Understanding and Challenging Church People in the Philippines to Participate in the People’s Struggle

By Fr. Dionito M. Cabillas, IFI

The Church in the Philippines, in general, is a social group composed of different denominations or affiliations with a common interest of promoting the mission to save humanity. This interest to save humanity can be interpreted by church people in different ways. It can be understood from purely humanitarian concern, comprehensive social salvation and salvation of the soul. Those who work for this interest are the church people and Christians.

In understanding the Church and church people in the Philippines, there is a need to know the church people by classifying them. Church people are:

  1. those who underwent formal theological training, through this training, they will be equipped with specific knowledge and skills to promote the Christian religion;
  2. those who actively promote the Christian religion even without formal theological training;
  3. those who are members of the policy-making bodies, councils, boards, etc., (most of them are lay people), and those who derive their main source of income from church institutions; and,
  4. those who devote much of their time participating in church activities and services, they are usually the lay people or church members.

These church people would include the priests, nuns or sisters, brothers, formandi, pastors, deacons, deaconesses, elders and bishops.

Other church people can be classified as the lay church workers being trained in pastoral apostolates like catechists, lay leaders who devote much of their time to church services or assume some of the basic functions of priests or pastors like lay ministers and bible women, and board and council members.

Among the lay people, the degree of identifying themselves within the church people will vary according to how they identify themselves with the interests and perspectives of church institutions.

There are other church people who can be categorized based on their participation or involvement in socio-economic life, like:

  1. church leaders who invest in big businesses, investing in multinational corporations and local industries with major foreign equity;
  2. church leaders of institutions and congregations that own vast tracts of land;
  3. church leaders of institutions/congregations who invest in local industries owned by the local entrepreneurs;
  4. church people (usually lay ministers or church workers) who derive their main source of income from ownership of small tracts of land which they directly till or with the assistance of hired labor; and,
  5. church people or lay church workers who also work as poor peasants.

The church people can be also classified through their social status. Many church people come from the so-called professionals in our society and a large section belongs to the intelligentsia or the intellectuals or academicians. They are those who receive salaries or other financial remuneration in the form of dues and donations through the exercise of their professions or in return for religious services. However, they are also divided in the different levels, so, they can be categorized into upper, middle or lower intellectuals depending on their financial status and position in the institutions.

These church people can be challenged to understand the life of the masses and their issues in different ways. They can be also challenged to get organize and support the people in their struggle. They can be challenged to participate in the mobilizations from humanitarian concerns, upholding human rights and asserting national sovereignty and protecting the patrimony of the country.

The church people have the time, ability and capacity to link, integrate and involve in the life of the basic masses: peasants, workers, urban poor, national minorities, among others. They can help discuss the issues of the masses, like the issues of national sovereignty and protection national patrimony, foreign intervention in the name of war on terror, US military bases in the Philippines through US-RP agreements, genuine land reform and national industrialization, contractualization and just wages, housing, rights and jobs for the urban poor, struggle of the Moro and national minorities for self-determination, emancipation of women, human rights and militarization, tyranny and dictatorship, just and lasting peace.

These issues are concern of the Church in the Philippines but most of the church leaders evade to take up these as their immediate concerns. If, they wat to, they can do. However, the Church in the Philippines or even in other countries is highly institutionalized. It has a well-developed system of programs, services, organizations and institutions, but with their own structures, rules and policies.

Some of the church leaders, especially the conservatives and even the reformists within the church institutions have utilized programs to promote the Christian religion, as a humanitarian response to the needs of the poor, and as a way to neutralize and defuse the growing discontentment of the people and draw them away from joining the people’s struggle and/or the revolution. In some cases, in cooperation with the state or state forces, these programs were used as a counter-insurgency tool or mechanism.

The progressive church people, because of their eagerness to serve the people, have also set up different programs and services that were integrated into the existing institutional structure or exerted influence over mandated programs and services. These can be done through their congregations, parishes and missions.

Some of the these programs become the direct services or channels to organize the peasants, workers, national minorities, women and children, urban poor, and other marginalized sectors. These programs support the organizations in their struggle, which include the protection and promotion of human rights and resist the fascist state terror; to educate, organize and mobilize the church people and other professionals; and, to generate financial and material resources for humanitarian concerns and other needs of the people’s struggle.

The church organizations, whether mandated or not, are groupings or alliances or united actions of church people and church members. They are usually based on different levels of divisions or lay/cleric distinctions. Most of these organizations were set up to widen the church’s influence over its members and to nurture the members’ belief and sense of belonging. These organizations can help in promoting wider unity or fellowship of Christians and church people towards working for the common good and welfare of the people

The church people must be organized. Educating, organizing and mobilizing the church people is not an easy work. Recognizing of the nature and characteristics of the church institutions which are conservative, hierarchical and feudal, there should always be a good interplay or combination of doing organizing and mobilizing and alliance work between the formandi and winning over their formators, the nuns/priests and their superiors, the priests/pastors and their bishops/elders and their flock.

