last first column of the year [sorry, got confused over online and print publication dates] with this altogether more earnest Inquirer editorial written three weeks later.
To ask that question is to realize that the Sumilao case is ultimately about something even more basic than land. It is about our dignity as men and women who are free to choose, a dignity rooted, the bishops may well say now and as “Gaudium et Spes” reminded us then, in the very image of God. If the farmers choose what a materialistic world may consider the lesser portion, what of it? Is their choice necessarily invalid because it nets them less money? Development cannot be sustainable if it is founded on the original sin of injustice.
Published on January 1, 2008
IT MAY be that the most politically far-reaching event of 2007 was the Catholic bishops’ deep involvement in the Sumilao farmers’ cause. In terms of public rhetoric and private pressure, their stance reminded me of another end-of-year flexing of political muscle: The religious-bloc protests that stopped the House of Representatives’ shameless attempt to convene a constituent assembly, by itself, in December 2006.
But something about the bishops’ support for the Sumilao farmers seems qualitatively different. I am not talking about the unusually high-profile support given by the Archbishop of Manila, Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, although he did add ecclesiastical weight to the campaign to open the iron gates of Malacañang.
What I have in mind, what struck me most, was the Church’s organized response to the cause itself: seminarians working with the farmers during their long march “from Mindanao to Malacañang,” priests negotiating with Palace officials (as I see it, this proved crucial after Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita refused to meet with the marchers), bishops sitting down with President Macapagal-Arroyo herself. The response did not only seem the fruit of long reflection but the firstfruits of a renewed engagement in the political.
(Two quick caveats. I must note that it was the marching farmers themselves who bore the burden of the protest action and thus the responsibility for their temporary victory. And by political engagement I mean only the Church’s unapologetic application of pressure on politicians and political institutions.)
When the bishops meet this month, for the first of their semi-annual conferences, they may decide to issue a statement on the Sumilao cause, possibly in the context of the expiration, six months from now, of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law. If they do, we can be sure it will again be couched, diplomatically, in the language of moral guidance.
Made it, and just barely. The last hour, the last day of the month! When I read Willy’s post the other day, positively willing himself to blog again, I got a lift too. It wasn’t exactly a conscious decision on my part to stop posting — things just got in the way. Work, lots of it. Moving house. Administrative stuff. Volunteer work. The holidays. Plus an extremely tight but exhilarating conference in Bangkok. Before I knew it, an entire month had passed.
Perhaps (if we were to look for something to blame) we can blame the lack of reading; moving into a new place is a slow work in progress, and most of my books (that is, most of the books I decided to keep — another post in itself) are hidden inside a book cabinet, which in turn is surrounded by boxes and boxes of just plain stuff, all needing to be sorted out. As a result, no books to read, and no sustained reading. I must confess to a sense of disorientation, what someone I know would call a lack of equilibrium.
Last night, or rather very early this morning, I finally made a clearing among the boxes, creating enough space to allow me to open the doors of my beloved book cabinet. Among the first books I saw was a clutch of used ones I bought in Baguio sometime the last week of December; I had forgotten all about them. Funny, but it felt good just to see them again.
This afternoon, on my way to work, I found myself stuck in unusual traffic. For some reason, the Mandaluyong City rotunda was filled with people; it looked like a fiesta, and the cars from Shaw had to inch their way around the City Hall complex, navigating through a river of humanity. It probably cost me 20 or more minutes. When I got to the office, I found out why. Scanning through the day’s pictures already posted on the newsroom’s editing system, I realized that the celebrated Fr. Suarez, the healing priest, was right there in that Mandaluyong City Hall complex, ministering. The thousands of people on the street outside City Hall? They were all waiting, if not to be healed themselves, then at least for the gift of witnessing a miracle.