Challenges of the Times and the CBCP's Responses: A History of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines
By Lope C. Robredillo, SThD
(Originally, a paper read by the author before the assembly of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines in Tagaytay City, in January 1995 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the CBCP.)
Best known for its initials CBCP, the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines of the Philippines is, in its present structure, a creation of the Second Vatican Council. A Permanent institution, it is a grouping of the bishops of the Philippines “whereby, according to the norm of law, they jointly exercise certain pastoral functions on behalf of the Christian faithful of their territory in view of promoting that greater good which the Church offers to humankind, especially through forms and programs of the apostolate which are fittingly adapted to the circumstances of the time and place” (CIC, c. 447). However, it does not, in the exercise of its apostolic and pastoral role, encroach the autonomy of the individual bishop. In its recently amended constitution (1994), the CBCP specifies the following among its objectives: the promotion of the spirit of solidarity in the Philippine Church; the formulation of joint pastoral policies and programs; the active engagement of the Philippine Church as a body in the pastoral thrusts of the universal Church; and the assumption of responsibilities as evangelizer in its relationship with all peoples in the country, especially the civil authority. Its pastoral policies and programs are implemented through its 23 commissions with the coordination of the resources of the different dioceses. It meets twice a year. Aside from a president, a vice-president, a secretary-general, and a treasurer, it has an Administrative Council which acts on its behalf in between meetings. At present, it has 96 active members who are diocesan bishops or their equivalent in law, coadjutor and auxiliary bishops. Headed by the Most Rev. Oscar V. Cruz, D.D., archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan, the CBCP holds offices in a three-storey building at 470 General Luna Street, Intramuros, Manila and is staffed by 27 priests/religious and more than 82 lay workers.
In 1995, the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines was 50 years old, not many years in terms of the whole life of the Philippine Church, but sufficient to show its usefulness and relevance to the time and the people it serves, and the degree to which it so far realized its major objectives. It is the purpose of this essay to write the history of the CBCP’s 50 years of existence. In writing that history, one has various options. He may follow the traditional historiography in which history is centered on the acts, achievements or failures of its leaders, as is employed in most history textbooks. This is “history from above.” Or, he may approach it from the point of view of all the bishops and their co-workers. This is “history from below.” Or he may even apply a philosophical approach (e.g., Marxist theory of class struggle) to interpret the CBCP history. Here, I do not intend to use any of these approaches. Rather, in describing the 50 years of its existence, I would like to take into account the ecclesiological framework within which the Conference operated and moved, as well as the changing and diverse historical experiences of the Filipino people which shaped it. In writing this essay, it is my thesis that the major shift in ecclesiological paradigm in the Philippine Church, which entailed changes in values and orientations, transpired in the Second Vatican Council and that when the CBCP responded to the various challenges which the particular situation of the country presented, it did so within the possibilities of its perception and its ecclesiological framework which did not always coincide with the paradigm-shift. In view of these two considerations, I would like--at the risk of oversimplification--to divide the history of the CBCP into four periods: (a) the period of defensiveness (1945-1965); (b) the period of difficult transition (1966-1975); (c) the period of awakening and prophetic ministry (1976-1986); and (d) the period of renewed vision for the Church and society (1987-1995). Before treating these periods, I would like, first of all, to describe the beginnings of the CBCP.
The Beginnings of the CBCP
The origins of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines may be traced to as far back as February 15, 1945 when the Apostolic Delegate, Bishop William (Guglielmo) Piani, even as the war was raging, created the Catholic Welfare Organization (CWO), with its central office at a remodeled coop at the University of Santo Tomas interment camp. (Eventually, the office was moved to the following addresses in succession: La Consolacion College at 260 San Rafael Street, Manila in the same year; 1500 Taft Avenue in 1953; 2472 Taft Avenue in 1955; 2655 F.B Harrison in 1974; Cabildo; and finally, 470 General Luna Street, Intramuros in 1983.) Obviously with the National Catholic Welfare Council (NCWC) of the bishops of the United States as his inspiration and model, Msgr. Piani’s major objective was “to meet the war emergency created by the destruction of so many towns.” Seeing the need of a coordinated effort to aid the stricken populace, Msgr. Piani offered the services of the CWO to General Douglas MacArthur, and the offer was accepted. In charge of the relief work was the Rev. John Hurley, SJ. Its first personnel included lay men and women as well as clerics. During and after the battle refugees, acted as important outlet of the PCAU (Philippine Civil Affairs Unit) foodstuff, and sent out burial squads to bury countless corpses. In the first five months of its existence, it distributed food, medicine, clothing, etc. valued at P906,030.
On July 17, 1945, all the bishops met in Manila for their first meeting after the Japanese Occupation, and three days after, Msgr. Piani granted their request to place in their hands the direction of the CWO and make it the official organization of the Hierarchy of the Philippines. After the Apostolic Delegate received from the Holy See the proposal and directive to incorporate the CWO, the articles of incorporation were duly registered in the Securities and Exchange in Manila, on January 23, 1946, with 18 incorporators. As appears in the Articles on Incorporation, the purpose of the CWO was “to unify, coordinate, and organize the Catholic people of the Philippines in works of education, social welfare, religious and spiritual aid and other activities.” The Board of Directors was composed of bishops Gabriel Reyes (Cebu), chairman; Constancio Jurgens (Tuguegarao), Mariano Madriaga (Lingayen), Santiago Sancho (Nueva Segovia) and Alfredo Verzosa (Lipa), members. A few years later, a new constitution was approved by the Sacred Consistorial Congregation on June 28, 1952 and took effect on June 30, 1953. Such were the beginnings of the CWO. It was a welfare organization which had no juridical status in the Church. It was financed through regular quota subscription from all the bishops. and partly from the shipping service and the War Relief Services (WRS). Later on, the quota subscription was made on the basis of the Catholic population in each diocese.
