Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Silence of a Church and Mindoro Mining

Instead of issuing statement regarding the recent reinstatement of the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) of Intex Resources for the Mindoro Nickel Project (MNP), the Apostolic Vicariate of San Jose (AVSJ) issued a pastoral (?) letter that has little to do with social or public concern but more of an internal administrative matter.

The letter I was told was signed by Bishop Antonio P. Palang, SVD, DD of AVSJ and read in a Mass at the San Jose Cathedral last Sunday, June 14, 2015. It carried something that has very little to do with the Catholic faith and divinity in general but about an Estafa Case filed only last February this year against priests Ruben S. Villanueva and Rodrigo A. Salazar, Jr., SVD. The alleged pastoral stood firm to the conviction of the local Church to pursue said case in civil law instead of her own tribunal system. Both Fathers Villanueva and Salazar in their capacity before as heads of the Social Services Commission (SSC) and the Vicarial Indigenous People’s Coordinating Office (VIPACO), respectively, are staunch anti-mining advocates.

In Oriental Mindoro during a mammoth rally against the Norwegian mining firm last June 12, 2015 conjoining with the 117th Anniversary of Philippine Independence, thousands of participants coming from various religious organizations, priests, nuns and seminarians signified their disgust of said mining project in whole Mindoro island. Though Calapan Bishop Warlito Cajandig was not around, the involvement of his flock has the good prelate’s blessing. Nobody from the AVSJ, priest and laity alike, came to attend the historic gathering. Not even their shadows. All of the formators and seminarians of Saint Augustine Minor Seminary in Calapan joined the mass action, as I have witnessed.

Incidentally, among religious organizations based in Calapan, the Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals (BCBP) been the most visible during the June 12, rally. The BCBP Chapter there fully animated the theme, “Be Brave. Be Bold”, anchored from BCBP’s 35th NAC in Pasay only last May 1-2, 2015. This is what I also expect from same organization in Occidental Mindoro to be brave and bold amidst injustice and abuses in our midst. This deafening silence of our local Church made her lost her relevance in this burning call towards protecting Mother Nature and promoting social justice.

Bishop Palang some months back issued an official statement in defense of his priest, Fr. Fernando Suarez, from a memorandum of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops or USCC alarming their local dioceses over Suarez’ healing masses in the United States. The prelate fully protected him against the alleged “damaged caused to the reputation” of Fr. Suarez in said statement released last April 20, 2015. But in the recent call to protect the environment against mentioned destructive industry, nothing, as in nada, was heard of from the Church’s officials of the island’s other half.

When Fr. Villanueva and Fr. Salazar are still occupying their previous positions in AVSJ, they had been key persons in staging a rally against Intex. Foremost was the one held in May 2009 in Mamburao which was mandated and participated by Bishop Palang himself. But in May 1, 2012, Intex offered a Mass celebrated by Bishop Palang in commemoration with Philippine Labor Day, the Fiesta Celebration of St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Brgy. Pag-Asa (Sablayan) to mark the mining company’s launching of its Livelihood Enhancement through Agro-Forestry (LEAF) Project. Well, I have no qualms about such gesture from my bishop for such is an avowed duty of every priest. Priestly blessings, like sacraments, indeed should be apolitical.

But since Villanueva and Salazar, and other anti-mining clergy,- both diocesan or otherwise, left the vicariate, nothing was heard of about matters pertaining to Intex from the present leadership of my local Church. Its diocesan social action arm closed shop, not unlike her seminary, and never been re-opened since.

On Thursday, June 18, 2015, Pope Francis is about to release his encyclical on care for environment and for creation called Laudato Sii or “Praised Be”. That day, the Vatican will release the first comprehensive Catholic moral statement on creation care and climate change to the faithful around the world. How wonderful and timely it could have been if the Church leaders of my diocese came up with a letter signifying and presenting their stand on Integrity of Creation anchored on deepest defiance against the Mindoro Nickel Project. As I have said earlier, they used the divine authority of the Catholic Church to herald something that concerns not of faith and teachings in general. They wield and use it against individuals (priests, for that matter) and not in contradiction of bigger and systemic foes like mining companies and the prevailing unjust mining policies of the land!

Eduardo Balamiento, a cyberspace friend, correctly stated, "They (the AVSJ officials) should have resolved that conflict with the priests within the Church in silence. But in mining issue, it should be heard." I couldn't agree for more.

But at least, AVSJ’s present “pastoral” direction that my Church is heading is now clear to me after this personal reflection and I am sad. Very sad...

(Photo; CybermovementagainstMindoroNickelProject)