The Period of Renewal of Vision for the Church and Society (1987-1995)

This period after the EDSA Revolution was one of hope and expectations. (The archbishops who served the CBCP as presidents during this period were Cardinal Ricardo Vidal, whose term ended in 1987, Leonardo Legaspi [1987-1991] and Carmelo Morelos [1991-1995].) Since the sociopolitical situation has changed, it appeared to the bishops that an opportune time had come to renew the local Church. As already noted, a paradigm shift in ecclesiology took place in the Second Vatican Council, and while its effects gradually influenced and eventually altered the collective thinking of the bishops, there was a need to exteriorize the implications of the shift in terms of the theological thinking and aspiration of the people (hitherto hardly influenced by the shift) and the pastoral programs of the local Church which, with the increase in the number of ecclesiastical territories and population, had become even more complex and problematic. While the CBCP understood the Church as the People of God, and its mission as integral liberation, yet the implications of this understanding had yet to be enshrined in a clear and coherent vision and made concrete in a comprehensive pastoral program for the Philippine Church. In view of all this, the CBCP approved in January 1988 to hold a plenary council which, it may be noted, had been broached as early as 1981, and suggested by the Nuncio in 1984. Work immediately began, and the preliminary phase having been completed in three years, the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP-II) was finally celebrated at the San Carlos Formation Complex (in Makati) from 20 January to 17 February 1991, presided over by Archbishop Leonardo Legaspi, OP, CBCP president, and participated in by a total of 479 delegates (96 bishops, 181 priests, 21 major religious superiors, 12 presidents or rectors of Catholic universities, 24 rectors or deans of seminaries and 146 lay faithful). The decrees of the PCP-II were given recognitio by the Holy See on 25 April 1992, and promulgated at the Cathedral-Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Manila on 22 July. Without exaggeration, and without deprecating other important ones, the council may be recognized as the greatest ecclesial event in the CBCP’s 50 years of existence.

Basically, what the Council did was to define what the Philippine Church ought to be in the light of the Vatican II and the post-conciliar theologies and ecclesial praxis vis-à-vis the contemporary historical experience of the Filipino people. In its final document, the Council envisions a Church which is a community of disciples, in which there is unity in diversity, equality in dignity and participation; a Church which is at the same time a community-in-mission: a Church of the poor which finds expression in the Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs). Its mission is integral evangelization, which involves the salvation of the total human person and the liberation and transformation of society. Evidently, this is far cry from the institutional understanding of the Church (presupposed in the first years of the CWO/CBCP) whose mission is the salvation of the soul by means of grace, word and sacrament. (In the Philippines, Word was not stressed in view of the Protestant polemics, and sacraments were so underlined that the ecclesiology produced Catholics who were sacramentalized but little evangelized.) However, this vision of the Church needed some decisive steps toward actualization. Hence, the CBCP resolved to implement the Council’s mandate for a National Pastoral Plan. On 11 July 1993, it gave its official approval to the draft. At long last, after so many years, the Philippine Church has a national pastoral plan! The present challenge to the Conference is to see to it that the plan is implemented through a pastoral management and administrative policies and system that will operate from the top down to the smallest ecclesial communities in the different parishes, from Batanes to Jolo. So far, the most significant move taken – at the national level – by the CBCP in the implementation of the national pastoral plan was the publication of the final draft of the Catholic Faith Catechism (CFC) by the Episcopal Commission on Catechesis and Catholic Education (ECCCE) in 1994. Though it is basically a follow-up volume to Maturing in Christian Faith, the National Catechetical Directory of the Philippines, which the Vatican approved in 1984, it is greatly enriched by the Acts and Decrees of the PCP-II and the Catholic Church’s universal catechism. Firmly grounded in Scriptures and Catholic teaching, it addresses itself to the Filipino context.

