Pastoral letter on drug war grounded in truth— Bishop Ruperto Santos

Pastoral letter on drug war grounded in truth— Bishop Ruperto Santos

Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga. (Analyn Perucho/CBCPNews)

MANILA, Feb. 6, 2017– It’s not a lie that innocent people were killed and many fear of becoming victims of extrajudicial killings, a Catholic bishop said.

Disputing Malacañang’s claim that bishops have lost touch with reality, Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga said their pastoral letter on drug war only relays the sentiments of many people, especially those in poor communities.

“They are not only afraid, they become restless and disturbed that there’s no peace. And that’s the reason why it’s now ‘terror’ that they experience,” he said.

Malacañang said the bishops’ are not grounded in reality after the release of a pastoral letter raising their concerns on President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly “war on drugs” for creating a “reign of terror”.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella claimed that the crackdown on narcotics has instead turn the country “into a safer place”.

Instead of being defensive, the bishop said it would help if the government would address the unexplained killings and other concerns they raised by the Church.

Read: Bishops warn against being ‘silent accomplice’ to killings

“We all want to be safe and be peaceful so let us get rid of these senseless killings. Let us get rid of the extrajudicial killings,” Santos said.

In December last year, a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey reported that majority of Filipinos are worried of getting killed in the drug war that claimed more 7,000 lives in six months.

The poll found that 78 percent of Filipinos were afraid that they would also fall victim to summary executions.

Santos added that this is even the reason why the Church had to always come out and try to allay their fears.

“We, priests and bishops, are with the people. We feel them. We want to assure them. We want to pacify them that we are with them and we want them to be peaceful,” he said. (R. Lagarde/CBCPNews)

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Faithful urged: Support CBCP stand on issues

MANILA, Feb. 6, 2017 – While the President Duterte continues to lambast the Church hierarchy, a retired cleric urged churchgoers to rally behind the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines and its stand on pressing socio-political issues.

Palo Archbishop John Du celebrates Mass inside the Ormoc City Jail as part of the Archdiocese’s Prison Ministry, which stresses the power of forgiveness and reformation. (Photo: Archdiocesan Prison Ministry)

Fr. Oscar Lorenzo, a classmate of Bishop Teodoro Bacani in their younger years, stressed how important it is that the faithful remain vigilant.

Quoting CBCP president Archbishop Socrates Villegas remarks, he said, “We cannot keep silent, but if we keep silent it does not mean that we are tolerating all kinds of non-sense happening around us.”

The priest said he anticipated early on that once the CBCP issued official statements on social issues such as the extra-judicial killings, capital punishment, and the reproductive health law after its plenary assembly, it will once against receive a lashing from Duterte.

Answered prayer

He cited how broadsheets and news broadcasts have been reporting the violent reactions of the president to the criticisms levelled against his flagship policies such as the imposition of capital punishment and the war on drugs.

“This is prosecution of the Catholic Church!”, he exclaimed.

“It may be true that [there are priests] who are hypocrites, but to say this in public and to keep on repeating and repeating it is too insulting,” said Lorenzo.

“So let us pray for the Philippines, and also for our bishops who are always praying for us,” he said. “Blessed are you if they insult you and persecute you and utter any kind of evil against you falsely because of me for your reward will be great in heaven,” he added, quoting a verse from the Bible.

The bishops, he added, are also praying that the killings will end.

He said God answered the prayer of the Church people after the Duterte administration’s war on drugs was peremptorily halted after the suspicious circumstances surrounding the killing of South Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo, at the hands of rogue policemen.

Thousands dead

The death toll, attributed to legitimate police operations in Oplan Double Barrel and Oplan Tokhang as well as summary executions, has reached an unprecedented number of more than 7,000 since Duterte won the presidency.

“There are over 7,000 who were killed until one foreigner, a South Korean who was killed. It took one foreigner who was killed for ransom inside Camp Crame, the seat of the Philippine police for the president to decide,” Lorenzo said further.

