DIOCESAN Pastoral Statement on issues affecting the people of Negros during the pandemic:
“The crisis we are facing should not make us forget the many other crises that bring suffering to so many people.” – Pope Francis
Recently, we were jolted again by the seismic activities of Mt. Kanlaon and several families had to be evacuated to safety. Once more we are on the alert!
Nature manifests our common cries during the uncertainties of this pandemic. My mentor, the Bishop of the Poor, the late Bishop Antonio Y. Fortich of Bacolod used to describe the situation of Negros Island as a “social volcano”. Now, more than ever, there is a need to address the unending poverty and social inequalities, the continuing militarization and the displacement of the poor communities.
We call on all sectors that we must strengthen our commitment to the pursuit of social justice, else, this social volcano might explode and bring more disastrous effects.
Commitment to end injustice
“Countries must commit to protecting the labor force... the workers and those in the informal sector. This must be the goal of all coordinated fiscal and monetary actions.” (UN, Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity, p. 14)
The Labor sector is affected as millions of workers become jobless. In Negros, the sugar workers lose more jobs due to limited mobility and community quarantine restrictions. Their families are adversely affected by the higher prices of commodities and fare. We call on the local government to help our people find work during this crisis.
While we are trying to save lives during this pandemic, ironically—killings have thrived. The latest victim is sugar workers organizer, Jose Jerry Catalogo, who was shot to death while on his way to harvest sugarcane last June 23, 2020. This is the 260th recorded case of political killing among the peasants under the Duterte government.
Our Diocese is one with the families of the victims of killings in their sorrows. We continue tolling the bells of every parish, quasi-parish and mission station at 8 p.m. until the killings stop.
Commitment to integral recovery
The Covid-19 crisis is not only an economic crisis but also a global humanitarian crisis. The military solution is never the answer to the social and health crisis. Our national government must be reminded of a just recovery. Yes, we need to counter the virus but in the pursuit of integral recovery. The people in the communities are hungry. We cannot talk of lockdown to hungry stomachs. Together with our people, I am voicing this concern: give us food, not tanks!
Our government leaders must be reminded, too, that the necessities of health and humanitarian approaches cannot be compromised by other political intentions. The billions of dollars loaned for the recovery of the people must be accounted for and cascaded to provide enough medical equipment, augment the needs of medical frontliners, set up Covid-19 test centers, conduct contact tracing and mass testing, provide food assistance and jobs, instead of intensifying militarization.
Commitment for sustainable assistance for all
We commend the high-spirited initiatives of individuals. Globally, local churches and non-government agencies are mobilizing campaigns to address the gloomy situation of the people, by providing sustained food assistance and livelihood. “Civil society and grassroots organizations, Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) and Faith-Based Organizations (FBOs) play a vital role at the local level. These groups are active in bringing economic and livelihood opportunities and adapting responses to the community context.” (UN, Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity, p. 20)
In our diocese, the Social Action Center continues to offer sustainable programs such as the “Caritas Kindness Station” and “Adopt-a-family Program” during this crisis. We remain committed to our ubuntu spirit of solidarity.
Commitment to reinvigorate our coexistence with nature
We are finding healing through nature that sustains us with fruitful harvests. Without nature made more productive by our farmers, we cannot survive this crisis.
In solidarity with other bishops, we are calling for vigilance on the reported continued destruction of our natural resources even during the lockdown. We need to defend nature and call for the end of environmental destruction.
The continuity of life is possible. Our concern for nature is beyond the pandemic since as we defend nature, nature also protects our health.
The systemic pattern of destroying our Mother Earth must stop. The throw-away culture must end; our human-centered dominion must change; our activism for nature must be emboldened.
“Everything we do during and after this crisis must be with a strong focus on building more equal and inclusive societies that are more resilient in the face of pandemics, climate change, and the many other challenges we face.” (UN, Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity, p. 22)
We should take heed of the words of our Holy Father who said that we have no future if we destroy the very environment that sustains us (Pope Francis, April 22, 2020).