Friday, February 24, 2006

Letter to Muslim Brothers and Sisters

21 February 2006

To our Muslim brothers and sisters,

Assalamu alaikum. Peace be with you.

In the recent cartoons controversy that has affected Muslim communities in Europe and other parts of the world, including the Philippines, we would like to express our sentiments of solidarity with your sense of indignation and outrage.

While we do not condone any acts of violence against persons or properties, we reiterate some of the common principles that both Muslim and Christian religious leaders have been espousing in our interreligious dialogue – whether through daily living or periodic exchanges in our bishops–ulama forum and other engagements.

1) We value the spirit of dialogue, tolerance and respect for each other’s religious traditions in bridging cultural differences that have divided our communities in the past and at present. Religious freedom and the rights of minority communities to their own culture are key values to be promoted.

2) Instead of viewing religion as a source of conflict, we have all asserted that Christianity and Islam are religions of peace, and that we have to build on our religious traditions to forge a culture of peace.

3) We recognize that extremist groups on either side can easily destroy the peace. Hence, we have jointly issued statements condemning acts of violence, particularly against innocent third parties. Insulting words and caricatures may also be considered forms of violence.

4) We have noted that people in mass media have often exaggerated conflict stories between Christians and Muslims in Mindanao and other parts of the country – giving rise to a culture of violence and war. Media should strive, instead, to present the truth in a balanced way and practice the tenets of peace journalism.

It is in the light of these common perspectives that we join you in a common effort to promote mutual understanding and respect for our religious traditions and beliefs.


Abp. Fernando R. Capalla, D.D.
Archdiocese of Davao
Vice Chairman, ECID

Bp. Antonio J. Ledesma, S.J.
Prelature of Ipil
Chairman, CBCP Episcopal Commission on Interreligious Dialogue

Bp. Martin S. Jumoad, D.D.
Prelature of Isabela, Basilan
Member, ECID

Bp. Edwin A. de la Peña, M.S.P., D.D.
Apostolic Vicariate of St. Mary’s of Marawi
Member, ECID


On this fifth anniversary of Zamboanga Sibugay, we have many blessings to be thankful for – a completed highway, more farm-to-market bridges, higher prices for rubber, and, despite some outbreaks of violence, relative calm and quiet throughout the province.

Yet, we cannot close our eyes to the shadows around us – the continuing poverty of many rural households, the lack of basic services, and the growing threat to our environment with the coming in of mining operations, whether large or small-scale. We should also not forget the killing of our Provincial Accountant, Mr. Venancio Ferrer, Jr., more than a year ago. This brazen crime remains unsolved up to this day.

In the latest Philippine Human Development Report of 2005, our new province, which is still included in the mother province of Zamboanga del Sur, is listed among the bottom ten “most inequitable provinces” (p. 111). Comparing measures for inequality from the years 2000 to 2003, Zamboanga del Sur (and Sibugay) ranks as the second least improved province, being outdone only by Lanao del Sur (p. 112). In sum, our province together with its mother province manifests extremes of wealth and poverty that accounts for the marked degree of inequality among residents.

It is in this light that we can soberly count our blessings along with the many more challenges that confront us – either as private citizens, or as public officials and civil servants for those of you who have been vested with some form of public authority.

The recent pastoral statement of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines calls for “renewing our public life through moral values.” It points out that the root of our crisis is the erosion of moral values. It invites public servants and citizens’ groups alike to promote “a spirituality of public service, integrity and stewardship.” “These forms of social spirituality,” the statement continues, “should counteract the persistent evils of gambling, drug-pushing, usury, destruction of our environment, and corruption in public office.”

The CBCP statement is addressed not only to one person or political party, but to all of us. How then do we develop a spirituality of public service – that builds lasting peace and development in our land?


In his Message for the World Day of Peace at the beginning of this year 2006, Pope Benedict XVI dwelt on “the truth of peace.” We invite all men and women of good will to reflect with us over the salient points in this papal message:

1) Peace cannot be equated simply with the absence of armed conflict, but should be viewed as “the fruit of an order which has been planted in human society by its divine Founder.” It is this fundamental truth about God and the “tranquillity of order” that he has established that drives us to express our own yearnings and hopes for peace in our land.

