Activists back 'Mass for Justice and Peace' ahead of SONA 2020

Activists from different fields urged the public to protest and pray for justice and peace through a Catholic Mass on July 27, hours ahead of President Rodrigo Duterte’s 5th State of the Nation Address (SONA).

The outspoken bishop Broderick Pabillo is spearheading the effort, and he joined opposition senator Risa Hontiveros in a virtual media briefing on Monday, July 20, urging Filipinos to participate in the event.

Kailangan natin ng pamahalaan na nakikinig sa daing ng taong bayan (We need a government that listens to the cry of the people),” Pabillo said. The public needs to get a clearer picture of the local coronavirus pandemic, and clearer policies from the government, he added.

Spiritual guidance is important during a crisis as at any other time, and it is what the Catholic Church is able to contribute, the cleric added.

Hontiveros said she hopes the President’s SONA would reassure the public, and display the competence and knowledge that goes into crafting the government’s solutions to the crisis.

It is important to publicly demand accountability from the government even if it means braving the risks presented by the pandemic including possible action by law enforcement, the progressive lawmaker added.

Nananaig man minsan ang takot, dapat hindi tayo maduwag. Hindi tayo dapat mawalan ng pag-asa. Hindi tayo dapat mawalan ng tiwala. Faith, not fear,” Hontiveros said.

(Although fear sometimes takes over, we should not be cowed. We must not lose hope. We must not lose confidence.)

Recent rallies against the Anti-Terrorism Law and the shutdown of media giant ABS-CBN have shown it is possible to practice social distancing and other health protocols during public demonstrations, she added.

The Mass that will be held at 12:15 pm on July 27 will be livestreamed on Hontiveros’ Facebook page, as well as on TV Maria and Radyo Veritas. An ecumenical event will follow the Mass.

Because of the pandemic, the government currently only allows religious gatherings of up to 10% of a venue’s capacity. 

Opposing the Anti-Terrorism Law

Lawyer Christian Monsod, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution and a former elections chief, joined Hontiveros and Pabillo in the briefing. He said the public should strongly oppose the newly enforced Anti-Terrorism Law because it violates the Constitution.

The measure allows the Cabinet-led Anti-Terrorism Council to usurp the constitutional function of the judiciary to proscribe or officially designate persons or groups as terrorists, Monsod said. Its provisions on prolonged warrantless detention of suspects and judging the intent behind actions that may be deemed terroristic – including expression of dissent – are also unconstitutional, he added.

“The freedom of speech is absolute,” said Monsod, adding that the Constitution punishes the irresponsible use of this freedom but prohibits prior restraint.

The law’s supposed safeguards against abuse by law enforcement or military agents are “hollow,” he added.

Monsod is part of one of at least 10 groups that have filed petitions with the Supreme Court to strike all or parts of the Anti-Terrorism Law as unconstitutional.

'Gods of Padre Faura'

The Anti-Terrorism Law is one of the most pressing concerns activists have against the Duterte administration, speakers at Hontiveros’ briefing agreed. The other speakers were Akbayan Youth president RJ Naguit, Partido Manggagawa chairperson Rene Magtubo, and former finance secretary Ramon del Rosario Jr.

Because the law has already been enacted, any chance of altering or repealing it now rests with the Supreme Court (SC), Hontiveros said.

But with 11 Duterte appointees among the current high court justices and its recent record of decisions favoring the administration, is there reason to hope the so-called “gods of Padre Faura” would touch the Anti-Terrorism Law?

Although Monsod found some recent SC rulings questionable, such as granting the extension of martial law in Mindanao in previous years, he said the high court is known to make the right decision when the stakes are really high.

“We must always have hope that the conscience works,” Monsod said.

Del Rosario said he shares Monsod’s optimism, especially because the SC’s own authority is threatened by the new law. Therefore, the high court may be expected to “correct at least the most obnoxious parts of the law.”

Public demonstrations opposing the anti-terror law may also help sway the magistrates. “The justices are also human beings,” Del Rosario added.

“That’s why we are calling for prayer, so that we can touch hearts,” Pabillo said. –

JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.