Saturday, December 15, 2007


“Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees,to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people...”(Isaiah 10:1-2; NIV)

Reclaiming human dignity and abject poverty drives the 54 Sumilao farmers to pursue a historic “Walk for Sumilao Land, Walk for Justice”. Unlike the Israelites journey in Moses’ time, a ‘promised land flowing with milk and honey’ awaits them as Yahweh guaranteed. For the Sumilao farmers, however, there is nothing sweet or similar that they can look forward to when they reach Manila. Their long and arduous walk is a leap of faith with no assurance of any possible fulfillment of their claims. Unquestionably, the indomitable spirit they showed to the rest of the Filipino people in pursuing their struggle could only come from their strong faith and complete trust to God our Creator.

The Central Committee of the Second National Rural Congress (NRC-II) is one with you in spirit and in prayers in putting forward your pressing issues, in reclaiming the 144-hectare ancestral land that once belong to your people. As shepherds of God’s flock we extend our hands in in spiritual guidance, until your dignity as a people shall be restored and work with you in overcoming privation.

We urge our government officials at Malacanang and the Department of Agrarian Reform to sincerely listen to the Sumilao farmers’ aspirations. We don’t demand for special favor for our Sumilao brothers and sisters. We only pray that the social justice spirit of the law be given utmost regard. Let this be a positive signal to the government’s call of transforming agrarian reform beneficiaries as agribusiness men and women, of putting agrarian reform at the center of rural development.

The Sumilao farmers’ journey for land and justice is an inspiration to many people worth emulating – to the landless tenants in large haciendas and farmworkers in agribusiness plantations asserting their rights under the agrarian law, to our indigenous brothers and sisters claiming their ancestral lands and to agrarian reform advocates supporting the just cause of farmers, farmworkers and indigenous peoples.

Ang among panalangin sa atong Langitnong Amahan maga-uban kaninyo sa tibuok ninyong paglakaw ug ilayo kamo sa sakit o katalagman ug ampingan hangtud sa inyong malampusong pag-abot sa Maynila. Lakip niini ang among pangamuyo nga malamdagan ang atong mga opisyales sa gobyerno ug ipatuman kaninyo ang hustisya human sa lisud ug hatass nga biyahe ug pakigbisug. Kining tanan atong idangup kang Kristo Hesus lamang nga atong bugtong manluluwas uban sa giya sa Espiritu Santo, Amen!

In solidarity,

Archbishop of Cagayan de Oro
NRC II Executive Committee Chairperson
Second National Rural Congress

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Populorum Progressio – 40 years Hence

ON November 22-24, 2007, in Rome the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace convened the Second World Congress of the Ecclesial Organizations Working for Justice and Peace. More than 250 delegates from the Church’s social action centers throughout the world came together to commemorate the “40th Anniversary of Populorum Progressio: the Development of the Whole Man and of All Men.”

Pope Paul VI issued his landmark letter on “The Development of Peoples” in 1967, just two years after the completion of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. Many of the conference speakers pointed out the relevance and continuing challenges raised by the social encyclical.

There is first of all the challenge to be human—in a world where violations of human rights are still rampant, especially against women and children, tribal minorities, and the weaker sectors of society.

There is also the challenge of pluralism and different cultures, even as modern means of communication and transportation have brought the four corners of the world closer than ever before.

Finally, there is the challenge of globalization--which can be viewed either from the perspective of those countries that dominate the global market or from the perspective of the many more countries that remain underdeveloped.

It is in this light that Pope John Paul II pointed out the originality of Populorum Progressio in his commemorative encyclical, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, twenty years later.

First, Populorum Progressio emphasizes the ethical-moral and cultural character of development. “Development which is merely economic is incapable of setting man free,” notes Pope John Paul II.

Secondly, the social question has now acquired a worldwide dimension. The transfer of capital and technology has gone beyond national borders without much regulation. On the other hand, the mobility of labor has been restricted.

Thirdly, development is closely linked to justice and peace. “The new name for peace is development,” writes Paul VI, even as the earlier notion of peace includes justice as a pre-requisite.

