Monday, July 16, 2007

Towards a Second National Rural Congress

FORTY years ago, the Church in the Philippines convened a National Rural Congress highlighting the call that “the Church must go to the barrios.” The involvement of the Church in rural issues was concretized in the formation of diocesan social action centers, rural cooperatives, advocacy groups for agrarian reform, and others.

To commemorate that event held in 1967, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines issued early this year the pastoral statement, “The Dignity of the Rural Poor – A Gospel Concern”. We made a call for a Second National Rural Congress (NRC II) to review the continuing issues confronting the majority of our people living in rural areas. “But this time,” we said, “our farmers must do the speaking by themselves, the discerning, the proposing of their own ideas, the planning of how we must as a people come together to work for the common good of the country…”

In this light, we are adopting a SEE-JUDGE-ACT methodology in convening this Second National Rural Congress. There are five objectives:

1. To describe the current situation of various sectors of the rural poor—e.g., small farmers, landless workers, indigenous people, small fishermen, rural women and youth, etc.;
2. To describe the role of Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) and church-based programs in rural development;
3. To review the impact of key social legislation and to engage government agencies in the implementation of ongoing social reform programs under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL), the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA), etc.;
4. To apply the Social Teachings of the Church to the concrete problems of Philippine rural society and to arrive at recommendations and action plans; and
5. To collate and disseminate research findings through media channels, and to promote continuing dialogue among local churches, NGOs and academe in the social transformation of rural—as well as urban poor—communities.

The timetable comprises two phases

Phase I: (July-November 2007) in two parallel tracks:
A. Diocesan consultations on BECs in rural development (to be conducted by the National Secretarial for Social Action (NASSA), and the Offices for BECs and Indigenous People);
B. Sub-regional consultations on rural poor sectors and rural issues (to be conducted by the Philippine-Misereor Partnership (PMP), the Association of Major Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP), and the Rural Poor Solidarity (RPS) coalition of non-government and people’s organizations.

Phase II: (First Quarter of 2008) – convening of NRC II to discuss the collated inputs from the diocesan and sub-regional consultations. The Congress itself may take two-to-three days.

Overseeing the entire process under the CBCP Plenary Assembly is the NRC Central Committee with Archbishop Antonio Ledesma (Executive Chairman), Bishop Broderick Pabillo (Vice Chairman), Bishop Socrates Villegas, Bishop Sergio Utleg and Sr. Rosanne Mallillin, SPC (members).

The Central Committee is to be assisted by the Episcopal Advisory Council, which is composed of Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales (Luzon), Ricardo Cardinal Vidal (Visayas), Archbishop Orlando Quevedo (Mindanao), and Archbishop Angel Lagdameo (CBCP).

The ad intra secretariat for the diocesan consultations on BECs includes: Sr. Rosanne Mallilin of CBCP-NASSA (Coordinator), Msgr. Elmer Abacahin of the CBCP-BEC Office, and a representative of the Episcoal Commission on Indigenous Peoples. The ad extra secretariat for Sub-regional consultations on rural issues includes: Ms. Lourdes Cipriano of PMP (Coordinator), Bro. Hansel Mapayo of AMRSP, and Ms. Belinda Formanes of RPS.

An auxiliary arm of the NRC Central Committee will be composed of the CBCP Offices of Research (under Abp. Antonio Ledesma), Media (under Msgr. Pedro Quitorio), and Secretariat (under Msgr. Juanito Figura).

Moreover, from time to time, there will be periodic consultations of notable lay advisers, research centers, and other Episcopal commissions. (cf. the organizational flow of NRC II in the Appendix.)

It is in this light that we make an appeal to all our diocesan social action centers, schools, and research centers as well as farmers’ organizations, NGOs, and government agencies to participate actively in a spirit of solidarity in the various activities outlined for the NRC II process.

The expected outcome of this NRC process, including Phases I and II, are:
1. SEE: a fuller description, both quantitative and qualitative, of the rural poverty situation;
2. JUDGE: a deeper analysis of the situation in the light of the Social Teachings of the Church; and
3. ACT: concrete proposals for action addressed to the rural sectors, local churches, government agencies, NGOs, and others.

Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of Truth, Justice, and Love—and through the intercession of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, may we carry out these proposed activities in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the countryside.

For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines;

Archbishop of Jaro
President, CBCP
16 July 2007

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