The Period of Defensiveness (1945-1965)
To understand its subsequent history until the close of the Second Vatican Council in 1965, it is to be remembered that with the imposition of the American rule, and in the aftermath of the Second World War, the Philippine Church found itself in a new and difficult situation. Quite apart from the destruction of its churches, schools, hospitals and other institutions which was estimated at P25,000,000, it continued to be confronted with various enormous problems which compounded the problem of poorly instructed Catholics, it suffered from a dearth of financial resources because the people, though generous in other ways, were slow to contribute to the Church, whose needs were supplied by the Patronato Real for nearly four centuries. It wasl also faced with the invasion of Protestant missionaries, the anti-religious influence of masonry, the anti-Catholic tendencies, the anti-clerical Filipino elite who were inheritors of the anti-clerical feeling during the Revolution of 1898, and those who held up important positions in the government and in business. It suffered, too, from the effects created by the Aglipayan schism. In addition, it came to grips with such American innovations as public school system and the separation of the Church and State. While all this had to do with the inner life of the Church, the bishops were aware of such social problems as social injustice and the menace of Communism, especially with the growth of the Communist Party’s military arm, the Hukbalahap (Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon, later renamed Hukbong Magpapalaya ng Bayan), not to mention the incursion of Western ways and styles and their corresponding values. Given its ecclesiological framework which was largely defined by the ecclesiology of the Council of Trent and baroque theology, it is not surprising that since its foundation until the end of the Second Vatican Council, the CWO for the most part looked inwardly, and was principally concerned with the defense, protection, strengthening and furtherance of vital interest of the Catholic Church as a social institution and of supernatural values. (During this period of CBCP history, the body was headed successively by the following archbishops: Gabriel Reyes [1945-1949/1950-1952], Rufino Santos [1953-1956], Juan Sison [1957-1960] and Julio Rosales [1961-1965].)
Immediately after the war, the CWO was largely engaged in relief services. When it was made the agency for War Relief Services (WRS), its 18 bishops and prefects apostolic became the 18 regional directors for WRS relief, with the parish priests and various congregations seeing to the equitable distribution without racial or religious distinctions. From 1946 through 1948, it distributed relief amounting to P4,645,282. 95. Not a few of its services were directed toward the institution herself. For instance, aside from the War Damage Claims services it offered to make possible the war damage payments to the Catholic Church, its churches, rectories and schools, it rendered services in particular legal problems for various bishops and religious orders, and, through its Shipping Department, handled their incoming and outgoing, cargoes, inter-island and overseas. Likewise, it took care of a variety of problems of bishops, priests and religious with the Department of Foreign Affairs, Customs, Immigration, Office of the Registrar General, Registrar of Priests and Ministers division, among others. Its information Department issued bulletins that were of interest and use of the bishops and the major religious communities.
Eventually, the CWO became the means through which the interests and values of the Catholic Church were defended, protected and furthered. Faced with the consequences of the separation of Church and State, among them being lessening of the means by which it could fulfill its teaching mission and influence the people, the CWO fought much for the religious instruction in public schools which was strongly opposed by Masons, anti-Catholic individuals and religious sects, and the private schools’ right to exist. For the bishops, the Catholic schools could help create and support a Catholic order. Largely for the same reason, and to spread the faith under constant attack, it tried to maintain a national weekly, The Sentinel, despite the financial burden, until its closure in 1968. Likewise, it had a radio program over DZPI and DZST in Manila and DXMS in Cotabato, even though its original plan, as early as 1949, was to put up its own radio station in order to “guarantee Catholic independence to speak out on any question of morals.” The “Ting in Mange Juan” radio program was instrumental both in the defense of Catholic faith against Masons and other anti-Catholics, and in the return of many to the Catholic fold. Faced with the treat of the Communist take over in the 1950’s, the latter two became vehicles through which the Catholic view on Communism was expounded. In the face of indifferent or even anti-Catholic politicians and Masons, it tried to influence elections and the legislature, and mobilized public opinion. For example, it helped rouse public opinion against the efforts to liberalize divorce, introduce unwise sex education in the schools, discriminate European teachers in private school because of their religion, sterilize children of lepers, etc. With not much success, it opposed taxation or religious organizations. And against the corruption of morals, it set up, among others, the Legion of Decency, which later became a commission, to discourage the public from seeing morally objectionable pictures and from patronizing theaters which exhibited indecent films. As can be gleaned from its resolutions and letters, the CWO, of course, tended to confine the problems of morals to issues related to smutty movies, sex and birth control. In 1956, it approved not to admit ballet students to Catholic high schools. Obviously, it then lacked focus on more important moral hardly ecumenical, either in its pronouncements or its activities. As already noted, all this reflects the ecclesiology of the period, and illustrates an effort to construct a social order in which faith can be embraced, grow, and thus create a Christian culture.
At times, its battles for the protection of the legitimate interests of the Church and the furtherance of supernatural values became celebrated cases. In 1952, for instance, it was discovered that three top men in the Department of Education, sworn into office to uphold and implement the teaching of religion in public schools, were also sworn in by their Masonic affiliation to eliminate it. The CWO handed a letter to the President stating the stand of the Church with regard to the Masonic commitment of the three officials. It availed of the services of Atty. Raul Manglapus, Atty. Ambrosio Padilla, Atty. Jose Feria and Atty. Francisco Rodrigo in prosecuting the cause of the Church. The Rizal Bill No. 438 is another case in point. Jose Laurel, proposed to make Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo compulsory reading in all universities and colleges. The measure ignited a hot controversy, and encountered a determined opposition from the CWO, not to mention the various Catholic organizations, on the ground that it violated freedom of conscience and religion. The controversy ended with a susbstitution of a different measure which accommodated the objections of the CWO.
But the concerted voice of the CWO was also communicated to the Catholics and the whole nation at large through its letters and statements. The CWO was almost able issue them on issues of national importance. Its opposition to Freemasonry found expression in a joint pastoral letter, issued on Jan. 18 and 24, 1950, on the anti-Catholic book of Rafael Palma, The Pride of Malay Race, which tried to prove the Jesuits concerned were liars and the ecclesiastical authorities forgers of Rizal’s retraction, and in its statement on Masonry (Jan. 14, 1954). Its concern over the threat of Communist takeover can be seen in its pastoral letter on social justice (1949) and on Communism (August 15, 1954). In these letters, the bishops wisely pointed out the social roots, and criticized the injustices of Capitalism which encouraged the growth of the communist movement; and with the surrender of Luis Taruc, showed its opposition to witch-hunt, even though it rejected Communism. That it considered the transmission of Christian truth and values through the schools important in a society that fostered pluralism in religion can be inferred from its letters and statements on Religious Instruction in Public Schools on Feb. 18, 1953, on Catholic Education on April 10, 1955, and on the Religious Instruction Bill on June 6, 1965. The ground for its opposition to the Rizal Bill finds expression in a statement on the two novels on April 21, 1956. And against the corruption of morals, it wrote a pastoral on materialism, its first joint letter to Filipinos after the war. All in all, the CWO issued 39 joint pastoral letters and statements from 1945 to 1965. It may be observed that although these letters and statements were strong when Catholic interests were under attack, in general they tended to dwell on general principles and lack of prophetic slant when it came to political and social questions.