During the second day of the conference, continental-wide reports were given on the challenges of development in Africa, Europe, America, Asia, and Oceania. Working groups by languages were then asked to discuss the interrelated themes of: conflicts, poverty and inequality, democracy, and environment.

In the midst of all these sharings on development issues today, perhaps the most striking was that of Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, Archbishop of Ranchi in India. Speaking in the first person as a tribal himself in his keynote address, he asserted: “What I am today and what my people of Chotanagpur are today, is almost entirely because of the Social Teaching of the Church.”

He went on to cite the evangelizing work of a pioneer missionary, Fr. Constant Lievens, a Belgian Jesuit, who came to India in the late 19th century. Noting the mass exploitation of the tribals and land usurpation by landlords, Fr. Lievens took up legal cases in defense of the tribals’ lands.

Because of this, Cardinal Toppo continued: “A great number of them accepted Christianity, as they came to understand that it enabled them to regain their human dignity. Within seven years there were eighty thousand Catholics. Today there are over a million Catholics from this tribal region… While Fr. Lievens is called the Apostle of Chotanagpur for bringing Christ to our people, he is also popularly known as Nyay Ka Masiha, i.e., ‘the Messiah of Justice’ for bringing justice to our people. Faith and Justice always go together. This happened to my people, and for this reason, I am here with you today.”

Monday, November 19, 2007

Update on the National Rural Congress

At the beginning of this year during our CBCP Plenary Assembly, we issued a pastoral statement on “The Dignity of the Rural Poor,” which called for a National Rural Congress to commemorate the first one held forty years ago in 1967.

In July 2007, the organizational structure and process for NRC II were approved by our Plenary Assembly. Two parallel secretariats were set up for local consultations at the diocesan and sub-regional levels. The Media and Research Offices were also activated to help the NRC Executive Committee.

To give more time for preparations, the timetable of the NRC phases has been moved. Phase One consisting of local consultations will take place mostly in January – March 2008. Phase Two which consists of the national-level congress (or congresses in four clusters) is being planned to take place some time in May or July 2008.

1) The ad intra secretariat (NASSA/BEC/ECIP) has already distributed a standard format for the diocesan consultations on the role of BECs in rural development. This will be further explained at the National Social Action General Assembly in Roxas City on Nov. 28-30.

2) The ad extra secretariat (PMP/AMRSP/RPS) has finalized its schedule of 13 sub-regional consultations on rural issues. The ZAMBASULI sub-region will have its consultation in mid-November while the rest will take place during the first quarter of 2008.

3) The CBCP Research Office has convened two meetings of research institutes on rural poverty issues. On Oct. 12th, four government agencies (DAR, DA, DENR, and NAPC) were also invited to share their research findings on agrarian reform and rural development.

4) A working group has met twice at the Loyola School of Theology to help prepare a summary of the Social Teachings of the Church for reference in the NRC consultations. Other groups have also taken the initiative of compiling a summary of CST principles.

5) The CBCP Media office has been working out plans for the wider dissemination of NRC proceedings. A website on the internet has recently been installed to share available research findings and NRC updates. The website is:

6) Ongoing efforts are being made to access funding for NRC activities.
However, in the spirit of self-reliance, the diocesan and sub-regional consultations will have to depend on local resources in case outside support is lacking.

7) In line with our consultations on agrarian reform and rural poverty, NRC Execom members (Bishop Pabillo and myself) have been following up with DAR and Malacañang current land issues raised by PARRDS, UNORKA, and the Sumilao farmers. (The Higaonon Sumilao farmers are currently on a long march from Impasug-ong, Bukidnon, to Manila to reclaim the land denied them more than a decade ago under a land conversion scheme that was never carried out.)

8) Members of the CBCP Permanent Council (incoming and outgoing) and all other bishops are invited to a special forum on “Agrarian Reform and the Church: A CARP Briefing and Reflections.” This will be held on Nov.28 at 1:00 – 7:00 p.m. at the Pius XII Center, U.N. Avenue, Manila.

