The largest organization of Protestant and non-Roman Catholic churches in the Philippines has released a statement supporting a pastoral letter issued by the country’s Catholic bishops’ conference condemning an anti-terrorism law and other “social ills” plaguing society. The bishops released the pastoral letter on July 19, prompting President Rodrigo Duterte’s lawyer Salvador Panelo to accuse them of violating the constitutional provision of separating church and state. Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Manila and Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan responded on July 20 by saying the bishops were exercising free speech as citizens. On July 21, Protestant bishops waded into the argument, saying the pastoral letter was a moral obligation among church leaders. “It is the moral duty and prophetic task of every Christian, especially church leaders, to announce and denounce ills of society,” said Bishop Reuel Norman O. Marigza, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines.
He said Protestant churches had welcomed the pastoral letter calling on all faithful to pray for the country. “This is what the prophets of old and Jesus Christ did during their respective times. It also helps our respective flocks in their reflection and discernment,” Bishop Marigza added. Catholic bishops spoke about what they perceived was “something that had to be taught given the freedom to do so guaranteed under the [Philippine] constitution,” the Protestant organization also said “To paraphrase what Bishop Broderick Pabillo stated, as citizens and rights holders, members of the clergy also have rights to call to task the government, the duty bearers, if they are remiss in their duties and responsibilities to the people,” it said in the statement. The Protestant churches also supported the stand against the decision by Philippine lawmakers not to renew the franchise of ABS-CBN, the country’s biggest broadcasting network. “It is the government who is not listening to its people as the Anti-Terrorism Act and the closure of ABS-CBN are overwhelmingly being criticized by various sectors of society,” Bishop Marigza said. Lawmaker Lito Atienza also sided with the Catholic prelates, saying their pastoral letter was the legitimate exercise of religious freedom and not a violation of the separation of church and state. “The CBCP [Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines] did exercise its religious freedom. The bishops are our spiritual leaders. Hence, they lead their people in both faith and morals, even if it means going into some political issues,” Atienza told UCA news. Joel Olario, a theology professor in Manila, said the pastoral letter had a moral dimension and the bishops were speaking from a moral rather than from a political point of view. “A church that does not speak, if it needs to, is a church that does not do its job. Let us remember the people power revolution when the late Cardinal Sin became the spiritual leader of our nation in a moment of change,” he said.
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