My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
It was a question of concern—one that stirred the hearts of his disciples and eventually led to the recognition: “It is the Lord!” As shepherds of a people whose lives depend on considerable measure on the sea, the rivers and their gifts, we would like God’s People not only in our Church jurisdictions but throughout Luzon to recognize the Lord in the concern of the Church for the well-being of our poor fisherfolk.
It is no secret that the aggressive incursions of the Chinese into our maritime zones, resulting in the widespread destruction of coral reefs, marine sanctuaries and the habitat of fish and sea-dwelling animals has wrought havoc on the lives of our fisherfolk.
Before the forcible occupation of our maritime zones, fishermen did not have to go very far to be able to harvest the riches of the sea that provided for their needs and those of the members of their families.
Now, they have to venture far into the open sea and tremendous risk to their safety to able to make a catch and then still face the threat of being bullied by Chinese fishing and naval vessels that, by their size and power, can easily outmaneuver and frighten our fishermen in their bangkas and lampitaws.
This is not only an issue about fish and aquatic resources but about the lives, the well-being and the future of one of the marginal but populous sectors of our society—the fisherfolk.
The Church stands with them, and as shepherd from various ecclesiastical jurisdictions with fisherfolk within our pastoral care, we stand with them and we bishops give voice to their fears and anxieties, their woes and their concerns.
A policy of appeasing the Chinese aggressors is worsening the situation of our poor fisherfolk. This same policy of appeasing the aggressors has also emboldened them to make tall tale claims. Said Desmond Tutu, “If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
It has only emboldened it, as it makes more inroads into our marine sanctuaries and maritime zones, displacing our own fisherfolk from fishing grounds from which they have traditionally harvested the wealth that the sea then had to offer. We seek peace, and it cannot be a moral option to wage war.
But neither is it just for the leaders of our country to allow our own fisherfolk to be driven out of fishing grounds over which international law recognizes our rights. We gratefully acknowledge statements of resoluteness about defending the resources God, in his munificence, has made available to us through the sea, but words are NOT enough.
All legal means must be exhausted so that what nature has so bountifully bestowed on us may be ours and may feed generations of Filipinos yet to be born and if present diplomatic endeavors do not suffice, then it is permissible morally necessary even to have recourse to the friendship of allies who can help us defend what is ours!
Pangunahin ang mga mangingisda sa mga dukha at salat na salat sa tulong ng pamahalaan. Nananawagan po ako sa mga kapatid sa pananampalataya na ipagtanggol ang karapatan ng mga dukhang mangingisda, saklolohan ang kanilang buhay at kabuhayan at itaguyod ang kinabukasan ng mga mangingisda at kanilang mag-anak.
Mga kapatid na maliliit na mangingisda, panindigan po natin ang ating karagatan at palaisdaan. Hindi tayo busabos ng mga banyagang magnanakaw ng ating huling yaman dagat. Huwag tayong mangisda sa pamamagitan ng paraang nakakasira ng buhay marina. May sariling buhay ang ating karagatan at kaisdaan. Igalang natin ang likas dagat at maging mabubuting katiwala ng yamang ipanagkatiwala sa atin ng Diyos na Lumikha. May sagutin tayo sa mga susunod pang kaapu apuhan na mayroon pa rin silang mahuhuli mula sa dagat at maipapakain sa kanilang mga anak sa kinabukasan.
Sa magandang bayan ng Santo Tomas sa La Union may isang imahen ng birhen na ang ngalan ay Virgen del Mar Cautiva na “nahuli” ng mga mangingisda sa parehong karagatan na inaangkin ng mga Tsino. Si Maria ay nasa ating karagatan. Birheng Ina ng karagatan, saklolohan ninyo kami at yakapin ang inaaping mangingisdang anak mo.
We issue this pastoral exhortation together on this Memorial of St. Josephine Bakhita, February 8, 2024.
From the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist, Dagupan City
From the Cathedral of Saint Augustin, Iba, Zambales
From the Cathedral of Saint William, San Fernando de La Union
From the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Puerto Princesa
From the Cathedral of Saint Joseph the Worker, Taytay, Palawan
Socrates B. Villegas
Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan
Bartolome Santos Jr.
Bishop of Iba
Daniel O. Presto
Bishop of San Fernando de La Union
Apostolic Vicar of Puerto Princesa
Apostolic Vicar of Taytay
Auxiliary Bishop of Lingayen-Dagupan