Much interest has been generated in NRC II from church circles and the general public, including government agencies. We thank you for your continuing support. Any further inquiries can be coursed through any of the two NRC secretariats or the CBCP secretariat or the NRC II website.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Mindanao, the southern island of the Philippines, is home to three general cultural groups – the indigenous people communities comprising 18 ethnic groups; Muslim communities from another 8 ethnic groupings; and the Christian population coming from at least 12 language regions of the country. It is this tri-people composition that has at times caused inter-cultured hostilities in several sub-regions of Mindanao. In particular, the protracted conflict between Muslims and Christians has erupted into periods of violence.

At the same time religious leaders have made repeated calls for promoting a culture of peace wherein warring parties can lay down their arms – and prejudices – to build a brighter future for their children. It is in this light that we can examine six social concerns in promoting a culture of peace, which also constitute the foundations of a Christian ethical framework.
The starting - point and core of these social concerns is Human Dignity – i.e., that every human being is a person endowed with reason and free will and made in the image of God. Thus, as the social teachings of the Catholic Church states, “far from being the object or passive element of social life,” the human person “is rather, and must always remain, its subject, foundation and goal”.

The first social concern is Personal and Family Integrity. Wholeness and fullness of life are goals for every individual as well as for every family. These can be more readily attained through value formation and a deepened spirituality – vis-à-vis the mass media values of materialism and consumerism.

A second social concern for forging a culture of peace is promoting Human Rights and Democracy. Human rights are moral claims to the means needed to protect and promote human dignity. These are concisely articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948. For Pope John Paul II, this Declaration “remains one of the highest expressions of the human conscience of our time.” Some of the these major rights are enunciated in his encyclical, Centesimus Annus – such as the right to life; the right to live in a united family; the right to develop one’s intelligence and freedom in seeking the truth; the right to work; and the right to live in the truth of one’s faith. Respecting these rights is a matter of justice.

A third social concern is Poverty Eradication. Peace in society is illusory if the basic needs of individuals and families are not met. A nation’s economy must be able to utilize its natural and man-made resources in order to create wealth and income for all its citizens. The virtue of compassion and sharing should be inculcated in all citizens.

Complementing personal and family integrity along the social continuum is Intercultural Understanding and Solidarity. In Mindanao, Christian and Muslim religious leaders have engaged in a quarterly bishops-ulama dialogue over the past decade to highlight this need for mutual acceptance and appreciation of cultures. Every November, the Bishops-Ulama Conference has been promoting a Mindanao Week of Peace wherein local communities are encouraged to organize common activities for peace-building – such as multi-cultural programs, peace marches, etc.

Disarmament and Cessation of Hostilities are immediate steps to take toward creating a culture of peace. As part of the political continuum, the ending of armed hostilities represents a shift from recourse to force to recourse to reason in a democratic society. As exemplified by Gandhi in India, Mandela in South Africa and the People Power Revolution of 1986 in the Philippines, active non-violence can be a more potent force than recourse to arms in building a culture of peace.

The sixth social concern and part of the economic continuum is Environmental Protection. In a rapidly modernizing and globalizing society, the irreversible destruction of the environment is not a remote possibility. Indeed many countries have learned lately to conserve and manage carefully their watershed areas, fishing preserves, and clean air domains. In Mindanao, local communities have raised outcries against irresponsible logging and mining operations that are usually undertaken by multinational corporations.

Stewardship is an operative value that has been stressed to highlight the responsibility of everyone for the common good and to remind us that we are only caretakers of God’s creation. Conservation of the environment is an imperative for sustainable development for our present and future generations.

These then are six social concerns revolving around the core value of Human Dignity – which are essential in promoting a culture of peace. Although arising from Christian ethical principles, one could also point out that this framework resonates with the human and spiritual values of other faith traditions as well as of secular governments that endeavor to work out a more comprehensive paradigm for human development. There is no peace without development; but neither can there be development without peace.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


“Building Bridges” was the theme of the Third Asia-Pacific Regional Interfaith Dialogue in Waitangi, New Zealand, on May 29-31, 2007. Fifteen countries from Southeast Asia and the Pacific sent delegates to this regional meeting, led by the four co-sponsoring countries of Indonesia, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand.

