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EJK and human rights

August 18, 2016

THE Cebu clergy had their monthly recollection the other day. The invited guest speaker, both a lawyer and journalist, among other things, was one known for her advocacy in human rights. We were given a drill on human rights, rule of law, due process and other related topics, all of them as some kind of reaction to the rise of extra-judicial killings (EJK) that we are hearing about these days.

From where I sat, I noticed that the priests were especially attentive, except of course for a few. There will always be exceptions, but this time, I noticed more rapt attention. The archbishop was around, together with the two auxiliary bishops. There were also all ears.

I was happy to note that the talk presented the nuances of human rights as articulated by institutions like the UN and, of course, our constitution, and other personalities of some standing. Since the speaker was a lawyer and not a theologian, there was hardly any theological explanation beyond the fact that human rights spring from man’s being the image and likeness of God.

The reaction of the priests in general was mainly that of grave concern, since it cannot be denied that the drug problem we have is a first-class crisis. Recent developments have lifted the lid on this crisis whose scary dimensions are getting far worse than what are generally suspected.

Somehow priests get to know more details about this crisis because they preside over funerals of drug-related deaths in their parishes, they get to receive information from their parishioners, they hear confessions and they also are sought for some pieces of advice from people. They are near the frontline.

They have mixed feelings about this issue. While they are somehow happy with the current campaign against people involved in drugs, they are also alarmed at the rise of these extra-judicial killings whose perpetrators we cannot be sure of – whether they are done by some vigilantes, or the police, or drug people themselves in their own internecine conflicts.

What comes to my mind is that this development we are having at this time, provoked by the ascendance of our new president, has good aspects as well as poses new challenges that we have to tackle.

Definitely, the drug problem has to be tackled head-on before it gets any worse. As it is now, it is really ugly. But we need to further develop our systems – police, judicial, penal, medical, political, economic, social, etc. – to cope with this highly complex problem.

Let’s hope that our lawmakers can craft better laws that are more effective in blending our need to get the culprits as well as our need for respect of human rights, rule of law and due process.

We obviously cannot remain at the current state of our laws that are now found to be ineffective or lacking in something necessary. We have to understand that our human laws need to evolve without abandoning their essential purpose. They need to be updated to adapt to current situations.

A more appropriate system of checks and balances among the different branches and agencies of our government should be put in place.

This should be a serious affair that should not be trivialized by too much politicking and grandstanding. Let’s hope that we can choose lawmakers and public officials who are competent to carry out their responsibility.

As to the clergy, a great challenge befalls us. But before we start thinking of building rehab centers and the like, we should intensify our spiritual and pastoral ministry. We have to keep the priority of Mary over Martha. While the state and civil society aim at making people responsible citizens, we in the Church have to focus on encouraging people to be saints.

As one saint once said, today’s crises are basically a crisis of saints. People are not praying anymore. They are simply guided by their emotions and instincts and some questionable ideologies. There’s a lot of doctrinal ignorance and confusion, and religious indifference.

Today’s drug problem is just a result of many previous crises that have not been effectively resolved: corruption, deceit, infidelity, lack of temperance, etc. There is little authentic spiritual life in many people.

If these basic problems in people’s spiritual life are made to persist, then we can expect graver crises after the one on drugs. In other countries, this is what we observe. They are now into terrorism and massacres and mindless rampage.

Everyone has to be involved, but I imagine that the clergy has to focus more on strengthening the spiritual and moral lives of people. These aspects are basic and indispensable.

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