We reach out to all believers in one God – whom we acknowledge as Creator, Father, or Transcendent Being. Together we can help bring about the order in society that God has willed for all of us.

2) The truth about God enables us to know “the truth about man.” Despite our differences in creed, culture, and socio-economic class, we all share the same origin and destiny from God as well as the same nature as human beings. It is this realization of our common humanity that enables us to regard everyone as our brother and sister.
Every human person is endowed with intelligence and free will, and created in the image of God. From this basic human dignity flow our rights and corresponding duties to enable us to attain our natural and supernatural ends. These human rights and duties are therefore universal, inviolable and inalienable.

3) How then do we build peace in our land? Pope Benedict XVI recalls the four pillars of peace outlined by his predecessor, Pope John XXIII, in his landmark encyclical, “Peace on Earth” (Pacem in Terris). These pillars are: truth, justice, freedom and love – principles and human values that are rooted in “the universal moral law written on human hearts.” This innate voice of conscience impels us to work for the integral development of the person and to promote the human rights of every person in society.

It impels us also to work for the common good which is the “the sum of social conditions that enable persons to achieve their full human potential.” Public officials, in particular, are expected to work for the common good, not their private good. Indeed, the common good is the reason that political authority exists in the first place (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, no. 168).

4) As Christians, we proclaim the “Gospel of Peace.” We attest that “Jesus is the truth which gives us peace.” Jesus was averse to every form of falsehood; he was completely transparent in his dealings with others; and he opened the paths for forgiveness and reconciliation. Through his life of compassion and caring for the poor and the despised, we too are asked to serve everyone, but especially the least of our brethren.

5) Peace is ultimately a gift of God. Yet it is also a task and a responsibility for all of us. “When we hear the Gospel,” Pope Benedict reminds us, “we learn to build peace on the truth of a daily life inspired by the commandment of love.” Through the example of the Holy Family in Nazareth may we begin to build this peace first in our homes and communities and in our province. And may it be a peace that reaches out to all persons and to all warring groups in our land.


As we strive then to live out a spirituality of public service, we can make Solomon’s prayer for Wisdom our own (Wisdom 9:1-6, 9-11):

God of my fathers, Lord of mercy,
you who have made all things by your word
and in your wisdom have established man
to rule the creatures produced by you,
to govern the world in holiness and justice,
and to render judgment in integrity of heart:

Give me Wisdom, the attendant at your throne,
and reject me not from among your children;
for I am your servant, the son of your handmaid,
a man weak and short-lived
and lacking in comprehension of judgment and of laws.

Indeed, though one be perfect among the sons of men,
if Wisdom, who comes from you, be not with him,
he shall be held in no esteem.

Now with you is Wisdom, who knows your works
and was present when you made the world;
who understands what is pleasing in your eyes
and what is conformable with your commands.

Send her forth from your holy heavens
and from your glorious throne dispatch her
that she may be with me and work with me,
that I may know what is your pleasure.

For she knows and understands all things,
and will guide me discreetly in my affairs
and safeguard me by her glory. Amen.

* Homily at Ecumenical Service, Opening Program, 5th Araw ng Zamboanga Sibugay,
Capitol Hills, 17 February 2006.
Mainstreaming Natural Family Planning in Ipil Prelature

During the first weekend of February 2006, I joined a training seminar on natural family planning methods in Roxas City. This was sponsored by the Archdiocese of Capiz which was interested to know more about our All-NFP program for Responsible Parenthood in Ipil Prelature. Hence, three trainors from the prelature teamed up with two Manila-based trainors from the Institute for Reproductive Health to give the intensive 2½-day seminar on all NFP methods. In all, there were 62 participants representing 29 of the 33 parishes of the archdiocese.

Some participants had already been teaching the Billings Ovulation Method in pre-Cana seminars. Only a few, however, had heard about the Standard Days Method. And no parish at all had a monitoring system to follow up actual users. Everyone agreed that much more needed to be done to mainstream NFP and to reach out to as many couples as possible. It is in this light that the Capiz parishioners were interested to know more about our pastoral experience in Ipil Prelature in promoting an All-NFP program over the past 3½ years.

