Today is another rest day. Good timing, since the winds are still strong and the storm signal in neighboring provinces are still up. The storm is moving ahead of me to the North - so I will be following its effect tomorrow.
Before leaving for my pilgrimage I wrote a letter to the President of the Philippines - Benigno Aquino III. I saved it in my USB thumb drive which I carried in my back pack. I printed it today and tomorrow I will deliver it to the guard house of Malacanang Palace. Here is the content of the letter:
March 31, 2011
President Benigno Aquino III
Dear Mr. President,
Greetings of Peace!
I am a 56-year old Catholic priest belonging to the Redemptorist Congregation, who is running and walking alone across the Philippines – from Davao City to Aparri via the Cordilleras.. This is a 2000+ km journey starting on April 1, 2011 up to May 28, 2011.
During my pilgrimage on foot, I intend to preach the Gospel of Life & Peace to ordinary people I meet on the way – in sari-sari stores, waiting sheds and parish churches where I stay for the night, and to the media. There are four pro-life concerns that I bring with me:
(1) The armed conflict in the countryside that has caused the loss of so many lives and the need to support the ongoing peace process between the government and the revolutionary groups (e.g. NDF and MILF)
(2) The destruction of the environment and the threat to the way of life and cultures of the indigenous peoples – due to mining and logging.
(3) The extra-judicial killings carried out by death squads, allegedly inspired or abetted by some local government officials and police personnel in many cities in the Philippines.
(4) The RH bill being debated in congress which promotes an aggressive population control program which is based on a questionable if not false assumptions that there is a crisis of overpopulation which perpetuates poverty and is a hindrance to sustainable economic development.
On my journey, I bring with me this letter of appeal to you and will leave it with the guards as I pass by Malacanang on my way to Aparri. I hope this letter will reach you and not end in the waste basket. This is special delivery – not through e-mail or air-mail. I carry it myself in my backpack on foot – from Mindanao, through Visayas and Luzon.
I dare to write this letter to you because I believe that you listen to the voices of the people whom you consider as your Boss and whom you pledged to serve. My voice is only one small voice among many. But it deserves serious consideration because I walk my talk.
So let me express to you my appeal:
I am very thankful that you have revived the peace negotiations with the NDF and the MILF. I express my support for the peace process and ask people to do the same. I appeal to you to use your political will to see to it that a peace agreement is reached which addresses the roots of the armed conflict. Let is be peace based on justice and socio-economic and political reforms that will truly alleviate poverty. I ask that the process be transparent and consultative so that it will be accepted and owned by the people. Meanwhile, I appeal for a ceasefire while the negotiations are going on.
I am grateful that you have ordered a total log ban which I hope will be fully implemented. Besides logging, mining is also destroying the environment and the cultures and way of life of the indigenous peoples and peasants – especially in Palawan, Mindoro, Mindanao, Samar, Bicol and the Cordilleras. It has only benefited the foreign companies and their local counterparts while these regions remain the poorest. I appeal to you listen to the cry of the ordinary people in these areas and to order a moratorium and consider repealing the Mining Act. I also appeal to stop the construction or operation of Coal-Fired Power Plants which contributes to global warming and which depend on coal mining.
I appeal to you to order the Commission on Human Rights and the Department of Justice to continue conducting investigation on the extra-judicial killings and hold accountable those behind these. The UN has already conducted initial investigation under Philip Allston, so has the Human Rights Watch. Three years ago, the Commission of Human Rights started its own investigation and until now there has been no report. Meanwhile the killings continue and have spread to other cities.
I know that you feel strongly about passing a bill on Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health. I am grateful that you have not treated it as a priority bill as you still want to engage in dialogue with the Catholic Church. It seems to me that you have taken the side of those pushing for the RH bill in Congress and shares their viewpoint on why this bill is urgent. What is the logic behind this bill? That there is a crisis of population explosion which perpetuates the poverty of our people and a hindrance to economic development. Therefore, an aggressive population control program is necessary which includes promoting contraception and sex education. What is the message your are promoting? Walang mahirap kung konti lang ang bata. Para sa ikaaunlad ng bayan, contraception at sex education ang kailangan. You know very well that the cause of poverty is not overpopulation and it is even questionable whether we are facing a crisis of overpopulation. The population growth rate and total fertility rate have gone down and continues to go down. The crisis that the world is facing is the demographic winter – an aging population, with less young people. This is why other countries need our OFWs. It would be better if you focus on poverty-alleviation, quality education for all, and universal health program (not just reproductive health). I agree with you that we need to promote Responsible Parenthood which includes sex-education taught within the context of religious and cultural values but it cannot be legislated and funded by billions coming from our taxes.
The Catholic Church is not a hindrance to progress and development. The Church is not your enemy. You don’t have to worry about the threat of excommunication from the CBCP – which was a false report. Please consider the Church as a partner for the achievement of common good, for poverty-alleviation, for justice and peace, and for the defense of life and the environment. When the Church criticizes the policies and behavior of those in government it is always in line with her prophetic mission and in defense of the values of life, peace and justice. Your late mother and father (whose memory I too venerate) appreciated the historic contribution of the Church in transforming society. It would be sad and a great disservice to our people if the remaining years of your presidency is spent in an adversarial and conflictive relationship with the Catholic Church.
As a young man, I fought against a dictator and I was tortured and imprisoned for seven months. Soon I will be a senior citizen and I don’t want to spend it fighting against a government and a president whose candidacy I fully supported and whose anti-corruption and peace program I continue to support.
Last year, when I walked across France and Spain on the Camino de Santiago, I was praying for the success of your new administration – especially in your fight against corruption and for achieving peace, justice and progress in our land. As I continue my journey on foot across the Philippines, I continue to pray for you that you will be a great president and lead us to a better future. I hope and pray that I will not end up in disappointment.
Fr. Amado L. Picardal, CSsR