of the Marcosian regime. At the same time, the silence gives evidence of disunity within the Conference. Later, as was bound to happen, a fissure in the already strained relationship between the Church and the government occurred in the aftermath of the military raid of the Sacred Heart Novitiate in Novaliches on 24 August 1974.

C. The Period of Awakening and Prophesying (1976 - 1986)

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