Philippines churches join protests over lengthening presidential office

By Ecumenical News International
June 12, 2009

Church groups have joined thousands of demonstrators in the Makati area of Manila to denounce plans by some lawmakers to amend the 1987 constitution in a way perceived as a ploy to prolong the term of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo - writes Maurice Malanes.

Before the march, the president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, wrote in a pastoral letter, "We appeal to members of civil society who wish to publicly protest against House Resolution 1109 to go on with their plan of mobilisation to protect the common good and national interest."

Some placards carried by demonstrators stated, "Gloria forever? Never!" and "Gloria must go!"

The lower chamber of the country's legislature on 2 June passed a resolution to reconvene itself as constituent assembly to amend the Philippines' constitution.

The General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of the Philippines, the Rev Rex Reyes, condemned the move as, "plain and simple tyranny of numbers exercised to promote self-serving interests".

The Catholic bishops' conference, the mainly-Protestant NCCP and its member churches and evangelical groups such as the million-strong Jesus is Lord Movement, headed by Brother Eddie Villanueva, joined labour and civil society groups in the nationally-coordinated protest rally on 10 June against the resolution.

Lagdameo said, however, on the Roman Catholic-run Radio Veritas on 9 June that his church would not lead the rally "because we cannot be partisan" and because the church respects a constitutional "separation of Church and State".

Some commentators say the Philippines situation is highly charged because a number of presidential hopefuls are preparing for the May 2010 national elections.

Lagdameo appealed for prayers and peaceful demonstrations so "we may not fall into the trap that will necessitate martial law again". This was a reference to the two-decade-long dictatorship of the late president Ferdinand Marcos, who was overthrown in 1986 in what was called the "People Power Revolution".

Church leaders and Arroyo's critics have been wary of the resolution passed by the lawmakers, saying that amending the constitution now, barely a year before the 2010 elections, must have been calculated to extend Arroyo's term. The constitution provides for a six-year presidential term without an option for re-election.

Arroyo and her supporters in the lower chamber of the legislature denied that the recent actions were a ploy to extend her rule. "All of these [issues being raised] are just fears of the unknown," Baguio City House Representative and Arroyo ally, Mauricio Domogan, told Ecumenical News International.

[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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