Delivering one of the opening addresses, President Gloria M. Arroyo herself stated that “the Philippines looked forward to creating deeper interfaith ties within the region as together we work towards building bridges for a culture of peace.”

In their Plan of Action, the Waitangi delegates called for building bridges among religious leaders with governments, with civil society groups, and within one’s own faith community. The Waitangi Declaration also called for interfaith education in public as well as religious schools. It cited the key role of media in deepening inter-cultural and inter-religious understanding.

However, barely a week and a half after the Waitangi Dialogue, on June 10th, Fr. Giancarlo Bossi, PIME, an Italian missionary priest, was kidnapped while on his way to saying Sunday Mass in one of the village chapels of Payao, a coastal municipality of Zamboanga Sibugay province in southwestern Mindanao. Payao is one of the 19 parishes of the Prelature of Ipil.

As former bishop of the prelature in 1997-2006, I knew well Fr. Bossi and his PIME confreres who had been establishing several parishes in the former Jesuit mission district of the Archdiocese of Zamboanga. Indeed, Fr. Bossi constructed the first parish church and convento of Payao as it split off from its mother parish of Siay in 1987. With his carpentry skills, he undertook much of the manual work himself. Later on, he would also build the convento and enlarge the parish church of Bayog. As a soft-spoken, hard-working “gentle giant,” Fr. Bossi endeared himself to the parishioners of Siay, Payao, and Bayog, wherever he was assigned.

The Prelature of Ipil itself is no stranger to kidnappings and outbreaks of violence. In the mid-70’s, the district was a theatre of war between Christian and Muslim paramilitary groups, the Ilagas versus the Blackshirts and the Barracudas. In 1985, its first bishop, Msgr. Federico Escaler, S.J., was held hostage with other traveling companions for several days. In 1995, the town of Ipil itself was attacked by the Abu Sayyaf and other rebels, with its market place razed to the ground and more than 60 people killed.

In the following years, two other priests who had worked in the prelature were kidnapped—Fr. Luciano Benedetti, PIME, a confrere of Fr. Bossi; and Fr. Rhoel Gallardo, a Filipino Claretian, who was eventually killed in captivity on the island of Basilan in the Jubilee Year 2000.

Fr. Bossi was eventually released on July 19, after a 40-day ordeal and after losing 40 pounds. He returned briefly to Payao a week later amidst a joyous celebration to thank his parishioners for their fervent prayers for his safety. Yet, Fr. Bossi’s safe return was not exactly a happy ending. During the week before his release, 14 Philippine marines had been killed in Basilan while on a search expedition to find him. Ten of the dead soldiers’ bodies were beheaded and mutilated. With the build-up of military forces in Basilan to go after the perpetrators, war clouds are looming once more over Mindanao.

It is in this context that the Bishops-Ulama Conference, Catholic universities and other Civil Society peace advocates in Mindanao have all called for moderation and a thorough investigation before an escalation of hostilities breaks out. Indeed, the practicable alternative to a Basilan offensive is the resumption of peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Echoing the Waitangi Declaration, “building bridges for a culture of peace” starts here in Mindanao—in the midst of a brewing war zone.

+Antonio J. Ledesma, SJ

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Why Agrarian Reform? —Three Moral Principles

At the beginning of this year, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines issued a pastoral statement on “The Dignity of the Rural Poor—A Gospel Concern.” We expressed our concern over the “inequitable distribution of the nation’s wealth and the endemic social injustices that underpin that evil.

We further pointed out that most notable effort of government at alleviating rural poverty has been the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. Today, we observe the 19th anniversary of CARP. Once more, we reiterate the call made in our pastoral statement:

“We ask that the CARP, defective as it is, be finally completed next year as it has been targeted. And if it is not sufficiently implemented by then, the program should be further extended and funded more seriously and generously. But we ask that the law itself must be reviewed and improved.”