It would appear from the foregoing that the CWO was for the most part concerned with the Church ad intra. In fact, its administrative structure lends support to this observation. After 8 years of existence, in addition to the agencies under the secretary general (Sentinel, Relief, Legion of Decency, and Public Relation Office), it had only three episcopal commissions: Department of Catholic and Social Action, and Department of Mission. That, however, is understandable. The ecclesiological framework derived from the theology of the Council of Trent put theological limits to the CWO involvement in the socio-economic and the political structure of the nation. It is not surprising, therefore, that despite the unrest in agriculture and labor fronts, its involvement in these spheres may be characterized chiefly as social charity or welfare. The importance of the Catholic schools, orphanages, hospitals and other charitable institutions may be viewed from this angle. Indeed, although it issued letters on social principles (1948) and social justice (1949), the place of these social principles was not yet well integrated into the ecclesiological outlook inherited from Trent. Obviously, the CWO needed some vehicles to translate these principles into the particular situation.
Initially, its work for the socio-economic aspect of the people’s lives was handled by the Social Welfare Department. However, in 1952, the Social Action Department of the CWO was established to promote, on the national level, a sound and effective program of Catholic action in the social order in accord with the directives set forth by the popes especially in Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno . On April 13-27, 1953, the department organized the Priests and Laymen’s Institute of Social Action (PLISA) under, auspices of the Ateneo de Manila, and one of the concrete results of the PLISA was the establishment of the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) on Sept. 8, 1953, under the leadership of Atty Jeremias Montemayor. Staunchly anti-Communist, its purpose was the organization of small farmers and tenants for cooperative action defense of their rights, and promotion of their social welfare. (Federation of Free Works [FFW] was organized earlier, but this was not the initiative of the CWO, even though it was inspired by Catholic social teaching). Even so, the CWO was not very much involved in labor and rural problems of the day, despite the fact that its statements often quoted papal social encyclicals. In 1956, the organization suffered a setback in its socio-economic involvement, because after the UST strike by the FFW--affiliated UST Employees Organization, the Catholic Church, in the words of Bishop Lino Gonzaga, “lost much prestige in the labor front.” It would not be until 1970, and even more strongly in 1976, that the bishops’ body issued a statement on labor.
The same ecclesiological framework limited the lay participation in the social apostolate. Understandably, Pius XI, in his “Ubi arcano Dei” (1922), within the limits of a monarchial ecclesiology, defined lay apostolate in terms of cooperation in the apostolate of the Hierarchy. Still, that cooperation was a major link between the Bellarminian view of the Church which rooted all ministry in the Hierarchy and the consciousness that each Christian had to be a witness to the Gospel in the world. In the Philippines, the lay participation was effected through the coordination of various religious organizations on a national scale under the Episcopal Commission on Catholic Action. Their primary objective was to strive, give practical effect, in their respective fields, to the mandata of the Hierarchy in accord with the directives of Pius XI. The Catholic Action was represented at both the diocesan and parochial levels: the Barangay Sang Birhen, Knights of Columbus, Catholic Women’s League, Legion of Mary, Student Catholic Action, Young Christian Workers, Sodality of Our Lady, etc. At the national level, these federated into the Catholic Action of the Philippines (CAP). Aside from such traditional activities as organization of religious celebrations, congresses, and catechesis, these organizations were the front liners in many rallies, lobbying in Congress, and in various social activities. The Catholic Action of the Philippines sponsored the first Lay Institute of Social Action (LISA), and held its first post-war convention in 1952. It was not within the province of the lay apostolate to be directly involved in socio-economic institutions and their activities. Obviously, it was the thinking at that time that if the social order was to be renewed, it would come from the top.
Four outstanding events, which occurred during this period of CBCP history, and in which the CWO was involved, may be recalled because, among other reasons, they demonstrated that the Philippine Church, despite the onslaughts against it by the anti-Catholics, was vibrant and flourishing. The first one was the convocation of the First Plenary Council of the Philippines in Manila from Jan. 7 to 25, 1953, presided over by Norman Thomas Cardinal Gilroy, archbishop of Sydney (Australia). Its purpose was to bear witness to the Catholic faith of the Filipino people, and to decree such legislations as may be necessary for the preservation, enrichment and propagation of Catholic life. To solve the problems confronted at the time, the Council offered to renew the social order through the renewal of spirit of both clergy and laity. That spirit was to be manifested in the concern for individual salvation and formation of social conscience. And the individual and social energy generated was to be organized in the forms approved by the Church and under the direction of the hierarchy. The second one was the Marian Congress in Manila, held on Dec. 1-5, 1954, with Fernando Cardinal Quiroga y Palacios, archbishop of Santiago de Compostela (Spain) , presiding. It was a grand demonstration of Catholic faith, which culminated in liturgical celebration, participated in by more than a million Catholics, headed by President Ramon Magsaysay and his family. Then, on Oct. 7, 1961, the Pontificio Collegio-Seminario Filippino, whose cornerstone was laid on Aug. 1, 1959, was finally inaugurated and blessed, so that Filipino seminarians and priests could be trained sub umbra Petri. Lastly, the nation observed a six-day celebration of the 4th centenary of the Philippine Christianization in Cebu (Apr. 27-May 2), graced by Archbishop Vagnozzi, Apostolic Delegate to the US, and by most of the Philippine bishops. It saw the birth of the Philippines Mission Society.
