Statement of the Obispo Maximo
On May 1 International Labour Day Celebration

The Most Revd Rhee M. Timbang, Obispo Maximo, Iglesia Filipina Independiente

“The wages of the labourers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.” (James 5:4, NRSV)

The Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI), the church proclaimed by the democratic union of Filipino workers in 1902, made it as integral part of her mission the resolute commitment to support and accompany the workers in their cause and struggle. In the 1976 Statement on Mission (SOM), she declared: “The IFI has always been loyal to the cause of her founding fathers in promoting the welfare and dignity of the common man, especially the labourer. She must, in all times and in all places, extend her pastoral ministry to workers and labourers with whom she was identified since the beginning” (SOM #31b). In pursuing this particular pastoral ministry to workers and labourers, the IFI desires it as among her tasks “to respond to human need by loving service” and “to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation” (Five of Marks of Mission) within the whole framework of her mission being as church.

Through the years, and armed with this commitment and desire, the IFI proceeded to undertake various activities and programs among workers at both diocesan and national level, particularly the establishment of Workers Assistance Program in key centres of the church nationwide and of the IFI/Migrant Workers Chaplaincies in United Kingdom, Europe and Hong Kong, in order to demonstrate her ministry and solidarity with the Filipino workers both in the domestic and overseas. These are core expressions of the IFI’s faithful proclamation of the Lord’s gospel, her robust pursuit of God’s mission, and her active participation in building God’s kingdom of justice, peace, righteousness and love which the workers are essentially part of.

It is with this same commitment and desire too that we, the leadership of the IFI, give our patriotic salute, extend our warm greetings, and express our continuing solidarity with the cause and struggle of the Filipino workers as we celebrate today, May 1, 2020, the International Labour Day. We recognize today’s celebration as more meaningful as we find the status and plight of our workers to deserve our close attention and urgent actions towards the transformation of their lives and living conditions and their liberation from the enslaving unjust social structures and systems of our time.

As described by the above passage, we see the situation of the workers during the biblical time is akin and as worst as today. Our workers who are toiling in companies, factories and industries, in public utilities, in food sector and in agricultural farms continue to experience labour fraud and exploitation and persist to suffer unjust wages, inadequate benefits, poor working conditions, lack of job opportunities, contractualization of labour, and human indignity by various violations of their inherent human and constitutional rights. The human development and well-being of our labour sector, which is the force behind our national progress and development, ironically, is at the sore end of government’s priorities, both in law and in services. This insensitivity, neglect and ineptitude of the government for the workers’ welfare are prominently exposed at this time of coronavirus crisis. Due to government’s lack of conscientious planning and material preparation in placing the whole country under national emergency situation, workers bear the brunt of the lockdown as millions (1) earn no income with the prevailing “no work, no pay system,” (2) deprive of financial support and food subsidies for themselves and their families, (3) expose to infection as they go out from their homes to seek income to survive the day, and (4) face arrest, detention, legal case, and, worst, killing from the state security officers who were too eager to use military and police force to suppress the democratic rights of people in hunger. The late response and incompetence of the Duterte government to manage the situation at its early stage root-caused and worsened all these predicaments within this pandemic crisis, notwithstanding President Duterte’s insistence to resort to military solution to resolve an otherwise medical/health crisis and food security problem which besiege his own country in this time.

We identify with the difficulties and sufferings that the Filipino workers experience in this lockdown period. We join with them in shouting out their demands for the Duterte government to prioritize their health, their livelihood and the respect of their basic human and constitutional rights. We are one with them in calling President Duterte and his government to combat this pandemic (1) by focusing on medical solution and working out clear and definite courses of actions to find cure and enhance capability of government hospitals and not on military action which uses the crisis situation to wage campaign against militant organizations and critics of the anti-poor, anti-people, anti-Filipino and anti-peace policies pursued by the president; (2) by providing financial aid and food subsidies to all, beginning with the indigents and daily wage earners, within the lockdown period, considering that up to this date only about 300,000 were given financial aid out of 2 million displaced workers; and (3) by conducting mass and free testing to all patients with COVID19 symptoms and with the sickly and elderly, to all frontline medical and health workers, and in all communities where there are already confirmed cases rather than engaging mass arrests with workers who are exercising their rights to life, to free speech, to organize and to peaceful assemblies.

As we celebrate today the International Labour Day, we likewise recognize that migrant workers worldwide are among the hardest hit by the worsening COVID-19 crisis. While away from home, they find themselves with no support from their families and communities as Filipino land-based and sea-based migrant workers suffer from loss of livelihood, cuts in wages and working hours, other labour rights violations, discrimination, and lack of access to health resources.

In similar situation with workers based here in the domestic, our overseas Filipino workers in coronavirus stricken countries and the repatriated migrant workers and their families also suffer from lack of food and housing, inadequate quarantine shelters, lack of mass testing and lack of transportation assistance. Definitely, the one-time financial assistance offered to the overseas Filipino workers and their families is insufficient to provide for their basic daily needs and is expected to leave behind thousands more unqualified migrant worker especially the undocumented. Here in the domestic, families of OFW’s are being left out in the distribution of the social amelioration fund of the government.

We articulate the need to respond to and support the needs of our Filipino migrants now affected by the current pandemic crisis as we call on various organizations and church networks abroad to conduct coordinated and organized responses to generate the broadest financial support and immediate relief to distressed Filipino migrants worldwide, repatriated Filipino migrants and migrant families in the Philippines. We commend the efforts to organize the “April 28 Coalition: For Migrants’ and Refugees’ Rights and Welfare,” a Europe-wide formation of grassroots organizations with a migration background supported and convened by IFI overseas chaplains in UK and Europe as among the initiatives in providing assistance to overseas Filipino workers. We ask IFI chaplaincies, parish communities and organized congregations overseas, particularly in North America, in United Kingdom and Europe, in United Arab Emirates, in Hong Kong and in Singapore to take part in this campaign in order to help out Filipinos and other migrant workers who find themselves in vulnerable situation during this pandemic crisis.

We take concern of the plight and welfare of Filipino workers, here in the domestic and overseas, because it is “an essential missionary task of the church to promote the good of everyone, of the whole person and of the whole human community” (SOM27a). For us IFI, “This concern for human development is an expression of our faith. We believe that man’s humanity is God’s gift and it is our responsibility to God to preserve an uphold it” (SOM27b). Over and above in all these, this concern is our utmost demonstration of the Lord Jesus’ desire that we love our fellow human beings as we love ourselves (Mark 12:31). Before his passion and death, he made it as an eternally fresh mandate for us: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34).

Today, as we celebrate the International Labour Day, we refresh our mind as church in the commitment and desire to accompany and be in solidarity with the Filipino workers in their journey towards a better, compassionate, caring and serving society. We honour and give our gratitude to their great contribution to life and to humanity, even as we continue to see and uphold the need to pursue the vision of God’s reign of justice, peace, righteousness and love, in full knowledge and recognition that workers all over the world are also aspiring to enjoy it.

“Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice; who makes his neighbours work for nothing, and does not give them their wages” (Jeremiah 22:13).

++ RHEE
Obispo Maximo

May 1, 2020 Manila, Philippines

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