God and the Constitution
It is quite true that not all bishops and priests are shining examples of what it means to be good. But who among us are? It is the primary premise of Christianity that we are all weak and prone to sin. The acceptance of this is not hypocrisy. It is humility. This is why forgiveness and love are values we hold dearly. It is impossible to understand Christianity and Catholicism unless we view it in reference to these values. Jesus Christ suggested two commandments after the ten Mosaic laws: the Gospel of St. Mark says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Last Sunday’s pastoral letter from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines reminded me of these. It was a letter necessitated as a matter of course because of current developments in our country, especially having to do with the spate of killings — now estimated at 7,600 — resulting from the “war on drugs.” The letter makes no definite accusation against anyone. Nevertheless, it stated in clear terms that while the drug problem ought to be solved, the solution cannot include extrajudicial killing. Killing is not allowed by the tenets of Christian faith. Indeed, the bishops went on to say in very strong terms that we are not allowed to approve or be indifferent to both the drug problem and the extrajudicial killings. That this pastoral letter would be met with criticism by agents of the current government is expected. Once again, and as a direct reaction to this letter, some government officials repeated their accusation of hypocrisy against the bishops, citing their lack of “moral ascendancy” to tell us what is right and wrong.
These accusations are false. They set off from a wrong premise. They seem especially ironic when they come from politicians who are members of the Philippine Congress. Just because many members of Congress have been known, some proven, to be corrupt does not mean the whole Congress therefore lacks the “moral ascendancy” to tell right from wrong. By the same token, no one can assail the moral ascendancy of the bishops even if it were proven that some of them have erred and are imperfect or even sinful. That logic is wrong at many levels. And if some congressmen would remind us that corruption is wrong and illegal, then we would not be right to say, “No, you do not have the moral ascendancy to tell us that because politicians are corrupt.”
The legitimacy of government institutions does not derive from officials of government given their innate limitations. They derive from the rule of law and the Constitution. In the same way, the moral ascendancy of the bishops derive not from their person but from their priesthood. Their priesthood derives from clear tenets of faith. And no matter that the bishops may themselves be “imperfect vessels” of faith, their imperfections do not detract from the tenets of the faith themselves. There is no hypocrisy when bishops remind us what the tenets of our faith are. To do so is their work. And the tenets are clear in this: That we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves. If we would not want us and our children to be killed without due process, if we do not want to be killed merely on suspicion of drug use and drug trading, then we should not allow this to be done to others. To allow this would go against our faith.
The Constitution of our Republic also disallows such manner of dispensing punishment. It guarantees every person’s right to a fair trial in a court of law before he or she may be punished. Murder is a crime. It cannot be used as state policy for whatever end, no matter how necessary that end would seem. Every government official takes an oath before assuming any position in government. It is an oath to defend the Constitution. Whenever and wherever a government official approves the legitimacy of murder as a state policy, that government official violates this oath to defend the Constitution. If that government official sees it happening and turns the other way or denies it, then it is he who is the hypocrite. He might as well resign or be removed from office.
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