Employees and supporters of television network ABS-CBN protest outside the Philippine House of Representatives in Manila on July 10. Congress rejected bills seeking a new franchise for the broadcaster. (Photo: Miggy Hilario/AFP)
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines [CBCP] released a pastoral statement on July 19 condemning several recent developments it said were threatening people’s freedoms, including a new anti-terrorism law and the closure of the country’s biggest broadcasting network.
The pastoral letter was translated into several Filipino regional languages that included Tagalog, Ilocano, Ilonggo and Bisaya and was read in churches across the Philippines.
Acting CBCP president Bishop Pablo Virgilio David read the pastoral letter out in a video posted on social media.
The bishops began by citing a letter written by Myanmar’s Cardinal Charles Maung Bo asking for prayers for Hong Kong.
“A few days ago, we received a letter from His Eminence, Charles Cardinal Maung Bo … It was an ardent request for prayers for Hong Kong, on account of the signing into law of a new National Security Act,” the pastoral letter said.
Cardinal Bo explained to the CBCP how the new law posed a threat to basic freedoms and rights of the people of Hong Kong.
“Why does this [Cardinal Bo’s request] sound eerily familiar to us Filipinos? Because we are in a similar situation,” the Philippine bishops said.
“We also asked him to pray for the Philippines and explained why we are as seriously in need of prayers as the people of Hong Kong. Like them, we are also alarmed about the recent signing into law of the Anti-Terror Act,” they said.
The Filipino bishops said they were in disbelief when lawmakers passed the anti-terrorism law while the Philippines was focused on the coronavirus pandemic.
“They [lawmakers] did not even seem to care that many of the people they represent were against it — lawyers’ associations, the academe, the business sector, labor groups, youth organizations, NGO’s, political movements, faith-based communities, and even the Bangsamoro government,” said the pastoral letter.
The bishops also said that political pressure from above “weighed more heavily” than the voices from below.
“It only made more evident the blurring of lines between legislative and the executive branches of our government,” said the bishops.
The CBCP had also expressed concern about how the new law posed serious threats to the fundamental freedoms of all peaceful Filipinos.
“Have we not felt the chilling effect of the closure of the country’s biggest broadcast network, the ABS-CBN, after being denied renewal of its franchise? Is it not evident to us how this pattern of intimidation creates an atmosphere detrimental to the freedom of expression in our country?” said the pastoral letter.
“The law has been used too many times as a weapon to suppress legitimate dissent and opposition, we cannot but share in the apprehensions expressed by the lawyers and ordinary citizens that filed the petition against the said infamous law before the Supreme Court.”