The Period of Difficult Transition (1966-1975)
When the Second Vatican Council ended in December 1965, it created a paradigm shift in ecclesiology, as noted earlier: from a Church understood mainly as a social institution, the self-understanding moved to a Church as the people of God. The CWO was met by the challenge of the shift, and its corresponding theological and pastoral implications. The changes brought about by the council was, of course, partly noticed even in the CWO Constitution itself which was revised pursuant to the conciliar decree, Christus Dominus (nn. 37-38), and in accordance with the legal specifics provided for by Paul VI’s motu propio, Ecclesiae santae (I, 41). The revisions chiefly consisted in the altering of the name from CWO to Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines thus: “to study, promote, coordinate in a way corresponding ever more to the needs of the present time the apostolate of the Church in the Philippines.” Unlike the CWO, however, the CBCP was now a canonical body, a status not given in the preconciliar period. Approved by the Sacred Consistorial Congregation on Dec. 12, 1967, the newly amended constitution was filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Feb. 29, 1968. (However, since this constitution was ad quinquinnium experimenti gratia, it was revised and approved in July 1973, and given recognitio by the Holy See on May 21, 11974). The episcopal commissions were augmented: created were the Commission on Seminaries, Commission on Family Life Remuneration and Distribution of the Clergy, and the Commission on Emigration. (From 1966 to 1975, the following were Presidents of the Conference: Archbishops Lino Gonzaga [1966-1969], Teopisto Alberto [1970-1973] and Julio Rosales, whose terms extended to the next, more difficult, period.)
Admittedly, however, the impact of the conciliar ecclesiology in terms of the collective theological outlook of the bishops was not immediately felt in the years that immediately followed. Like the pre-Vatican II CWO, the CBCP tended to look inwardly, and it would, and it would even seem that Bellarmine’s institutional model of the Church continued to dominate the greater part of this period, and its mission in society seemed to be premised, at least in the initial stage, still on the social-charity model. In fact, on average, most of the CWO/CBCP decisions were concerned with intra-Church renewal in accord with the conciliar decrees on liturgy, ecumenism, seminaries, canon law, etc.: others pertain to CBCP internal affairs, and the promotion of Catholic faith and doctrine (religious instruction, clerical attire, etc.). On this score, the post-1965 episcopal body was much in continuity with the post-war CWO. This is reflected in the subject matter of most of its joint pastoral statements from 1965 to 1971: religious instruction, Humanae vitae, priestly celibacy, the Holy Father, East Pakistan Refugees, prayer and interior life, etc. The intra-Church endeavors saw an important event when Pope IV visited the country on Nov. 27-29, 1970 which the bishops regarded as a reminder of the country’s vocation in a new world. A year before, the Radio Veritas (Asia), which could be heard as far as the People’s Republic of China, was founded.
This is not to say, however, that the CBCP remained on the defensive. Quite the contrary, it slowly changed its focus from defensiveness to awareness of the role of social apostolate in the mission of the Church, as it did not fail to address the problems of the time, which by 1968 through 1970, especially in the First Quarter Storm, became the issues of rallies, strikes and demonstrations in Metro Manila. Hence, the appropriateness of calling this period (1966-1975) one of difficult transition. The issues during these years of rage were the widening gap between the rich and the poor, the feudal economy, graft and corruption, compartmentalized justice, and inadequate law implementation. These were summed up in the student slogan, “Down with Feudalism, Fascism and Imperialism.” These years saw the resurgence of the Communist Party of the Philippines, and its influence on students was greatly felt in the unprecedented growth of the Kabataang Makabayan (KM) in 1964. Later, a Marxist-oriented group of the CCP was established, and by 1969, the New People’s Army (NPA) was already vocal about its intention to change the society by revolution. But while some sectors of society opted for radical change, others preferred social and political reforms.
The CBCP was socially aware, and it stood for the amelioration of the socio-economic order. Indeed, at this stage the Conference, in its letters and statements, showed a better contextualization of Christian principles. Already on Jan 8, 1967, it issued a pastoral letter on social action and development in which it stressed, among others, the mission of the Church in the temporal order, the relationship between evangelization and development, and, in particular, the rights of workers. In answer to the request of PISA (Priests’ Institute of Social Action) participants, the CBCP created the NASSA (National Secretariat for Social Action) which served as the secretariat of the Commission on Social Action. In the same year, it organized the National Congress on Rural Development (Feb 4-11) to promote a genuine awareness of the socio-economic problems. “The Church Goes To The Barrio” was the popular slogan at this time. The congress was followed up by a pastoral letter on social awareness (May 1, 1968). In its statement on bishops and moral leadership on July 5, 1969, it affirmed that the mission of the Church included the concern for man’s bodily and temporal welfare, though” her mission is a work of mercy and love.” Acting on the suggestion of the Pontifical Commission on Justice and Peace, it decided in 1967 to adopt the Commission on Social Action as its counterpart of the pontifical commission. Priests were trained to head the Social Action Centers in different dioceses. The following year (May 1), it issued a pastoral letter on social action in which it affirmed the role of the Church in creating a more just social order. It appears, then, that in the late 1960s the CBCP saw non-conflictual development (cooperative, credit unions, self-help projects) as its new and relevant form of social involvement. It is probably from this perspective that one is to interpret the CBCP’s response to the statement of the Divine Word Junior Clergy Conference (May 16, 1969), calling on the Hierarchy to respond to the critical social situation. Obviously, the development model was a step forward from that of social charity.
It is within the familiar framework that the Conference addressed political and government-related issues and problems. By 1970, student and peasant demonstrations became more frequent, and the CBCP was at first concerned with the demonstration themselves and the analysis of their tactics. It saw in them the dangers of Communism, and defended the Church against the accusation that it was rich. It proposed dialogue between teachers and the youth, establishment of recreation and training programs for the youth, even recommending the holding of a congress for the purpose. When the issues raised in these rallies and demonstrations led to an urgent call for a Constitutional Convention, the CBCP, on Jan 25, 1970, appealed to Congress for a non-partisan convention. In preparation for this convention, the CBCP agreed to deliver talks and sermons about this political exercise, cooperate with other groups for honest and free elections, hold convention priests on the subject, and allow clerics to run as candidates. It may be noted that the Conference exerted much effort and worked hard so that provisions on religious instruction and tax exemption of Church properties be included in the proposed Constitution. Six months later, as the violence in the country escalated, it issued a letter on civic responsibility, denouncing what it perceived as the evils of society, and asking citizens to participate conscientiously in the political life of the nation. Admittedly, however, there were progressive members of the CBCP who perceived that more than social charity and development were needed to restructure the Philippine society and thus solve the social ferment. Though these were minority, this nonetheless indicated that the CBCP was being caught in the difficult transition from the old to the new ecclesiological paradigm.