The killings last week of two of the Mapalad farmer leaders on the land that had recently been given to them as agrarian reform beneficiaries after a protracted struggle of more than ten years highlight the many obstacles to the full implementation of CARP— e.g., the myriad legal loopholes encountered; repeated delays in implementation; adamant landlord opposition pitting small farmers against small farmers: lack of political will of government agencies; and inadequacies on the part of local government and law enforcement units to provide security for agrarian reform beneficiaries.

What is happening in Had. Velez-Malaga is only a microcosm of what has been taking place in several other conflict areas of agrarian reform, such as the Bondoc peninsula in Quezon, Negros Oriental and Occidental, Iloilo, Mindoro Occidental, Batangas, Davao del Norte, Masbate, and Had. Luista in Tarlac. In one report submitted by a consortium of NGOs, since 1998 when CARP was extended the first time up to the present, 387 cases of human rights violations victimizing 18, 872 farmers and rural organizers have been recorded (PARRDS, 2007). Human rights violations take the form of extra-judicial killings, frustrated murder, illegal arrests and detention, physical assault, destruction of private property, arson, violent dispersal, etc.

It is in this that we can ask ourselves: Why agrarian reform? The social teachings of the Church point out three moral principles.

First is the universal destination of goods. “God destined the earth and all it contains for all men and all peoples so that all created things would be shared fairly by all mankind under the guidance of justice tempered by charity.” (Vatican I, 1965, Gaudium et Spes, 69)

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (2004) explicitates this further: “Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute and untouchable…. Private property, in fact, regardless of the concrete forms of the regulations and juridical norms relative to it, is in its essence only an instrument for respecting the principle of the universal destination of gods; in the final analysis, therefore, it is not an end but a means. (177)

A second moral guideline is the principle of the common good. This is intimately linked to the dignity of every human person as being made in the image of God. The common god is described by the Second Vatican Council as “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.” (GS, 26)

“The demands of the common good,” states the Compendium, “are dependent on the social conditions of each historical period and are strictly connected to respect for and the integral promotion of the person and his fundamental rights.” (CSDC, 166)

The admonition of Pope Pius XI in his encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno (1931), still rings true for the Philippine situation today: “the distribution of created goods, which… is labouring today under the gravest evils due to the huge disparity between the few exceedingly rich and the unnumbered propertyless, must be effectively called back to and brought into conformity with the norms of the common god, that is, social justice.” (197)

A third principle is the preferential option for the poor. Hence, the Compendium states: “The principle of the universal destination of gods requires that the poor, the marginalized and in all cases those whose living conditions interfere with their proper growth should be the focus of particular concern. To this end, the preferential option for the por should be reaffirmed in all its force.” (CSDC, 182)

President Ramon Magsaysay, the first Philippine President to advocate for land reform (and whose 50th death anniversary we observe this year), expressed this insight more concisely: “Those who have less in life should have more in law.”

This year marks the 40th anniversary of a major social encyclical, Populorum Progressio, or “The Development of Peoples.” Only two years after the completion of Vatican I, Pope Paul VI recalled the traditional view of the Church that large landed estates that “impede the general prosperity because they are extensive, unused of poorly used, or because they bring hardships to people or are detrimental to the interests of the country” can be expropriated by authorities for the sake of the common good. (PP, 24)

This year, to, is the 40th anniversary of the National Rural Congress convened by the Catholic Church in 1967. Reviewing this period, the bishops have decided to convene a second national rural congress “to make us meet in true Gospel fidelity our present social concerns.”

We join hands with all our farming and rural poor communities, non-government and people’s organizations, as well as government agencies and the business sector. Starting with the convening of diocesan-level rural congresses, we are ready to listen to the various rural sectors and discern with them and to plan “how we must as a people come together to work for the common good of the country” and of all of us “as children of the same Father in heaven.”