I. Pastoral Situation

From a national perspective, the latest Philippine demographic and health survey indicates that only 33% of currently married women are using modern contraceptives, 16% are using traditional methods, and less than one percent are adopting modern NFP methods. Conversely, 51% of all couples do not have any family planning method at all.

Despite more than three decades of government-sponsored promotion of practically free contraceptives, the question can then be raised why only one-third of all couples have accepted contraceptive use. Is it because the other two-thirds of Filipino couples are still looking for a family planning method that is safe, reliable — and natural?

On the other hand, a similar question can be raised why less than one percent of currently married women are adopting modern NFP methods. Has the government – as well as the church – failed to promote NFP? Or are the earlier NFP methods too difficult to adopt?

From our pastoral experience in Ipil, we realize that the majority of couples today have three felt needs:

They want family planning – i.e., to plan the size of their family and to space births;

They prefer natural family planning, if given adequate information on fertility awareness and NFP methods; and

They want to choose among NFP methods – to suit their own circumstances and preference.

Our biggest challenge then may not be to confront government or an international conspiracy but rather to address the felt needs of thousands of married couples in our rural and urban poor neighborhoods. For the most part, these are couples who are looking for and are ready to adopt any of the NFP methods that we can show them to be safe, reliable, inexpensive, and practicable.

II Vision and Pastoral Guidelines

This then is our vision: to mainstream NFP by reaching out to the majority of Filipino couples who are looking for a family planning method that is effective, suited to their own circumstances, and in consonance with the Church’s moral guidelines.

The objectives for our NFP program include the following:

To adopt a proactive pastoral approach to address the felt needs of couples for family planning;

To offer an All-NFP program by making available information on all modern, scientific NFP methods; and

To promote the value formation that is integral to our Family Life Apostolate and to enable couples to make an informed and responsible choice, based on the formation of a right conscience.

In the light of these vision and objectives, we have adopted four pastoral guidelines for our All-NFP program in the prelature (cf. Fig 2).

We are pro-life. This is our first principle. We are at the service of life from the moment of conception. Hence, we are against abortion, which is also proscribed by our Constitution.

We are for Responsible Parenthood. This is our goal – to help parents to be aware of their rights as well as their duties in the procreation and education of their children. Planning one’s family in order to adequately care for every child that comes into the world is the right and responsibility of Christian parents.

We are for Natural Family Planning. This is our recommended means in consonance with the moral teaching of the Church. NFP means the practice of periodic abstinence according to the natural fertility rhythm of the human body. Our promotion of NFP should include all modern, scientifically-tested NFP methods.

We are for enabling couples to make an Informed and Responsible Choice. Within the context of a secular and pluralistic society, the government’s focus is to refrain from coercion and to provide information on all family planning methods that it deems legally acceptable for couples to make an informed choice. On the other hand, the church’s focus should be to provide information on all NFP methods and to help couples form a right conscience so that they are able to make not only an informed but also a responsible choice.

For the majority of couples who are not using any family planning method at all, the question can be raised whether or not these couples are forced by circumstances to make uninformed and irresponsible choices in a matter that is crucial to their family life. Ultimately, neither the government nor the church can make this choice for couples. It is their inherent right and duty as responsible parents and citizens to have this freedom of choice for themselves. This is the goal of Responsible Parenthood that both Church and State subscribe to.

III Towards an All-NFP Program

Since the mid-70’s, the Prelature of Ipil, which was then a Jesuit Mission District of the Archdiocese of Zamboanga, has been a pilot area for the earlier NFP methods – such as the Basal Body Temperature method (BBT) and the Billings Ovulation Method (BOM). However, with the dissociation of the church from the government’s family planning program and the end of outside funding by the mid-80’s, the NFP program reached a plateau and slowed down.

In October 2001, some of our prelature workers visited Impasugong, Bukidnon, where a new NFP method, called the Standard Days Method (SDM), was being piloted among small farmer couples. Because of its simplicity in teaching fertility awareness with the aid of a string of cycle beads, practically all the parishes agreed to include SDM in, what we now call, the All-NFP program for the prelature.

SDM is a new calendar-based method of family planning based on fertility awareness. It helps a woman know her fertile days by simply counting the days of her cycle, starting with the first day of menstruation. It identifies days 8-19 of the cycle as the fertile period when pregnancy may occur if there is intercourse. Days 1-7 and the rest of the days after day 19 are identified as non-fertile days.