But to what extent the paradigm shift in Church’s understanding of itself and its mission after the Second Vatican Council affected the collective ecclesiological outlook of the CBCP is probably nowhere shown more clearly than during the years of Marcosian regime from 1972 to 1986. Ostensibly declared on Sept. 21, 1972 to save the Republic and reform the society, martial law eventually showed its true colors: with the democratic institutions dismantled, Marcos acquired almost unlimited powers clothed with a veneer of legality by the 1973 Constitution, curtailed the freedoms of the media, revoked the writ of habeas corpus, forbade assembly, strike and mass action, legalized arbitrary arrest and detention. In the process, thousands of opposition leaders and suspected “subversives” were jailed. With US support, he beefed up the military to more than 150,000 in 6 years, and to more than 275,000 in 8 years, flung open wide the country to world market. The economy deteriorated, and foreign debt ballooned to around $28 B later. The poor became poorer, and violation of human rights was almost pandemic. In the face of these realities that affected the Philippine Church, the CBCP met head on with a new challenge which almost eclipsed many side but grave issues.
In general, it may be said that the responses of the CBCP to the challenges under the new dispensation underwent development, and were not always homogenous. Five days after the declaration of martial law, its Administrative Council issued a letter recognizing the right and duty of civil authorities to take appropriate steps to protect the sovereignty and assure peace and security of the nation, and asking martial law implementers to exercise prudence and restraint and respect human dignity, and the people to be calm and law abiding under the new political realities (Sept. 26). But despite the uneasiness of a number of bishops, and despite such important issues affecting the nation as the approval of the 1972 Constitution, the abolition of Congress, the Referendum of 1973 through National Assemblies, and despite the grim realities spawned by the new order, the CBCP was generally silent in the first five months, nay, in the first three years of the martial law regime (1972-1975). Of course, in its first plenary meeting in 1973, the bishops agreed to organize a CBCP liaison group with the government, but then the issues were intra-Church: radio stations closed, Catholic schools, Chinese priests’ integration with Philippine society, and cases of priests having difficulties with martial law. This concern for the interest of the institutional Church is reflected in its various decisions. In the same year, it made a stand of contraception vis-a-vis the government policy, and condemned sterilization which a decree of Marcos’ made officially acceptable. Late in the year, a Church-Military Liason Committee (CMLC), which, among other tasks, monitored arrests, detentions, and subversive activities, was established, with Citizen’s Committee on Justice and Peace at the local level and urged citizens to vote in the referendum as a moral obligation, and which was thought to be in contradiction to “A Declaration for Human Dignity at the Polls” signed by 14 bishops. The latter called the referendum “a vicious farce.” The right of the Administrative Council to issue the statement was questioned by 12 bishops on October 6, 1976. (The dissent, it may be conjectured, was not lost to Marcos who, after the massive boycott in the Oct. 16, referendum, retaliated against the Church by deportation, raid, closure of radio stations and publications, as well as arrest and detention of lay workers.) Chiefly for this reason, the Jan. 1977 meeting of the CBCP was preceded by a colloquium which brought to conclusion the bishops’ thinking on the Church’s involvement under the martial law regime.
From 1977 to 1982, the CBCP became more united and its collective approach to the challenge of martial law is best described by Cardinal Jaime Sin’s policy, namely, “critical collaboration,” although, in the light of the bishops’ letters and statements, it was largely more critical than collaborative. Even though at this point in time, it did not yet question to legitimacy of the regime, the CBCP, no doubt, was in touch with the concrete historical experience and the aspiration of the people. At the same time, it became obvious that in its understanding of the role of the church in the socio-economic and political order, it was not only development but, more accurately, it was liberation, and the CBCP became more committed to it. Its statement of its mission in the Jan. 1977 pastoral letter, “The Bond of Love in Proclaiming the Gospel,” deserved to be quoted: “This is EVANGELIZATION: the proclamation, above all, of SALVATION from sin; the LIBERATION from everything oppressive to man: the DEVELOPMENT of man in all his dimensions, personal and communitarian: and, ultimately, the RENEWAL OF SOCIETY in all its strata through the interplay of the GOSPEL TRUTHS and man’s concrete TOTAL LIFE (Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 9, 29). THIS IS OUR TASK. THIS IS OUR MISSION.” This shift to the liberationist understanding of ecclesiastical mission can be noted even in the themes of Alay Kapwa in the early 1980s: Communal Action Toward Human Liberation” (1980), “Beyond Poverty into Total Liberation” (1981), and “People’s Participation, a Way to Total Human Liberation” (!982).
These constitute an advance from the cooperative and development thrust in the late 1960s. But in this Jan. 1977 pastoral letter, the CBCP sharply criticized the government population program, the treatment of national minorities, the handling of the Mindanao situation, the harassment of basic ecclesial communities (BECs) was viewed as springing from the mandate of the Church’s mission, the lay workers being essential in the implementation of that mission. This teaching marks a change from the pre-conciliar one in which lay apostolate was understood to spring from the mandata of the Hierarchy. Clearly, as a body, the CBCP awakened to its mission of liberation and assumed the role of “a prophet to the nation.” The year 1977 may then be considered a turning point in the CBCP history. Henceforth, the Conference no longer engaged in the pronouncement of principles, as it did in 1969. Instead, it courageously made moral judgment, denouncing the excesses of the regime. As the socio-economic and political situation deteriorated, and as militarization and repression intensified, the CBCP came out with a pastoral letter, “Exhortation Against Violence,” on Oct. 7, 1979 to stress that the escalating violence in the country has its roots in the unjust structure of society, and that it can be stopped by putting peace with justice to the same structure. Marcos lifted martial law in 1981, but this was merely a cosmetic (it was most likely timed for Pope John Paul II’s pastoral visit to the country Feb. 17-22), for the dictatorial effects were well in place. In fact, the following year was a bad one for the Church, for it saw what amounted to Church persecution: arrests and detention of priests, lay workers, and activists; raids of institutions; attempts at infiltration; accusation of communist infiltration in the Church; trial by publicity in the media, etc.