Though the council was the most significant event in this period, yet the CBCP’s vision for renewal was not confined to the Church. As can also be seen in its ad extra statements and activities, the Conference so exercised its pastoral ministry with the end in view of helping construct an integrally developed and liberated Philippine society. (Of course, the effectiveness of this prophetic ministry ultimately depends on the people’s ability to listen and respond, although this does not excuse the body of bishops from formulating vehicles to help make consequential impact.) By 1987, the formal trappings of a democratic government were restored. But despite the hope that a new political society would emerged from the EDSA Revolution, it became clear that the substance of democracy remained in the air. Power, political and economic, remained in the hands of a few elite. Hopes were turning into disappointment, and the features of the old society were back. No wonder, the CBCP, conscious of its mission in the sociopolitical order, was critical of the post-EDSA administrations. For example, the realization that corruption still remained, involving even high government officials, occasioned the pastoral letter, “Thou Shalt Not Steal,” on 11 July 1989. The letter considered graft and corruption a sin that is hateful before God because it steals money from the already poor. It suggested the formation of multi-sectoral anti-graft councils across the nation to monitor the use of public funds and muster public opinion in the hope that a massive, persistent campaign would discourage the practice. On 24 July 1992, it opposed the Ramos administration’s move at restoring the death penalty and, instead, proposed that the President does something to the ground which breeds criminality (poverty, defects in law enforcement, justice and penal systems, presence of scalawags in uniform). In its pastoral statement on kidnapping (25 January 1993), it appealed to the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Military to cleanse their ranks of kidnapper accomplices or masterminds. Of no less importance, it called for a thorough review of the Republic Act 7716 in a statement on taxation and expanded value-added tax (EVAT), questioning whether the law merely strengthened the tax structure’s bias against the poor (10 July 1994).

Of course, as can be substantiated from their letters and statements, it appears to the bishops that the transformation of society requires more than a change of leaders and the elimination of corrupt officials. First and foremost, it demands structural changes and is fundamentally a work of justice in which the community participates and cooperates. Hence, on 26 January 1987, it addressed the issue of peace process, and stressed that only non-violence is consistent with Gospel values. It advocated land reform, denounced political extremists, condemned atheistic Communism and liberal Capitalism, and encouraged dialogue. In its efforts to help transform the economic disarrangement, the bishops reiterated the call for a comprehensive and effective land reform program in their exhortation on 14 July, “Thirsting for Justice.” It is the landless, the exploited, the disadvantaged and the powerless who have the single most urgent claim on the conscience of the nation, the bishops said. (Eight days later, President Aquino signed Proclamation 131 and Executive Order No. 229 which dealt with the implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program [CARP]. The document, however, proved to be far removed from what the CBCP had envisioned.) When the putschists attempted a coup d’état on 28 August 1987, which dealt a serious blow to the government stability, 17 bishops, headed by Cardinals Ricardo Vidal and Jaime Sin, made a statement of support to the Aquino government the following day. And on 31 January 1990, in the pastoral letter “Seek Peace, Pursue It,” it likewise condemned the attempted December 1989 coup d’état – the bloodiest, costliest and most serious one – as immoral and unjust usurpation of power.

To be sure, the attainment of a transformed, really peaceful society not only presupposes structural change. It also requires the participation of the governed in the peace process, and the cooperation of the Rightists. Of no less importance, it cannot dispense, even if they had been sharply divided and reportedly reduced from the estimated peak of 25,000 in 1986 to 8,000 in 1994, with the support of the Left, specifically in the effort to put an end to their two-decade struggle. Dialogue with the CPP-NDF is essential. When, in 1992, President Fidel Ramos organized the National Unification Commission (NUC) to make contacts with the Left, the CBCP encouraged the move, and in 25 January 1993, it published a pastoral letter on peace building whose purpose, among others, was to enjoin people to participate in the peace process, directly or indirectly. This was followed by another letter, “Peace in Our Times,” in which the Conference expounded the meaning of real peace. Indeed, as early as Jan. 1992, the CBCP acceded to the request of the National Peace Conference (NPC) to head a delegation which would meet with the CPP-NDF representatives, either in Hongkong or in Switzerland, to discuss proposals for a dialogue. But it may not be forgotten that despite its effort to enlist them to the peace process, the CBCP never recoiled from criticizing the Left (even as its criticism applies to the military as well) on various occasions, as in its statement on the manipulative use of human rights violations on 11 July 1989.

