Message of the Obispo Maximo
to the Church and to the Nation
On the 122nd Philippine Independence Day Celebration
June 12, 2020

“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1, NRSV).

We call to mind today the great struggle of the courageous women and men of the 1896 Philippine Revolution that won the independence of our country from the bondage and clutches of Spain in 1898. “[T]he establishment of the Philippine Republic by the Revolutionary Government under General Emilio Aguinaldo on June 12, 1898, marked our people’s declaration and exercise of their right to self-determination, liberty and independence” and “such a historic and inspiring action was a legitimate assertion by the Filipino nation of their natural and inalienable claim to freedom and independence, which is an inherent right of every people not dependent upon the will and discretion of another” (Proclamation #28, 1962).

We come together as a nation today to celebrate the 122nd Philippine Independence Day and commemorate our people’s brave declaration of their inherent and inalienable right to freedom and independence. We need to remember in this celebration, to borrow the words of an Indian writer, Mohith Agadi, “that our country and its freedom is the result of sweat, patience, persistence, and sacrifice of those with the courage to dream freedom and make it a reality for their future generations.” Today’s celebration serves then to remind us of the noble ideals of freedom and independence and to keep their primordial sanctity by persistently embracing and upholding them, and by valiantly striving to protect and defend them so as not to lose and squander these cherished values upon attacks through any means, either from within or from outside forces.

It is worrisome however to note that our national sense of freedom and independence are placed under brazen assault these days even despite the pandemic crisis.

From within, Duterte’s rising tyrannical rule has resulted to the jeopardy of people’s well-being and dignity by its increasing incidence of human rights violations, extra-judicial killings and wanton disregard of the fundamental laws of the land. Its efforts to shamelessly push for the implementation of Anti-Terrorism Bill (ATB) is a sublime example of the propensity of Duterte’s government to suppress freedom that Filipinos have enjoyed through the Philippine Constitution and through other legal instruments adopted from several international protocols and conventions. True to its name, the ATB is a terror bill because it intends to silence critics, to stifle dissent and to curtail rights of the Filipino people as this law can be used against anybody just by mere suspicion as terrorist or doing acts of terrorism as broadly defined by it. The ATB violates the right to privacy and to due process and provides greater allowance of abuse to state security officers and to unelected persons given with so much power to constitute as the anti-terrorism council.

From outside, the rabid subservience of Duterte’s government to world’s superpowers of today, particularly that of USA and China, has endangered the integrity of our patrimony and sovereignty that compromised in turn our independence as a country. Our independence was hard-fought and gained for us the respect of the international community enabling our country to stand in equal status among the community of nations in the world. Today, this independence is sold and surrendered hence we see our territory violated in greater degrees, our economy manipulated in many ways, and our natural resources exploited in most plunderous schemes.

The declaration made by our revolutionary forebears echoes the Christian conviction that we are called as people to freedom. Through his teachings and deeds, Christ has set us free; he gifted us freedom and shown its real meaning through his passion, death and resurrection. Indeed we have been called to freedom (Gal. 5:13), since Jesus has come to free us (Luke 4:18; Isa. 61:1). The great apostle and evangelist Paul taught us to stand firm and to submit no more to the yoke of slavery which is the anathema to freedom and independence. As IFI, being a church born out from the womb of the Filipino revolution, we preciously value this declaration of freedom and independence because it substantiates our human dignity and defines our civil liberties as people created in the image of God. Together with other leaders of our Church, Bp. Gregorio Aglipay taught us to hold sacred our freedom and independence because it constitutes our selfhood and humanity, by declaring in Epistle 6 in length:

“A free man is a complete man, dignified, honourable, of lofty sentiments, attended by all his rights and by his unavoidable duties as well; but a man who becomes a slave of his own free will is a man with a vile heart, a deceitful, object sycophant—a person, in short, deserving of pity.

“We are born with the right to think freely and express our thoughts according to the light of reason which the Divinity has given us; we are born with the right to associate freely with those we choose for the purpose of our own perfection and needs; we are born with the right to govern our own persons, our families, home and birthplace; we are born in short, with the right to do freely whatever is our pleasure so long as we do not violate the liberty and rights of others…

“Man has the obligation to defend these liberties of his for which God has given him heart and brawn, just as other animals and creatures defend theirs.

“And he who does not know how to defend his liberty is the most despicable of beings and merits all the tyrannies, cruelties and most incredible outrages of the master to whom he faint-heartedly submits. So God permits him to find his punishment in his own cowardice.

“Liberty is one of the most precious gifts with which the Creator has favoured us; so it is that we may in no way the purest morality and right conscience impose on all things.

Today’s celebration of Independence Day brings us to mind therefore the imperative need to live out this church teaching for us to advance the highest defence for our liberty constituting our freedom and independence as people and nation which sadly is under grievous attack nowadays ironically by our own government we installed. We need to see as Epistle 6 says that ““The perfect law is the law of liberty” according to the General Epistle of St. James (1:25)” and “[i]ts worth is understood only when it is lost; it can only be loved in the saddest darkness of prison cells.” We have to see the great import to engage continuing educational and formation efforts among our people and members and build organizations and networks around our communities for the promotion of people’s rights and human dignity so as to forge a solid movement to oppose tyrannical rule and authoritarian tendencies and to junk draconian laws like the ATB. Compelled by our faith and heritage, we in the IFI are bound to pursue this work as core of our mission as church because we claim responsibility in building a just, free and peace-filled society imaging God’s kingdom. Because as Abhijit Naskar, author of Citizens of Peace: Beyond the Savagery of Sovereignty, says: “If we don’t take responsibility of what happens to our society, then no amount of Independence can improve human condition.”

By God’s power, may the day soon come that our Independence Celebration means “enjoying freedom and empowering others too to let them do so” (Vikrmn, 10 Alone).

++ RHEE
Obispo Maximo

Independence Day 2020
Manila, Philippines

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