By 1983, the year in which many Filipinos, as a result of the tarmac incident, were mobilized in the struggle for freedom and justice, the CBCP understandably became even more prophetic and critical of the martial law regime. And it may be conjectured that the Pope’s socio-political messages during his visit two years ago could have emboldened the bishops in their concern for the construction of an alternative vision of society. In fact, the CBCP’s posture, as it finally turned out in 1986, was on collision course with that of the dictatorship. The Conference was not only, as it were marching with the people; it was leading them on the march, and it did so credibly. The Church--and probably no other--was looked up to as the bastion of hope. No doubt, the collective ecclesiological outlook of the CBCP was liberationist, and the understanding of its role in the socio-economic and political order was not hazy. Indeed, it called for the transformation not only of individuals but also of societal structures as part of integral liberation. In the final result, what was under criticism was not simply the individual acts of martial law; the whole structure of dictatorship itself stood under severe criticism. It is not insignificant that from 1983 through 1986, all its joint pastoral letters and statements, except for its statements on biblical apostolate (Feb. 1985) and on the Marian Year (February 1 and August 6, 1985), had direct reference to martial law and the major problems it engendered. Not surprisingly, then, the CBCP-Government relationship became increasingly strained.
Thus, on February 20, 1983, it made the first of its strongest indictments against the dictatorial regime in the pastoral letter, “Dialogue for Peace,” even though it was meant as a call to restructure society in accordance with God’s plan. It amounted to an expose of problems (arrest and detention, disregard for due process, torture, etc.) which have roots in poverty, anti-people economic program, economic corruption, and unjust laws. It took a clear preferential option for the poor, supporting them in their assertion of dignity and defense of rights. The letter was followed up by the CBCP’s “Pastoral Guidelines for Priests, Religious and Lay Workers in the Task of Social Justice.” As a result of the pastoral letter, Marcos asked the bishops made it known that reform of structure was what was in their mind. In the same year, the CBCP withdraw its membership from the Church-Military Liaison Committee because of an apparent pattern of government pressure on Church people and activities. With his authority slipping off, Marcos instituted the PCO (Presidential Commitment Order) by means of a decree, which enabled the military to arrest arbitrarily and detain indefinitely. The CBCP, in its message to the people on the exercise of PCO, passed a moral judgment on the presidential decree, calling it, along with its implementation, immoral. The second half of 1983 was marked by a worsening of political, economic and social conditions, precipitated by the assassination of Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. With the country on the brink of chaos and anarchy, the CBCP issued a statement of reconciliation on Nov. 27, calling for a social transformation--transformation of unjust structures and individuals--required by authentic reconciliation with God and with one another as an alternative to the continuance of present injustice and violence.
Late in the year, the CBCP Administrative Council (Dec. 28) decided to issue a statement on the coming plebiscite and Batasan elections in May 1984. Published on Jan 8, 1984, it did not fail to mention, among others, the right not to participate in political exercise which citizens consider contrary to their conscience. Meanwhile, the national situation continued to turn for the worst: people were being “salvaged” both by the Left and by the Right” the foreign debt ballooned to $24 billion; the peso depreciated very much and the economy was almost bankrupt: Marcos revived the “secret marshals” who were virtually licensed to kill; and he continued to exercise martial law powers through the notorious Amendment 6. It is against this background that on July 11, the sacredness of human life and its defense: “Let there Be Life.” It called for a revamp of the entire economic and political structure and, in particular, severely criticized the institution of secret marshals (which Marcos later disbanded), the Amendment 6 whose repeal it demanded, and the economy, whose crisis, according to the bishops, could be solved it, in the first place, confidence in the government is restored.
The following year, the CBCP did not issue any pastoral letter or statement which had direct bearing on politics, except the one on terrorism (July 8). In this letter, the CBCP denounced the murder of those dedicated to the service of others, the execution of civilians suspected of collaboration with the Left, the use of cultists in counter-insurgency campaign, and urged the reorganization, if not the dismantlement, of the CHDF. Early in the year, it released a joint pastoral letter on biblical apostolate (Feb.) and two on the occasion of the observance of the Marian Year (Feb. and Aug. 6). But the worsening situation was not far from their minds. In their January meeting, they held a brainstorming on the national issues and searched for positive action regarding them. They discussed such issues as the question of Communism (faith and ideology), violence and non-violence, and such specific questions as US bases, nuclear plant, social justice and social development. The CBCP committed itself to a free, clean and honest election and to support Namfrel in its work to achieve the goal.
The climax of the CBCP’s involvement and commitment during the Marcosian years came in 1986. When Marcos called for a snap election in late 1985, the CBCP took up the issue in their January meeting and on Jan. 26 issued the joint pastoral letter, “We Must Obey God Rather Than Men.” Having stated that elections can become a great scandal and an offense against God, it said that the forces of evil bent on frustrating the people’s will should not make them succumb to cynicism, and in the conflict of interest and loyalties, it reminded them to let God’s will prevail. It assured them that the bishops stand with them. Elections were held on Feb. 7, and as the bishops feared, the fraud and deception were systematic and of incredible proportion. The Namfrel tally showed Aquino leading by a large margin, but the Comelec tabulation had Marcos coming ahead. Eventually, the Comelec computer operators walked out to protest the discrepancy between the input and the Comelec count. On Feb. 12, the KBL-dominated Batasang Pambansa declared Marcos winner. The following day, the Bishops drafted a post-election statement and issued it to the public on Feb. 15. The statement labeled the elections as unparalleled in fraudulence, and virtually accused Marcos of criminally using power to thwart the people’s sovereign will. In its strongest condemnation of the Marcos power through fraudulent means had no moral basis.” It called for a peaceful, non-violent and systematic struggle to correct the wrong. The pastoral statement proved to be historic. In a few days, the EDSA Revolution was born, and Marcos was dislodged. Clearly, the CBCP stood as a moral leader of the people, showing itself as champion of democratic principles, and its statement became a catalyst of non-violent revolution.
