(Photo by Alvin Joseph Kasiban/The Varsitarian)

LINGAYEN-DAGUPAN Archbishop Socrates Villegas, O.P., urged Catholics to join a “rosary campaign” from June 27 to the Solemnity of the Assumption on Aug. 15 amid China’s aggression in the West Philippine Sea.

In a pastoral letter dated June 15, Villegas called on Filipinos to fast and perform penance “with particular intensity.”

“The threat is no longer imagined. It is no longer mere conjecture. There is evidence of insidious attempts by a foreign power that governs by an ideology that recognizes no God and keeps all religion and the practice of faith under the heavy heel of its totalitarian boot to ‘trample our sacred shores,’” Villegas said.

The archbishop also suggested engaging in other acts of penance and “supererogation with heightened intensity” during this period.

“Even the Edsa People Power of 1986 was preceded by the Marian Year of 1985 when we prayed and fasted and lived in solidarity with the poor! Let us do it again! The rosary is simple and small and powerful like the mustard seed in the Gospel,” he said.

Tensions between the Philippines and China have intensified significantly following an incident in which a Chinese vessel rammed Philippine Navy boats. Chinese coast guard personnel confiscated the Filipino side’s weapons in the disputed waters.

Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, denounced the actions of the Chinese as “piracy,” as they illegally had boarded Philippine boats and seized equipment.

Villegas expressed concerns that if the Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea continued unchecked, Filipino fisherfolk could be left to scavenge the remnants left behind by Chinese poachers and intruders.

“There is the moral issue of safeguarding a way of life that upholds the right of persons to believe and to practice their faith without any interference from the State, and the right of the Filipino nation to be shielded from the onslaught of agents of an atheistic ideology,” he added.

“The Church must respond and she must respond as [a] Church. This means that we will find the confidence to take a firm stand because of our conviction that if God is with us, no power can ever prevail against us!”

In his pastoral letter, Villegas also called upon lawmakers to halt the operations of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO), which have been active since 2003.

“Whatever benefits that allow them to operate may have been promised are overshadowed completely by the threat they carry with them – and in fact, the dreadful harm of their presence,” Villegas said.

“The recent raids that revealed the extent of the evil at these POGO hubs including incidences of human trafficking and torture and money laundering – make it a moral imperative that no longer should they be granted the protection of the law and that they, in fact, should be outlawed,” he added.

Oratio imperata

The Santo Domingo Church, which serves as the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Naval, the Marian image credited for Spanish Philippines’s victory against Dutch invaders in 1646, issued an Oratio Imperata, or obligatory prayer, calling for peace amid tensions with China in the West Philippine Sea.

“O Lord God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, the sky and the seas, look kindly on us your children of the Philippine islands, our home, now beset with tensions over our West Philippine Sea,” it reads.

“We pray to you for peace over that part of our islands and waters. We pray that questions over it may be resolved through justice and respect for people’s rights.”

The Philippines has filed a démarche, or protest presented through diplomatic channels, following the incident.

In 2013, the Philippines initiated legal proceedings against China under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) regarding disputes in the South China Sea. On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration issued a significant ruling largely favoring the Philippines.

Key points of the ruling include:

  • China’s “nine-dash line” claim, asserting historic rights over maritime areas, lacks legal basis under Unclos.
  • Several reefs and shoals claimed by China, such as Scarborough Shoal and Mischief Reef, fall within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf.
  • China violated its obligations under Unclos by interfering with Philippine fishing and oil exploration, constructing artificial islands, and neglecting environmental responsibilities related to Chinese fishing activities.

The Philippines and other nations have cited the ruling to challenge China’s actions. With reports from Sheila May S. Balagan


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