For the Central Committee of
the Second National Rural Congress

+Antonio J. Ledesma, S.J., D.D.
Archbishop of Cagayan de Oro
Vice-President, CBCP
10 June 2007

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Termination of MOA

2 February 2007

To: Parish Priests and Family Life workers in the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro
From: Abp. Antonio J. Ledesma, S.J.
RE: Termination of MOA between CWL and DOH/POPCOM

At the CBCP general assembly last week, I had a dialogue meeting with bishop-members of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life. They expressed their concerns about the reported Memo of Agreement on Natural Family Planning between the archdiocesan chapter of the Catholic Women’s League and the regional offices of the Department of Health and the Commission on Population. Although ECFL members agreed with the objectives of the MOA, apprehensions were raised about the sincerity of government agencies in promoting solely an NFP program, based on their past record. There were also perceptions publicized in the media that the church was now for “population control” and condoned the use of contraceptives. Similar apprehensions were earlier raised by a number of Family and Life workers in Mindanao.

In order to allay these fears and for the sake of collegialitas affectiva, I have requested the archdiocesan chapter of CWL as well as the regional DOH and POPCOM offices to terminate their MOA by February 15th. In this manner, the archdiocese and church-related organizations will maintain their identity and keep a critical distance from government agencies on matters of family and life.

On the other hand, as was also mentioned during the CBCP deliberations, we should not be afraid to dialogue with government agencies – particularly with regard to their avowed program on responsible parenting and the promotion of only natural family planning. Related to this, I would like to point out three distinctions to clarify issues that were raised at the CBCP plenary assembly. For lack of time, these issues could not be properly discussed by the three resource persons who gave contrasting perspectives on the Standard Days Method as a simplified NFP method.

(1) Our All-NFP program in the archdiocese has the goal of promoting responsible parenthood, not population control. Regardless of how the population growth rate is interpreted, responsible parenthood through NFP is a desirable goal for all couples. This reiterates what the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines has stated:

“Christian parents must exercise responsible parenthood. While nurturing a generous attitude towards bringing new human life into the world, they should strive to beget only those children whom they can raise up in a truly human and Christian way. Towards this end, they need to plan their families according to the moral norms taught by the Church.” (Acts and Decrees of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, CBCP, Manila, 1991, no. 583)

(2) We should distinguish SDM as an NFP method in itself, and SDM as it may be presented by non-church groups. We include SDM in our All-NFP program, without combining it with contraceptives. Other programs by government entities or NGOs may suggest back-up contraceptives with SDM. This is not our program. Indeed, SDM-cum-contraceptives cannot be considered a natural method any more.

From our field experience, we find that many couples prefer a natural method all the way and can handle the twelve-day abstinence period of SDM (which is actually shorter than that of the average cycle in the Basal Body Temperature Method.)

(3) Finally, SDM has been characterized as being unreliable, not scientific, and a return to the old calendar rhythm method. The scientific basis for SDM in terms of computer simulation and the calculation of an average cycle through the science of statistics has to my mind been sufficiently explained by the available literature. But perhaps the most convincing evidence for our NFP promoters is the adoption of SDM by more than 1,300 couples in the Prelature of Ipil over the past five years. From their testimonies, SDM is an NFP method that is simple, reliable, and effective.

In this regard, we should distinguish between effectiveness and the acceptability of various NFP methods. Other NFP methods, when properly followed, may have a higher effectiveness rating than SDM – e.g. 98% vis-a-vis 95%. In terms of acceptability, however, SDM from our field experience is adopted by two-thirds of all NFP-users. Indeed, in terms of acceptability SDM does not have to be contrasted with other NFP methods. Rather we should see it in the larger context that NFP, due to the availability of simplified methods, has now become much more acceptable vis-à-vis artificial contraceptives.

This then is the opportunity and the challenge for all of us in our All-NFP program: to make available information on all modern NFP methods with the concomitant value formation and to reach out to all our kapilya communities through resident providers. With or without the help of government agencies, we shall continue to carry out our ministry and to pursue our goal of promoting responsible parenthood through All-NFP.