Working within the institutions is a big challenge to all church people because church leaders are usually tied up with church institution’s interest. Over and above, church leaders even progressives church people will always defend the interests of the institutions. No one should think that church institutions can be transformed into revolutionary denominations, even those institutions that had revolutionary heritage and charism. Working within the institutions is influencing their leaders to be good servants of the Saviour and the people.

Working within the institutions must also be done through the promotion of progressive church institutional policies and programs and the basic masses must be benefited. Church leaders of the institutions should be challenged to speak out in support of the struggle of the basic masses and other sectors, align their programs, apostolates, ministries toward the wider involvement of the people, and the services and material resources must be released for the people’s struggle towards the attainment of genuine and lasting peace.

With these frameworks, church people would be encouraged or attracted to be part of the church organizations, ecumenical formations and fellowships. The church people should be convinced the justness of the people’s struggle for genuine national liberation and democracy, social emancipation and genuine and lasting peace. The war on terror, war on drug and all-out war are unjust and ruthless war of the few ruling elite against the majority of the Filipino people. The participation of the church people in this struggle of the people can broaden the participation of the Filipino people in the struggle.

The church people can also help fellow Christians to participate in the people’s democratic movement. They can help build mass organizations and influence church mandated organizations to be part of the mass organizations.

The church people have an international link among church people abroad. International solidarity work, people-to-people or church-to-church relations should be strengthened. Organizing among Filipino migrants or overseas contract workers, and providing necessary services to them, are noble efforts of strengthening the people struggle in the Philippines. These works can weaken the US intervention in the Philippines or weaken US imperialism. These efforts are also the Filipinos’ participation in the global broad anti-imperialist movement. The church people can help in the international solidarity work.

The church people have a big responsibility of propagating nationalist and progressive culture, theology, prophetic ministry and liturgy. Challenging the church leaders or leadership bodies to take the side of the oppressed and exploited and criticizing them when they take the side of the oppressors are great works to promotion of progressive culture within the church institutions. Church leaders must be challenged to stand on the principle of the separation between the Church and State. This means, there is no compromising with the dole outs, financial and material supports or influences coming from the State or any politician, to speak justly for and in behalf of the people. Church leaders must not legitimized corruption, fascist attacks against the people, tyranny and dictatorship of the State.

The church people must develop interfaith dialogue and alliances with other denominations, religions, Bangsamoro and the national minorities. In Metro Manila, there are 1.3 millions of members of the Bangsamoro. Their participation in the struggle for national emancipation is significant and relevant. Church people can reach out them through dialogues, discussion of issues affecting them and inter-faith prayers.

The church people must be oriented on how to organize. Organizing skills can be learned and acquired. It must be a common understanding to all church people that the organizing work within the church institutions are mainly done in the urban areas and town centers. This means that this is an organizing of church people that can started in the fellowships, studies, ecumenical prayers, exchanges of information and participation of the people’s mobilization.

The church people can be immediately explained that the issue at hand is focusing on its appeal to the humanitarian or patriotic interests of the church denomination. To the Roman Catholics, the social encyclicals can be cited, and the social teachings of the Church and pro-people pronouncements of the Church and liberation theology, especially of the Protestants, will be also relevant.

The church people organizers and leaders must gather the reaction or feedback and suggestions of those who responded to the exchanges of information and issue discussions. The discussion must be raised the dialogues into the higher level or explain the issues on the basis of the national problems and discuss possible immediate solutions.

It is most important that regular and consistent follow up and raising the consciousness of those church people who are receptive to the idea of organizing must be consciously done. They can be encouraged to actively participate in the subsequent activities by giving them tasks like preparing liturgies, writing statements, inviting other participants or by being a speaker.

After a series of activities, they can be invited to a deeper discussions or socio-political education. These could be issue-based but more comprehensive analysis of the nation’s historical and systemic problems. A number of publications and even video productions can be used. They can be also encouraged to participate in integration or immersion processes into the communities of the basic masses, on a short or long term basis. Their reactions and get their feedback or suggestions must be monitored.

Then, at the proper and opportune time, church people can be recruited to be members of or be active in of the church people organizations they want. Their membership in these organizations would be an affirmation of their commitment while their participation in the regular activities of the organization would help in systematically raising their understanding of the various social and political issues.

To expand and widen the organization, an organizing group can be organized. It may be within a congregation, seminary, parish or local church, diocese. It can be started as an inter-congregational, inter-seminary, within a cluster of parishes or local churches until more organizing groups are developed. The organizing group is to identify contacts, conduct issue discussions, recruit more members into the organization. All members of the organizing group can be provided with activists’ training in organizing, information/education, mobilization and administering the organization.

After doing its preparatory works, the formation of a full organization through launching or holding an assembly will be done. The organization’s basis of unity, constitution and by-laws, program of actions and election of set of officers be accomplished in the assembly. After the assembly, the organizing will not stop. At least 15 individuals can be formed into a chapter, and more chapters can be formed as next stages go on.

Christians who work with other organizations of the sectors must work hand in hand with the church people’s organization to help strengthen the organizations. Continuing education and integration/immersion with the basic masses, creation and expansion of more organizations, can strengthen the struggle of the people. #