SDM’s “fertile window” of days 8-19 has been standardized and is applicable only for women whose menstrual cycles range from 26 to 32 days. It is estimated that three-fourths of all women are within this cycle range. Hence, it is made clear from the outset that SDM is not applicable to all women. In this sense, despite its simplicity, SDM cannot be the exclusive NFP method for the local church to promote; but neither should it be the excluded method.

SDM was developed by the Institute for Reproductive Health (IRH) of Georgetown University, the oldest Catholic university in the United States. It is the result of an extensive research process spanning six years since the mid-90’s, involving pilot sites in Bolivia, Peru and the Philippines. It has been clinically tested with a high effectiveness rate of 95.25%.

To help women track the days of their menstrual cycle, IRH devised a necklace or cycle beads consisting of 32 colored beads, representing the day of menstruation (red), the fertile days (white), and the infertile days (brown). Hence, couples can easily know the days when they should abstain from intercourse if they wish to avoid pregnancy. Or they may also use the same beads to achieve pregnancy.

In July 2003, at the CBCP plenary assembly, the bishops passed a consensus vote recognizing SDM as a method that “could be used by a diocese in its program of Natural Family Planning,” provided it was not combined with contraceptives and it was not seen as part of the government’s total Family Planning Program for population control. [1] In effect, the bishops as a collective body gave their Nihil Obstat to SDM, but its Imprimatur was left to the local ordinary of each diocese.

IV A Five-Step Approach

Meanwhile in the prelature, All-NFP training seminars were conducted at the vicariate level and in some parishes. However, the approach was still haphazard, leaving the task of covering all the 19 parishes to a few prelature workers. After a series of consultations, by June 2004, the prelature designed a five-step program for each parish. This would systematize and decentralize the All-NFP program to reach every chapel community (kapilya) or barangay.

Fig. 3 delineates this step-wise progression from the parish to the kapilya and household levels. The five steps comprise: (1) an orientation talk on responsible parenthood and NFP for parish leaders and kapilya representatives; (2) a providers’ training on All-NFP methods for kapilya representatives; (3) an orientation talk on All-NFP for the kapilya community; (4) individual counseling of couples by the provider at the household level; and (5) periodic reporting from the kapilya to the parish up to the prelature levels.

In September 2004, our NFP parish coordinators underwent a four-day refresher course on all NFP methods, given by the staff of the Institute for Reproductive Health (Phil.), an affiliate of Georgetown University which had developed SDM and other simplified NFP methods. Starting with an overview of fertility awareness, the IRH staff went on to discuss the distinctive features of each method to enable the participants to have a comprehensive view of NFP. This has been the content of the providers’ training seminars being given at the parish level ever since. A total of 367 participants, including 68 couples, have taken the training so far. They are now servicing 182 kapilyas or 29% of the total number of 626 chapel communities.

V Progress reports

What then have been the results of our All-NFP program so far? Table 1 gives the breakdown of providers and continuing users in our 19 parishes. As of December 2005, there were 1,125 continuing users. Of these, 742 (or 66%) are SDM users, while 295 (or 26%) are BOM users. There are also 77 breastfeeding mothers, while eleven prefer the temperature method or its combination with the mucus method.

Although the number of NFP users is still a small percentage of the total number of couples, it is a promising figure for a program that has reached out so far to only about a third of the total number of chapel communities. Prelature and parish workers have also been advised not to fast-track the program – to make sure that seminar participants are properly trained to become service providers with values formation and that each couple receives adequate counseling.

Our All-NFP program has been greatly facilitated and sustained by our Basic Ecclesial Communities at the chapel and neighborhood cell levels. Indeed, our pastoral experience in Ipil Prelature indicates that natural family planning is a valid, viable, and vital option for a growing number of couples.

For more information, contact Sr. Ana Lea Pielago, FLA-NFP Coordinator:

Bishop’s Residence Tel.: (062) 333 2266
Prelature of Ipil Fax: (062) 333 2574
Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay E-mail:
[1] CBCP, Selective Analytical Index, Plenary Assemblies 1945 – 2003, Manila, 2004, p. 62 & 131.