“The over-riding social concern of the Church in the Philippines has been all these years centered on the inequitable distribution of the nation’s wealth and the endemic social injustices that underpin that evil.”
In its pastoral statement on “The Dignity of the Rural Poor – A Gospel Concern,” (28 January 2007), the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines summed up our social situation. It then issued a call to hold a second National Rural Congress to commemorate the first one convened forty years ago in 1967. It noted that “the greater number of our poor are in the rural areas” and that urban poverty is a consequence of rural poverty.
The pastoral statement also provides a framework on how the process of the rural congress should be carried out.
1) Social Teaching of the Church
First, it expresses “the hope that we would be able to educate ourselves more intensively in what the social teaching of the Church is all about.” The recently-published Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church enables us to examine more closely the moral principles that should guide us in our quest for a just and prosperous society. In this light, the CBCP statement urges that we “focus our attention on the greatest victim of our unjust economic order, the rural poor, and the diminishment of their dignity as people and as citizens.”
This phrase, “as people and as citizens,” connotes the second guideline in the NRC framework – to review the social justice provisions of the Philippine Constitution. Article XIII, in particular, enunciates the spirit of social legislation that should give “the highest priority” to measures that: protect and enhance the right of all people to human dignity; reduce social, economic, and political inequality; remove cultural inequalities; and diffuse wealth and political power for the common good.
The CBCP pastoral statement notes that “the one big effort of the government at alleviating rural poverty has been its ongoing comprehensive agrarian reform program.” Despite deficiencies in the drafting of the law by a landlord-dominated Congress, government must see to it that social justice programs like CARP should be reviewed and improved through consultations, and properly implemented towards its completion. This is for the common good of small farmers and landless workers.
This review also extends to other social justice measures affecting small fishermen, indigenous people communities, rural women, etc. Environmental issues as consequences of irresponsible mining and logging, as well as of climate change, have also become major concerns today.
3) Non-violent and democratic means
A third guideline for the NRC process mentioned in the CBCP statement is engagement with government and the various sectors of society through non-violent and genuinely democratic means – by first listening to the rural poor themselves; by decrying “the shameful ‘extra-judicial’ killings of unarmed crusaders for justice and equality”; and by calling on government to act. “The responsibility to act,” further notes the CBCP statement, “is just as much ours as those who have the official responsibility.” Demands for good governance, transparency and accountability are thus essential factors in this call for social transformation.
“Today we see only too clearly,” the CBCP statement concludes, “the need for the reform not only of our national institutions but of our very moral fiber as a people.” Thus, through the social teaching of the Church, through the social justice provisions of the Philippine Constitution, and through our active, non-violent engagement with government, we are confident and hopeful that this second National Rural Congress can indeed provide the renewed steps towards the social transformation of Philippine rural society today.
NRC II Central Committee and Secretariats
17 January 2008