(Pilgrims of Peace Lenten Statement)
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. (Matthew 5:6)
As we prepare ourselves for this year’s Lenten journey, the suffering of the poor weighs upon our hearts. Amidst soaring inflation, it seems impossible for most families to make ends meet. Hunger and deprivation are further exacerbated through extensive joblessness and underemployment in urban areas as well as landlessness for the rural poor. Perhaps, this year, our Lenten journey can help us better understand the hunger and thirst of the Filipino people.
We long for righteousness: we look for how to build peace based on justice. This is so very important in our archipelago, where civil discontent and war pulses the mountains and countryside. In truth, most of those who took up arms did so because they are looking for a society that is more equitable, just, and liberating for the poor and oppressed. As peace advocates, we continue to assert that we must address the roots of the armed conflict in the country. To this end, we continue to urge a return to peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
The ‘un-peace’ in our land is truly disturbing. On the island of Negros, we have witnessed hundreds of political prisoners, human rights violations, killings, and militarization in these past years. Our beloved island has soaked in the blood of her people. The landless toil bent-over in fields of injustice and oppression with little relief, thus reinforcing their discontent and dreams for social change. Couldn’t we work for peace, rather than fueling the flames of war?
It has been reported that there are currently around 200 political prisoners from Negros island. Many of these people are detained under false charges. One of them is former Catholic priest Frank Fernandez, who answered a call beyond the priesthood to join the people’s struggle under the martial law of Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. Clearly, Frank Fernandez bears a heart for righteousness and possesses the wisdom to engage in peace negotiations. He is a peace consultant of the NDFP.
Frank Fernandez was arrested with Cleofe Lagtapon and Geanne Perez on March 19, 2019 under suspicious and irregular procedures. During the hearings, it has been submitted into evidence that Frank, Cleofe, and Geanne were actually brought back to the house of their arrest in Liliw, Laguna for photo documentation with alleged evidence after the police officers facilitated their physical examination at the Laguna Provincial District Hospital. This is contrary to the Rules of Court which say that they should have proceeded from the hospital to the nearest detention facility. Such should raise reasonable doubt. We will learn the verdict of the judge in an upcoming promulgation on February 27, 2023.
If we allow political prisoners like Frank Fernandez to be treated unjustly, it reinforces the drivers of social unrest. However, if we instead demonstrate righteousness and work together to address the roots of armed conflict through GRP-NDFP Peace Talks, perhaps we can breathe some fresh air in this country. We know that the situation isn’t easy, but couldn’t we work for peace?
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5:9)
May God turn our hearts toward peace building in our Lenten journey.
Let’s give peace a chance.
Bishop Gerardo Alminaza
Diocese of San Carlos
Convenor, Pilgrims for Peace