Monday, November 21, 2016

Bishop Francisco Claver and Martial Law

The Philippine Catholic Church indeed suffered under Martial Law. Priests and nuns were arrested, jailed and tortured by the Marcos’ military and even convents and seminaries administered by religious congregations were raided and ransacked. The Church greatly suffered from harsh government repression and harassment, though many priests and bishops at the time were not bothered by these occurrences.

President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law on September 21, 1972 and its principal goal was to preserve the old order and consequently, the oligarch’s throttlehold of the economy and to perpetuate himself to political power. This resulted to massive violation of civil and political rights of the people especially the basic masses, the anawim or God’s people. As the oppressive regime blatantly suppress the people, some priests and nuns opted to join the Communist movements, both open and clandestine, and resorted to or sponsored armed struggle.

As the horror of PD 1081 unfolds, most bishops did not speak against Marcos and the injustices suffered by the people under martial law that is why the 17 bishops who signed the document “Ut Omnes Unum Sint”, the “silent” bishops, who are composed of the majority, were criticized with these words: “Any criticism of government is then, perforce, criticism of President Marcos, something most bishops are loathe to do. Cultural Reasons could be adduced – deeply personal reasons too of friendship for and indebtedness to the First Family.”  Not only the First Family, the bishops and priests then dined with the oligarchs and the elite. Not unlike today.

A certain bishop bravely stood against Marcos dictatorship truly internalizing the prophetic role of the Church and her social teachings. His name is Bishop Francisco F. Claver, SJ of then Prelature of Malaybalay. Through his writings and pastoral works, he exemplary showed his being champion for the cause of human rights. His voice rang loud against all abuses happening under his diocese and the whole country. In his Pastoral Letter in 1976, 4 years after the declaration of Martial Law, titled “A Prophet to the Nations”, the bishop from Bontoc and an indigenous people himself, affirmed that all must preach the Gospel in words and in deeds and as a community and the Church must be genuinely critical, whether in support of or in opposition to the martial law government of Marcos. 

Bishop Francisco F. Claver is long gone and all we can do is to wonder what if he is still young and alive today under the same circumstances?

In the midst of the recent killings brought about by the government’s supposed War on Drug where innocent lives were lost and the victims denied of due process, where Catholics are killing fellow Catholics, this excerpt from Bishop Claver’s “The Blessing and the Curse” remains thunderously relevant: “I would especially invoke God’s wrath on those who inflict actual physical harm on defenseless people in the name of “government security”. People flagrantly and publicly guilty of this sin against our common humanity and dignity have their own cut themselves off from the Church.”  Tough words, aren’t they? Bishop Claver believes that change must be built on God-given dignity and not on force and armed might, that the Church has the right and the obligation to speak out, even in so-called political matters, when and insofar as they have moral implications, when they violate the laws of morality. To me, Marcos’ Martial Law is not to be forgotten so the faithful must declare in unison, “Never Again!”

Last Sunday, during the celebration of the Solemnity of Christ the King at the Sain Joseph the Worker Cathedral, Bishop Antonio P. Palang, SVD, DD of Occidental Mindoro stressed in his homily that we should forgive Marcos. Well, I took the good prelate’s words as an expression of fatherly concern but I am certain, and the good bishop knows for sure, that he could not make a decision for his flock. Those who oppose the burial could not abandon their judgment in this present historical issue more so since what was at stake is the carefulness of their actions as actors of history.

Now that we are told to “move on” by some quarters and personalities even inside the Church and forget all the injustices and horror of Martial Law but many of us won’t heed to the call. I wish that in the future, if same declaration is imposed by whoever president, may the pastoral actions and writings of Bishop Francisco F. Claver challenge our priests and bishops in the whole Philippines to stand against state repression and not be gratified with the comfort of their air-conditioned room in the company of their altar boys and counting their millions from the donating thieves in barong tagalog


(Photo: Catholic News Asia

Reference : Pasquale T. Giordano, SJ, “Awakening to Mission: The Philippine Catholic Church 1965-1981”, New Day Publishers, January 1987, p. 155-159.)


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