Philippines church leaders urge resistance to 'new despotism'

By Ecumenical News International
August 8, 2009

Church leaders have urged Filipinos to help remove new signs of despotism and to protect the democracy for which the former president, Corazon Aquino, had struggled and sacrificed - writes Maurice Melanes.

"She taught us to be on guard against any more tyrants and the necessary struggle we have to take to uphold civil liberties," the National Council of Churches in the Philippines said in a statement on the eve of Aquino's burial on 5 August.

"The signs of the present government point to a situation where we must continue to care and dare to fight," noted the statement, referring to the government of current President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Aquino, aged 76, died of colon cancer on 1 August. She was swept to power in February 1986 through a church-backed "people power" revolution, which ousted Ferdinand Marcos, who had ruled the country for 20 years, 14 of them under martial law.

She was the widow of the late former senator Benigno Aquino Jr., who was assassinated in 1983 on his arrival at the Manila International Airport following a three-year exile in the United States.

As president, Corazon Aquino restored democracy, cleaned up government, freed political prisoners jailed by Marcos and initiated peace talks with communist and Muslim rebels.

Commentators have praised Aquino for immediately relinquishing power after her six-year-term, refusing offers to run for re-election and stressing that her role was to consolidate democracy.

In recent years, Aquino had criticised reported abuses and corruption under Arroyo, including moves by Arroyo's allies to amend the constitution drafted under Aquino.

The NCCP, the Episcopal (Anglican) Church of the Philippines and the Roman Catholic bishops' conference have all issued statements opposing these moves to amend the constitution. They expressed fears the amendments were intended to allow Arroyo to stand for a second term, something the present constitution forbids.

In a 30 July statement, Episcopal bishops likened these moves to what Marcos did when he amended the constitution in 1972 and later declared martial law to prolong his rule.

On 2 August, however, Arroyo's executive secretary Gabriel Claudio said the presidential office had urged its allies in Congress to abandon their efforts to amend the constitution.

As Aquino was laid to rest, church leaders exhorted Filipinos to continue protecting the democracy she stood for.

At the funeral Mass on 5 August, Catholic Bishop Socrates Villegas of Balanga said, "We promise to love this country as you loved us. There is darkness in our land because you are gone. But we know we have enough lights within us because you have shared with us your fire."

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]

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