PHILIPPINE Catholic church leaders joined government officials and civil society groups in urging those close to former President Rodrigo Duterte “to encourage him to use his voice responsibly and constructively,” amid the latter’s call to break his home region, Mindanao, from the rest of the country.
“Caritas Philippines is deeply troubled by the recent statements made by former President Duterte regarding the separation of Mindanao from the Philippines. We firmly believe that the Philippines is one nation, indivisible, and Mindanao is an integral part of our national identity and heritage,” said Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo, national director of Caritas Philippines, the social and development arm of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
“While we acknowledge the challenges faced by Mindanao, we believe that solutions lie in collaborative efforts and addressing root causes of conflict, not in division. We urge the government and all stakeholders to work together to address issues of poverty, inequality, and marginalization in a comprehensive and inclusive manner,” the bishop added.
In a statement to Sunstar Philippines on Friday, February 9, 2024, Caritas Philippines maintained that the country “needs leaders who promote unity and healing, not division and discord.”
“Let us remember, we are all Filipinos, bound together by a shared history, a common destiny, and a collective responsibility to build a better future for all…While individuals are free to express their opinions, we urge caution when words have the potential to incite division and instability,” Caritas Philippine said.
“Divisive rhetoric, especially from those who held positions of power, can have harmful consequences, potentially reigniting old conflicts and hindering the progress we have made towards national unity and healing. Furthermore, we believe that true statesmanship lies in responsible and constructive engagement, not in inflammatory pronouncements,” it added.
Duterte, whose term ended in June 2022, was the first president who hailed from Mindanao.
“Former presidents have a crucial role to play in fostering national unity and providing guidance through their experience. This role demands thoughtful reflection, measured words, and actions that prioritize the common good,” Caritas Philippines said.
Redemptorist priest Amado Picardal, a known Duterte critic, opined that Duterte’s latest tirade “sounds to me like a crazy idea of a desperate powerless ex-president trying to evade the impending arrest by the International Criminal Court (ICC).”
“It doesn't have the support of Mindanaoans like me. It doesn't deserve anyone's serious attention,” Picardal said in a report from Catholic news site UCA News.
Lawyer Aaron Pedrosa, of the progressive multi-sectoral group Sanlakas, said that Duterte’s call for the secession of Mindanao is a “supposed threat to rally support from Mindanao, his perceived bailiwick.”
“But this has been rejected and now Duterte and his allies face the possibility of being charged with sedition. This latest episode in the continuing intramurals between the Marcos and Duterte camps is telling of a brewing political crisis, with the latter showing no qualms to resorting to force,” Pedrosa said in a report.
“We must not fall into the trap of siding with either of these elite factions. They have nothing but their political interests with Marcos flirting with Charter Change, and Duterte, saving his skin from ICC prosecution. We should reject Charter Change, and hold Duterte accountable for the thousands killed during his bloody war on drugs,” the Sanlakas leader added.
Top government agencies, such as the Department of Justice, the Philippine National Police, the National Security Council, and the Department of National Defense, earlier expressed their opposition to Duterte’s call.
“Secession is regarded as contrary to the principles of our democratic society, as stated in Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution. The Department of Justice remains committed to protecting our sovereignty and upholding the sanctity of the highest law of the land,” the Justice Department said on February 5.
“Any attempt to secede any part of the Philippines will be met by the government with resolute force," added National Security Adviser Eduardo Año in a separate statement.
Meanwhile, Mindanao leaders also expressed disapproval of calls to separate the southern island regions.
“We affirm that secession is not the answer to Mindanao’s concern. It denies our people the rights embodied by the constitution, including the destruction of our territorial integrity compromising our efforts to build a stronger nation,” said Maguindanao del Sur Gov. Bai Mariam Sangki Mangudadatu on February 3
Sultan Kudarat Governor Datu Pax Ali Mangudadatu also emphasized that the calls for division “would disrupt the interconnected productivity of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao that has long sustained our national economy, and risk fracturing the foundation of our unity and national stability.”
The governor maintained that “a divisive perspective” will also lead to the reversal of the termination of armed conflicts in Mindanao. (SunStar Philippines)