With Marcos gone, the CBCP assumed the role, it may be said, of a moral and spiritual leader and guide in the direction which efforts at social transformation must take. No doubt, its ecclesiological outlook remained one of integral liberation, and though it continued its policy of critical collaboration with the Aquino government, this time the emphasis was on collaboration. On the whole, it would seem that the CBCP was supportive of the Aquino Administration, probably because it had high hopes that it would be instrumental in the renewal of the social order and in the establishment of a more lasting peace. Of course, there is little doubt that the bishops had some influence on President Aquino. She appointed to the Constitutional Commission four people easily identified with the Church. Such provisions in the Constitution as the primacy of family, the prohibition of abortion and divorce, and religious instruction in public schools were indicative of the moral influence of the CBCP. Understandably, with its pro-life, pro-poor and pro-Filipino provisions which are consonant with authentic human values, it was not surprising that the CBCP, after much discussion in a meeting to which some members of the Constitutional Commission were invited to speak, opted in its letter “Covenant Toward Peace” on Nov. 21, 1986, for the ratification of the proposed constitution.
The Period of Renewal of Vision for the Church and Society (1987-1995)
This period was one of hope and expectations. (The archbishops who served the CBCP as President during this period were Cardinal Ricardo Vidal, whose term ended in 1987, Leonardo Legaspi [1987-1991] and Carmelo Morelos [1991-1995].) As the socio-political situation has changed, it appeared to the bishops that an opportune time had come to renew the local Church. As already noted, a paradigm shift in ecclesiology took place in the Second Vatican Council, and while its effects influenced the collective thinking of the bishops, there was a need to exteriorize the implications of the shift in terms of the theological thinking and aspiration of the people and the pastoral programs of the local Church, which had become even more complex and problematic. While the CBCP understood the Church as the People of God, and its mission as integral liberation, yet the implications of this understanding had yet to be enshrined in a vision and made concrete in a comprehensive program for the Philippine Church. Thus, in January 1988, the CBCP approved to hold a plenary council. Preparations, immediately began, and the Second Plenary Council was finally celebrated from Jan. 20 to Feb. 1991, participated in by a total of 479 participants (96 bishops, 181 priests, 21 major religious superiors, 12 presidents or rectors of Catholic universalities, 24 rectors or deans of seminaries and 146 lay faithful). The decrees of the PCP-II were given recognitio by the Holy See on April 25, 1992, and promulgated at the Cathedral-Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Manila on July 22, 1992. Without exaggeration, the council may be recognized as the greatest ecclesial event in the CBCP’s 50 years of existence.
Basically, what the Council did was to define what the Philippine Church ought to be. In its final document, the Council envisioned a Church which is a community of disciples, in which there is unity in diversity, equality in dignity and participation; a Church which is at the same time a community-in-mission: a Church of the poor expressed in basic ecclesial communities. Its mission is integral evangelization, which implies the salvation of the total human person and the liberation and transformation of society. Clearly, this is far removed from the institutional understanding of the Church (presupposed in the first years of the CWO/CBCP) whose mission is the salvation of the soul by means of grace, word and sacrament. This vision of the Church needed to be actualized. Hence, the CBCP resolved to implement the Council’s mandate for a National Pastoral Plan. On July 11, 1993, it gave its official approval to the plan. The present challenge to the Conference is to see to it that the plan is implemented through a pastoral management and administrative system that will operate from the top down to the smallest ecclesial community in the parishes.
Though the council was the most significant event in this period, yet the CBCP’s vision for renewal not only for the Church but also for society can also be seen in its ad-extra statements and activities. By 1987, the different branches of the democratic government have been restored. But despite the hope that a new political society would emerged from the EDSA Revolution, it became clear that the old society was back. Thus, precisely because the socio-economic ills did not disappear at the February Revolution, the CBCP, conscious of its mission in the socio-political order, was critical of the post-EDSA administrations. For example, the realization that corruption still remained, involving even high government officials, occasioned the pastoral letter, “Thou Shalt Not Steal,” on July 11, 1989. The letter considered graft and corruption a sin that is hateful because it steals money from the poor. It suggested the formation of multi-sectoral anti-graft council across the country to monitor the use of public funds and muster public opinion in the hope that a massive, persistent campaign would discourage the practice. On July 24, 1992, it opposed the Ramos Administration’s move at restoring the death penalty and, instead, proposed that the President does something to the ground which breeds criminality (poverty, defects in the enforcement, justice and penal systems, presence of scalawags in uniform). In its pastoral statement on kidnapping (Jan. 25, 1993), it appealed to the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Military to cleanse their ranks of kidnapper accomplices or masterminds. Of no less importance, it called for a thorough review of the Republic Act 7716 in a statement on taxation and expanded value-added tax, questioning whether the law merely strengthens the tax structure’s bias against the poor (July 10, 1994).
Of course, it appeared to the bishops that the transformation of society requires more than a change of leadership; it is a work of justice in which the community participates and cooperates. Hence, on Jan. 26, 1987, it addressed the issue of peace process, and stressed that only non-violence is consistent with Gospel values. It called for land reform, denounced political extremists, condemned atheistic communism and liberal capitalism, and encouraged dialogue. In its efforts to help transform society, the bishops reiterated its call for a comprehensive land reform in its exhortation on July 14, “Thirsting for Justice.” It is the landless, the exploited, the disadvantaged and the powerless who have the single most urgent claim on the conscience of the nation, the bishops said. When the putchists attempted a coup d’etat on August 28, 1989, which dealt a serious blow to the government stability, 17 bishops, headed by Cardinals Ricardo Vidal and Jaime Sin, issued a statement of support to the Aquino government the following day. And on Jan. 31, 1990, in the pastoral letter “Seek Peace, Pursue It,” it likewise condemned the attempted Dec. 1989 coup d’etat, the bloodiest, costliest and most serious one, as immoral and unjust usurpation of power.