This reality, he believes, could be used by the government to further justify its push for the reinstatement of death penalty.

During his Sunday homily he said capital punishment is not Christian, is anti-poor, and against God’s law.

“God is just, but his justice is perfect while man’s justice is not,” explained Lorenzo.

He further said killing a suspect does not give him a chance to reform, which he claimed is opposed to the Biblical account on Saul’s life who, in spite of being a hardened criminal, was forgiven by God, going on to become a crucial Biblical figure. (Eileen Nazareno-Ballesteros / CBCPNews)

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An Appeal from the Heart

By Fr. Wilfredo Samson, SJ, Pitik-Bulag

When I was assigned in New Bilibid Prison as chaplain many years ago, it was a hell for me. The old, overcrowded prison facilities in Muntinlupa were too small to house 15,000 inmates. The daily stress that I went through in dealing with hardened, problematic, and sometimes, lunatic inmates was overwhelming. In those moments, I entertained the possibility of the death penalty as the ultimate solution to heinous crimes. But I said to myself, “I want to enter into the inmates’ inner world before making any judgment.”

I began my ministry by listening to the inmates’ endless litanies of regrets, woes, and miseries. As I spent more time with death convicts, I began to see them as victims too. They are victims of bad circumstances, bad luck, poverty, ignorance, and social injustice. Behind their smiles, I saw a complex mixture of fear, regrets repentance, anger, and hopelessness. At that moment, I felt stirrings of mercy and compassion in my heart. A merciful heart for the lost sheep was slowly growing in me.

Someone asked me, “Why should we give chance these heartless and soulless people a chance? They are hopeless. They are evil. They deserve death penalty for committing heinous crimes.” I understand the clamor of the victims for justice. The victims need intense help and assistance for justice and healing. The offenders should be punished to uphold justice. But capital punishment is neither the best nor the only way to bring justice and healing. When we condemn someone to death, it’s not justice but vengeance. It’s not love but hatred. We are called to uphold forgiveness and justice and not more violence and blood. Send the offenders to jail to uphold justice, but give them a chance to correct their mistakes.

But what is mercy? Pope Francis defines mercy as our ability to feel and embrace the pain of others. First and foremost, mercy should be given to the victims. But the offenders deserve their own mercy too. When I felt the inmates’ pain after listening to their own tragic stories, I had the urge to understand them, and not to hate them totally. Like everyone else, the inmates also deserve a second chance.

When I started embracing the inmates, everything changed. Now I see “lost souls” and not mere “public sinners.” I see “persons” and not just “criminals.” I see “wounded hearts” and not just their “bloody hands.” Yes, even the inmates deserve God’s fatherly love and attention.

When I accepted the difficult challenge to love our “enemies,” God blessed me with new SIGHT and a new HEART. It was the beginning of my fourteen years of accompanying the inmates in their long and difficult journey from spiritual slavery to spiritual freedom, from hostility to friendship, and from darkness to light.

How can I forget the inmates’ smile? How can I ignore their teary eyes when it’s time for me to leave? God gave me freedom to walk anywhere. But my feet always lead me to the prison’s gate – where God’s lost children are waiting. The inmates of the Correctional Institute for Women and New Bilibid Prison are public sinners, but we are not far from them. We are also sinners. We beg God for forgiveness and another chance. He quickly forgives us. He knows no one is hopeless, even the most hardened inmates. Thus, the capital punishment is against God who believes in the goodness and kindness of everyone.

The inmates have the right to re-write their lives with renewed faith and hope. They deserve God’s mercy through our friendship. Jesus came to seek the lost children of God. He died on the cross for all – including the inmates. When Jesus allowed Himself to die on the cross, it was His LIFE STATEMENT AGAINTS DEATH PENALTY, and NOT AS A VALIDATION. Jesus decided to die on the cross to save us, for He cannot bear the pain of seeing us receiving the ultimate capital punishment – ETERNAL DEATH.

The love of God transcends all our sins. The mercy of God knows no boundaries, for even the hell we created is within His reach.

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