Monday, August 15, 2016

Church-state tensions on human rights | Inquirer Opinion

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It is this fundamental sense of the value and inviolability of the human person which makes the church pertinacious in its insistence that the Duterte administration should desist from giving its operatives the license to kill. The church sources its dissent and disquiet from a conviction deeper than mere judicial-rights thinking as it has developed in the West.

It is worth noting that the language of “rights” and “due process” is unfortunately without much meaning in a context where people are fed up with the state’s ineffectual law enforcement and the poor do not even hope for justice. Jennilyn Olayres, who cradled the lifeless body of her partner Michael Siaron in a now viral photograph which uncannily resembled the Pieta and summoned resonances, put into words what perhaps is most representative of the voice of the poor on this issue: “Alam ko na hindi ko makukuha ang hustisya para sa asawa ko… Malinis lang ang pangalan ng asawa ko, malaking bagay na para sa akin.” She knew she would not get justice for him; just to clear his name would be enough.

This is a cry for something deeper than mere legal vindication. It is the human longing to be accounted as decent, in the teeth of squalor or despair asserting itself still as not without dignity and honor in the eyes of one’s community.

What the church means by “human rights” is deeper than the merely political; it is rooted in the fact that people are made in the image of God, and find in this their ultimate value. As

Mr. Duterte himself recognizes, the church cannot separate God from its civic responsibility. As the French sociologist Jacques Ellul writes:

“The Church is summoned in the course of human history to speak a discerning word to each concrete situation, ‘These are the rights of man here and now. This is what man may demand. This is what he needs to be protected from.’ This discerning word is part of the Church’s proclamation.”

In pronouncing it, the church addresses itself to society and to the state. It is the mouthpiece of man’s exigencies. Normally, the church should not leave it to revolutionary movements to assert human rights. Rather, it should claim them before man is driven to despair.

Dr. Melba Padilla Maggay is a social anthropologist and president of the Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture.

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