pastoral letter

FILIPINO CITIZENS AND CITIZENS OF HEAVEN

Pastoral Moral Guidelines for Our Catholic Faithful in the Archdiocese of Lingayen Dagupan

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

For some time now, the President and his followers have campaigned aggressively for the revision of the Constitution to establish a federal government.

As your pastor, I discern the responsibility to enlighten in the measure that I am able so that the People of God entrusted to my pastoral ministry the Church of Lingayen Dagupan may make informed choices besides participating in the national conversation. We live here on earth as citizens of heaven.

What is a federal government? According to respected lawyers and jurists we have consulted, a federal government creates states or regions from the existing provinces of the country. The regions that come about as a result of a federalization of the nation will wield considerably more power and exercise a greater share in the sovereignty of the State than the present administrative regions do. If we go by existing models, the regions will have some form of legislative assemblies and may call for their own tier of courts. In fact, the powers that the states or the regions enjoy may entail to pass their own laws on matters delegated to the regions or the states.

The prevalence of “may” in this summary, admittedly inadequate description, only points to the fact that choosing a model and a paradigm for establishing a federal Philippines is a task far from easy and definitely not yet fully achieved. It will certainly not do to transport one model completely into the country. The crucial question will be: What powers are reserved to the government in contrast to the powers delegated to the states or to the regions to allow for the more efficient, effective, prompt and promising response to people’s needs? What constellation of powers best empowers the people? I suggest that all of us get to work on finding answers to these questions.

Be cunning as serpents but innocent as doves. We your pastors in Lingayen Dagupan are not unaware that reconfiguring the government may be used by the unprincipled as a pretext for the extension of their terms of office. There are many who even declare that term extensions are inevitable and necessary.

We find this opportunist and downright morally objectionable. It obscures the issue: for while the people are made to believe that the shift to a federal government is made with their advantage in mind, what its authors and schemers actually have in mind is circumventing the limits to terms in office established by the present constitution. I am not saying that this is so, but if it is so, it would be a grave moral wrong and a tremendous injustice.

What ethical norms must govern changing the Constitution? There is the big issue of the way by which the Constitution is revised. There are only two ways available when a revision of the Constitution, and not merely its amendment, is in issue: by Congress itself, acting as a constituent assembly or by a Constitutional Convention convened by law.

It is our moral position that if the outcome is to be a credible draft of a new constitution, then the authors who draft the future fundamental charter of the land must be known for their probity and their intellectual acumen. They must be free of vested interests that may render suspect their handiwork as a document that embodies their own interests rather than those of the people.

It is for this reason that it would be preferable to have a Constitutional Convention, not necessarily of elected delegates but of citizens with sufficient civic spiritedness, familiarity with the law and with the constitution, committed to human rights, and to the defense of civil and political rights, who have the fear of God in their hearts, that should craft the revised Constitution.

What is our Christian duty as citizens? The first moral obligation of God’s people is to INFORM themselves. There are enlightened Filipinos who make their thoughts and views known on different media, including social media, free of political affiliations and allegiances, motivated solely by the desire to inform. People should also raise CRITICAL QUESTIONS particularly when opportunities present themselves such as at barangay or citizen’s assemblies, particularly called for the purpose of disseminating through state-sponsored or other means the proposition of going federal.

It is our moral duty to know the issues. It is also an obligation of believers to make choices for what is truly just, socially equitable and empowering. Politicians’ promises should not be the measure. Careful discernment and enlightenment coming from prayerful reflection with fellow believers should. Which is the reason that taking up social themes in Basic Ecclesial Communities and Catholic organizations is likewise an ethical imperative, and referring to the social teachings of the Church especially as these refer to the principle of subsidiarity, the respect for the dignity of the human persons, its preferential option for the poor and its uncompromising position on the dignity of the human person.

Let us keep in mind that the perennial call of the times is personal constant conversion and reform of mind, heart and spirit. The tried and tested integrity and heroic selflessness of the governed and officials in government is the secret to the progress of the nation. The government is only as good as the people who lead it and the citizens who vigilantly participate in restoring and maintaining the social order.

Let us pray for our leaders in government borrowing the words of Pope Saint Clement: “Grant to them, Lord, health, peace, concord, and stability, so that they may exercise without offense the sovereignty that you have given them. Master, heavenly King of the ages, you give glory, honor, and power over the things of earth to the sons of men. Direct, Lord, their counsel, following what is pleasing and acceptable in your sight, so that by exercising with devotion and in peace and gentleness the power that you have given to them, they may find favor with you.”

From the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist, Dagupan City, January 15, 2018

+SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan

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