To be sure, the transformation of society does not only require the reform of those in the government, the participation of the governed in the peace process, and in the cooperation of the Rightists. Of no less importance, it cannot dispense with the support of the Left, specifically with the effort to put an end to their two-decade struggle. Dialogue with the CPP-NDF was essential. In fact, in 1992, President Fidel Ramos organized the National Unification Commission (NUC) to make contacts with the group. The CBCP supported the move, and in Jan. 25, 1993, it issued a pastoral letter on peace to participate in the peace process, directly or indirectly. This was followed by another letter, “Peace in Our Times,” in which the Conference expounded the meaning of real place. Indeed, as early as Jan. 1992, the CBCP acceded to the request of the National Peace Conference (NPC) to head a delegation which would meet with the CPP-NDF representatives, either in Hongkong or in Switzerland, to discuss proposals for a dialogue. But despite its effort to enlist them to the peace process, the CBCP never recoiled from criticizing the Left (even as its criticism applies to the military as well) on various occasions, as in its statement on the manipulative use of human rights violations on July 11, 1989.
If the CBCP lodged criticisms such as these, it was a part of its effort at helping the people (including the administration, and the oppositionists) in the renewal of the social order. It is for the sake of this renewal that it gave much importance to the holding of truly democratic, peaceful and clean elections in which citizens must be truly involved. In its “Pastoral Letter on Preparing for the 1992 Elections” on July 22, 1991, it pointed to the wastage of the nation’s resources and the perversion of democratic principle in the disservice done by individual’s unworthy of the office, and hence the need for education of voters. Thus, in its desire to strengthen the democratic ethos, widen the horizons of peace and unity among the people, it issued “Renewing the Political Order” on Nov. 28, 1991--a pastoral guideline on choosing candidates for the May 11, 1992 elections. It is noteworthy that among the desirable qualifications of candidates that the letter enumerates are maka-diyos, spirit of service, vigorous defender and promoter of justice and an enduring and preferential option for the poor-qualifications which are consonant with integral liberation. And on Jan. 31, 1992, it issued another letter, “Decision at the Crossroads,” appealing to the people to set priorities aright: honor and dignity before money, service before power, common good before self-interest, the nation before utang na loob. The following year, it decided to recognize and encourage the PPCRV. In all this, the CBCP asked the people to take seriously their participation in the political process by various means. It reiterated this point in its statement “Election 1995--A Challenge to the Young” (Jan. 16, 1995). The CBCP, was active in the elections through NASSA’s votecare (Voter’s Organization--Training and Education for Clean, Authentic and Responsible Elections) program in all the 79 dioceses, with more than 250,000 volunteers.
Equally important, the integral-liberation ecclesiological outlook helps explain why in the post-Edsa situation, the CBCP addressed itself to various issues of national importance: devastation of nature, overseas contract workers, foreign debt, oil prices etc. For instance, having observe the devastation of natural resources, which has to do with the inequality of the social structure, it issued the letter, “What is Happening To Our Beautiful Land?” on Jan. 29, 1988--probably the first one issued by an episcopal conference in world history. In protest of the inhumanity, abuse and exploitation of overseas workers, whose migration is rooted in the poverty of the people, it asked the government to take effective measure to safeguard the rights of Filipino expatriates, and appealed to all for economic recovery so Filipinos would not be forced to leave the country. In 1990, it recommended that a desk for pastoral care of migrants and their families be set up in the diocesan social action centers. On the occasion of Flor Contemplacion’s funeral a few weeks before the 1995 elections, it repeated its appeal to the government to provide the overseas workers protection, which should take precedence over potential economic gains. Even its rather long pastoral letter on the the Eucharist, “To Live in Memory of Him: One Body, One People” (Mar. 21, 1988), does not fail to allude to integral human liberation: “we desire to become eucharistic communities active in the defense and promotion of the downtrodden, ready and willing to give ourselves eucharistically to others, struggling in the building of a just, peaceful and loving society.” The same may be said of foreign debt which weighed heavily on the people and which constituted a humongous obstacle to economic recovery. Of course, the CBCP, through the permanent council, offered no solution in its statement on Sept. 10, 1990, but it asked the government to consider the debt crisis within the context of the ethics of survival. And of no less significance, in 1994, it registered a strong protest against the price increase of petroleum products authorized by the Energy Regulatory Board (ERB). It saw no objective justification for the increase, and regarded the increase prior to the holding of hearing a lack of concern for the common good.
It may be said that the 50th year of CBCP existence ended with a historic note. In 1995, John Paul II made his second pastoral visit to the Philippines on the occasion of the 10th World Youth Day, the theme of which was: “As the Father sent me, so I am sending You” (John 20:21). The purpose of his coming was for the youth who, as the third Christian millennium approaches, “are entrusted in a special way with the task of becoming communicators of hope and workers for peace in a world that is in ever greater need of credible witnesses and messengers consistent with [Christ’s] message.” At the same time, it saw the quadricentennial celebrations of the Archdiocese of Manila, Cebu, Nueva Segovia, and Nueva Caceres. But for the CBCP itself, this period (1987-1995) witnessed other important events and activities: the canonization of Blessed Lorenzo Ruiz (1987), the publication of the final draft of the Catholic Faith Catechism (CFC) by the Episcopal Commission on Catechesis and Catholic Education, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), the Statement on Fundamentalist Groups (Jan. 27, 1989), and the Guidelines for the Eucharist (1990), the birth of the Program for the Rehabilitation of Mt. Pinatubo Victims, and the holding of the National Retreat for Priests (1992, 1993 and 1994).
That, in brief, is the history of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines--a body that leads and builds up, engages, commits, prays, and serves. Its 50-year history sketched out above may be succinctly described, however, in terms of transformation: from a CWO that was defensive to a CBCP that was involved in the liberation of society: from a silent body to a prophetic one in the face of social injustice: from a CWO that saw the Church as a social institution to a CBCP that regards the Church as the People of God: from a CWO that had answers to human problems to a CBCP that listened to the “signs of the times”: from a CWO that tended to focus morality to problems of sex, birth control and smutty films to a CBCP that questioned and protested against violation of human rights, social injustices and violence to the poor: from a CWO that saw involvement in the social order as a part of pre-evangelization to a CBCP that considered transformation of the social order as a part and parcel of its mission; from a CWO that looked at the work of the laity as part of the apostolate of the Hierarchy to a CBCP that viewed the laity as ecclesia discens (the learning Church) to a CBCP that respected them as partners in the task of integral evangelization: from a CWO that was tried to renew the social order from the top to a CWO that was engaged in social charity to a CBCP that was involved in total development and liberation. Undoubtedly, this description is a generalization, if not oversimplification, but the truth may not be far removed from it.