Friday, July 24, 2009

Canon Law and the Filipino Migrants

It is tragic to note that we are no longer shocked with the fast growing number of Filipinos exiting our country. It bespeaks of an attitude that has become accustomed, if not calloused, to the alarming reality that the phenomenon does not cause us anymore unease. In the midst of this seeming indifference, we are presented with some eight to nine million migrants. The last count up was just seven million some two or three years ago. Now it is nine million, Filipinos all. They are not mere faceless individuals, but warm bodies with human feelings and Filipino needs that constantly call our attention. They are living persons who need food and the basic necessities of life to keep themselves in one piece; rational beings who can foresee the need to provide for the uncertainties of the future, responsible family men and women who in search for a better future for their children, they set out of this country that they love, and settle in a foreign land which they surmise could give them a better tomorrow; human persons who are endowed with rights and obligations, particularly the right to a decent environment that guarantees the protection of their human dignity. In brief, they have to be cared for bodily, psychologically, and spiritually.

The Church in the Philippines has not been remiss in its obligation to extend its Pastoral Care to Filipino Migrants. It is aware of its task to look into the temporal and spiritual needs of its faithful. It is after all wary to the rights of the migrants as well as to all the faithful which the Code enunciated, to wit: “Christ’s faithful have the right to be assisted by their Pastors from the spiritual riches of the Church, especially by the word of God and the Sacraments” (Canon 213). This right is based on the constitutional right of each individual faithful by virtue of baptism. Canon 208 expresses well this basic right in these words: “Flowing from their rebirth in Christ, there is a genuine equality of dignity and action among all of Christ’s faithful. Because of this equality they all contribute, each according to his or her own condition and office, to the building up of the Body of Christ.” Hence, the obligation hangs on the Church in the Philippines to look after the spiritual and moral needs of these Filipino migrants. They may be far from its reach, but the obligation remains in its conscience. Foremost in its mind is what is demanded in the Salvation History – God provided laws and guidelines regarding refugees. When God commanded the Chosen People to be hospitable to foreigners and strangers, as stated in Leviticus 19: 34, God reminded them of the reason for the legal provision, that is, “because you yourselves were foreigners in strange land.” CBCP sees this text as a framework for its pastoral care for Filipino migrants, that is, our people are strangers in foreign lands. It has to look after their pastoral needs, their well-being, peace of mind, growth in spiritual life, and their appreciation of their dignity as human beings and as children of God. The Church in the Philippines has the task to constantly remind them and support them that no matter how menial their kind of work is, they remain children of God and bearers of human dignity. It is for this heavy responsibility that CBCP has to found the Commission for the Pastoral Care for Migrants, and to demand from it a regular report and evaluation of its mission. But nine million Filipino migrants is a number so staggering that the Commission is in a quandary on how to effectively and efficiently meet the demands and expectations of the Bishops Conference of the Philippines.

One of the greatest pains of our migrant workers is the loss of the sense of self-pride. They pine to get it back, but no amount of money that they receive can buy it back. The Church understands the depth of man’s pain when he is deprived of such self-worth. Hence, in its work for Christian justice and charity, its priority is to assist the concerned individual migrants get back their dignity. Hence, the words of John XXIII echoed: “Individual human beings are the foundation, the cause and the end of every social l institution” (Pacem in Terris, 31). Then he added: “Every man has the right to life, to bodily integrity, and to the means which are suitable for the proper development of life; these are primarily food, clothing, shelter, rest, medical care, and finally the necessary social services” (ibid, 32). For, every person is precious, people are more important than things, and the value of every institution is whether or not it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person. Pope Benedict XVI in his recent Encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” reminds everyone of the precedence of dignity of man over other concerns of development. He said: “I would like to remind everyone, especially governments engaged in boosting the world’s economic and social assets, that the primary capital to be safeguard and valued is man, the human person in his or her integrity: ‘Man is the source, the focus and the aim of all economic and social life’” (n.25; cf. LG 63).

Our migrant workers, nine million of them, have dignity to uphold, human pride to protect, better quality of lives to pine for, meaning of life to keep intact, spirituality to hang on to, so that they can live as human persons and as children of God in foreign places.

Who would articulate and protect their deep human longing? The Canon Lawyers of the Philippines (CLSP) with courage faced up to this problem sometime on April 2009, in Vigan, Ilocos Sur, during their annual meeting in that place. They are aware that they as canon lawyers are called to give their share in the pastoral care of Filipino migrants. Theirs is to look closely into the provisions of law, the social doctrine of the Church, as expounded by Vatican II, the living Magisterium of the Church, the provisions of PCP II and the subsequent acts of the Bishops Conference of the Philippines. These will give them the necessary framework to provide our Church leaders with legal guides to better meet the needs of our migrant workers. This is the task that lies ahead of them.