CHURCH PEOPLE – WORKERS SOLIDARITY
by Fr. Andre Semeni, sx
Last March 2011, the National Clergy Discernment Group (NCDG) convened the Second National Clergy Discernment (NCD II) in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of PCP II. After four days of fruitful discussions and interactions, the clergy participants expressed their desire to identify concrete actions and tangible mechanisms in order to address the issue of the “marginalization of workers.” To maintain the atmosphere of discernment and to deal “with the workers’ present plight and over-all dehumanizing poverty, and formulated significant pastoral actions calling on church people to engage actively and immerse again in the lives of workers,” the Church People-Workers Solidarity organized a National Conference in celebration of the 30th anniversary of Blessed John Paul II’s encyclical entitled Laborem Exercens (On Human Work).
It was the first National Conference of Church People and Workers hosted by the archdiocese of Cebu in Mariners’ Court on September 12 – 16, 2011. “Bakit ngayon lang” (“Why only now?”) as Archbishop Lagdameo asked. It was conceived by the convenors as an attempt “to present the urgent situation of Filipino workers, to revisit and expound on the Church Social Teachings on Human Work, and to make concrete plans and actions to strengthen the solidarity among church people and workers.” The over 350 delegates knew clearly that it was not just a conference. It was an ecumenical celebration with the participation of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP). With the contribution of the Teatro Ekumenikal, it was a celebration to cement the spirit of ecumenism in Cebu City. As Archbishop Palma put it in his welcome address: “I feel honored and privileged that despite of your busy schedule you have given time for this conference on Church People and Workers Solidarity. I am honored, pleased to know that 31 arch/dioceses are here represented from different labor associations.” The materials sent beforehand were subject of serious reflections and readings. The speakers, including Most Rev. Angel N. Lagdameo (Archbishop of Jaro), Most Rev. Gerardo A. Alminaza (Auxiliary Bishop of Jaro), and Mr. Rimando Felici (IBON People’s Education Resource Center) spoke with great gusto and presented their talks with vivacity and good humor while the attention of all was captivated by the depth of the popes’ social teachings and insights regarding human work since the time of Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (1891). “If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accept harder conditions because an employer or contractor will afford him no better, he is made the victim of force and injustice” (R.N. no. 45).
The reflections of the speakers were followed by eight (8) testimonies integrated in the input of Bishop Gerardo Alminaza. The testimonies focused on: (a) the right to work/gainful employment/security of tenure; (b) the right to fair remuneration; (c) the right to safe working environment/manufacturing processes; (d) the plight of Mining Workers; (e) the plight of Migrant Workers; (f) the workers’ participation in social/economical development and (g) the Church solidarity with workers. “Once again we exhort our people to take an active part in public life, and to contribute towards the attainment of the common good of the entire human family as well as to that of their own country. They should endeavour, therefore, in the light of the Faith and with the strength of love, to ensure that the various institutions – – whether economic, social, cultural or political in purpose – should be such as not to create obstacles, but rather to facilitate or render less arduous people’s perfectioning of themselves both in the natural order as well as in the supernatural” (Pope John XIII, P.I. T., no. 146).
On the September 15, a Covenant Statement was approved and read in the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral during the Pontifical Mass officiated by the incoming CBCP President, Archbishop Jose S. Palma. Among other resolutions, the Church People and Workers Solidarity was constituted “as a permanent organization to serve as an instrument to assist workers in their struggle for dignity and rightful recognition as partners in pursuit of peace and progress in the country.” Headed by Bishop Alminaza, the convenors of this first National Conference of Workers and Church People were tasked to serve as the transitional leadership body charged with defining and establishing the needed organizational structures for the new group. “Experienced in human affairs, the Church … “seeks but a solitary goal: to carry forward the work of Christ Himself under the lead of the befriending Spirit.” … But, since the Church lives in history, she ought to “scrutinize the signs of the times and interpret them in the light of the Gospel.” Sharing the noblest aspirations of men and women and suffering when she sees them not satisfied, she wishes to help them attain their full flowing, and that is why she offers all people what she possesses as her characteristic attribute: a global vision of man and of the human race” (Pope Paul VI, P.P., no. 13). If approved by the Plenary Assembly, the Church People and Workers Solidarity could become the newest commission of the CBCP.