Bishops to work with gov’t in addressing social ills

Edu Punay - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines -  The administration of President Duterte and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) are now joining forces to address social problems following spats over summary killings and the proposed restoration of the death penalty.

CBCP president and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas revealed in a television interview late Tuesday that they have agreed to work with the government in uplifting the poor and in developing Mindanao during a recent dialogue with Cabinet officials.

“We have made a breakthrough... We are exploring possibilities for collaboration such as working for the poor and empowering Mindanao,” he said.

Villegas explained that while the Church has been critical of the Duterte administration on the war on drugs and revival of the death penalty, it continues to support the President in his other platforms.

“There are issues where we differ in principle, but we should not allow such differences to prevent us from cooperating on the bigger issues where we can collaborate. We should support him (Duterte) on matters that are dear to the people – peace making, alleviating poverty. Everything that will benefit the people, you can count on the Church for full cooperation,” Villegas said.

He said the CBCP is hoping that Duterte would succeed in these policies. 

Still, Villegas explained that the CBCP would not stop speaking out against policies of the administration that they believe to be unchristian. 

“If they stop the killings, if they stop the so-called disregard for human life, then you can trust that we will also tone down our statements because we are seeing signs of goodwill... You stop, we stop,” he assured.

Villegas reiterated their concern over the public’s acceptance of or indifference to summary killings of drug suspects.

“That is the more worrisome issue – when our traditionally Catholic beliefs and Filipino culture is being changed slowly. It is like the boiling of a frog,” he lamented.

Villegas reiterated the Church is actually supporting the fight against illegal drugs, but only stands against the manner by which it is being carried out.

“I have to assure you that the Philippine bishops are also 100 percent against the proliferation of drugs and we are supporting 100 percent the campaign against drugs,” he explained.

Villegas also clarified their criticisms pertain to the war on drugs and not to Duterte himself.

“We are not attacking the person of the President. We are not attacking the institution of the police. But we’re dealing with the issue of killings and, related to that, is the seeming acceptance of that culture, that killing becomes something normal, something ordinary,” he added. 

In response to persistent criticisms from the bishops, Duterte at one point branded the Church as the “most hypocritical institution” in the country. 

Villegas led other bishops in a meeting with then interior secretary Ismael Sueno and National Economic and Development Authority director general Ernesto Pernia at the CBCP building in Manila last Friday.

The two Cabinet officials and the bishops reportedly agreed to tone down their criticisms of each other.

Villegas said that he was surprised to hear from the Cabinet officials that they agreed with the CBCP position against the restoration of the death penalty and summary killings of drug offenders.                 

The Cabinet officials reportedly asked the CBCP to continue with the dialogue, to which the CBCP assured them that the bishops are open to the idea.       – With Evelyn Macairan


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