If the CBCP lodged criticisms such as these, it was therefore part of its effort at helping the people (including the administration, and the oppositionists) make concrete its image of a renewed sociopolitical order. It is for the sake of this renewal that it gave much importance to the holding of truly democratic, peaceful and clean elections in which citizens must be truly involved. In its “Pastoral Letter on Preparing for the 1992 Elections” on 22 July 1991, it pointed to the wastage of the nation’s resources and the perversion of democratic principles in the disservice done by individuals unworthy of the office, and hence the need for education of voters. Thus, in its desire to strengthen the democratic ethos, widen the horizons of peace and unity among the people, it issued “Renewing the Political Order” on 28 November 1991 – a pastoral guideline on choosing candidates for the 11 May 1992 elections. It is noteworthy that among the desirable qualifications of candidates that the letter enumerated were maka-Diyos, spirit of service, vigorous defender and promoter of justice and an enduring and preferential option for the poor – qualifications which are consonant with integral development and liberation. And on 31 January 1992, it produced another letter, “Decision at the Crossroads,” appealing to the people to set priorities aright: honor and dignity before money, service before power, common good before self-interest, the nation before utang na loob. The following year, it decided to recognize and encourage the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV). In all this, the CBCP asked the people to take seriously their participation in the political process by various means. It reiterated this point in its statement “Election 1995 – A Challenge to the Young” (16 January 1995). The CBCP was active in the elections through NASSA’s Votecare (Voters’ Organization – Training and Education for Clean, Authentic and Responsible Elections) program in all the 79 dioceses, with more than 250,000 volunteers.

Of no less importance, the idea of concretizing the vision of an integrally liberated society helps explain why in the Post-EDSA situation, the CBCP, in a prophetic manner not possible within a different ecclesiological outlook, addressed itself to various issues of national importance: devastation of nature, overseas contract workers, foreign debt, oil prices, etc. For instance, having observed the devastation of natural resources, which has to do with the inequality of the social structure, it drew up the letter, “What Is Happening To Our Beautiful Land?” on 29 January 1988 – probably the first one on ecology ever to be written by an episcopal conference in world history. In protest of the inhumanity, abuse and exploitation of overseas workers, whose migration is rooted in the poverty of the people, it asked the government to take effective measure to safeguard the rights of Filipino expatriates, and appealed to all for economic recovery so Filipinos would not be forced to leave the country. In 1990, it recommended that a desk for pastoral care of migrants and their families be set up in the diocesan social action centers. On the occasion of the funeral of Flor Contemplacion – a Filipina domestic helper in Singapore who, it was widely held, was unjustly meted out with death penalty – a few weeks before the 1995 elections, it repeated its appeal to the government to provide the overseas workers protection, which should take precedence over potential economic gains. Even its rather long pastoral letter on the Eucharist, “To Live in Memory of Him: One Body, One People” (21 March 1988), does not fail to allude to integral human liberation: “we desire to become eucharistic communities active in the defense and promotion of the downtrodden, ready and willing to give of ourselves eucharistically to others, struggling in the building of a just, peaceful and loving society.” The same may be said of the bishops’ view on the country’s foreign debt which reached $28 billion despite the high percentage of the budget allocated for debt servicing, weighing heavily on the people and which constituted a humongous obstacle to economic recovery. Of course, the CBCP, through the Permanent Council, offered no solution in its statement on 10 September 1990, but it asked the government to consider the debt crisis within the context of the ethics of survival. Since the massive annual payments only served to further weaken the country’s ability to repay debts, it raised the question of whether it is moral to place the nation in a kind of prolonged serfdom. (The foreign debt increased to $34 billion in 1994.) And of no less significance, in 1994, it registered a strong protest against the price increase of petroleum products authorized by the Energy Regulatory Board (ERB). It saw no objective justification for the increase, and regarded the increase prior to the holding of hearing a lack of concern for the common good.

It may be said that the 50 years of the CBCP’s existence ended with a year of historic note. In 1995, Pope John Paul II made his second pastoral visit to the Philippines on the occasion of the 10th World Youth Day, the theme of which was: “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you” (John 20:21). The purpose of his coming was for the youth who, as the third Christian millennium approaches, “are entrusted in a special way with the task of becoming communicators of hope and workers for peace in a world that is in ever greater need of credible witnesses and messengers consistent with [Christ’s] message.” At the same time, the year saw the quadricentennial celebrations of the archdioceses of Manila, Cebu, Nueva Segovia, and Nueva Caceres, and the diocese of Palo. But for the CBCP itself, this period of hope and expectation (1987-1995) witnessed other important events and activities which may be mentioned in passing: the canonization of Blessed Lorenzo Ruiz (1987), a meaningful event in a period which accepts “lay empowerment,” the publication of the English edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) (1994), the Statement on Fundamentalist Groups (27 January 1989), and the Guidelines for the Eucharist (1990), the birth of the Program for the Rehabilitation of Mt. Pinatubo Victims, and the holding of the National Retreat for Priests (1992, 1993 and 1994), and the publication of the maiden issue of the CBCP Bulletin (1994).

III. Conclusion

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