The Philippines is the country with the most Catholics in Asia and third in the world after Brazil and Mexico.
Mindanao is an island of the Philippines larger than the United Kingdom, with 18 million inhabitants. It is a region rich in natural materials and resources and yet much lacerated by poverty and underdevelopment.
Maria Lozano for the program “Where God Weeps,” in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need spoke with Filipino Archbishop Jesus Dosado of Ozamis, on the Island of Mindanao, about the Church there and the social and political situation of his country.
Q: You were born in Cebu in 1939. You were ordained a priest at 26 and then at 38 you were ordained a bishop. Isn’t that too young an age to be ordained a bishop?
Archbishop Dosado: Yes, that’s what was thought, that I was too young. I didn’t want the ordination, but I was chosen and so it was.
Q: Why did you choose “For the Poor” as your episcopal motto?
Archbishop Dosado: Because St. Vincent of Paul, the founder of our Congregation of the Mission, of the Pauline Fathers, had that motto: evangelize “pauperibus,” that is, “the poorest.” I was sent to evangelize the poor, but especially to evangelize the poorest.
Q: Why does the subject of poverty affect Mindanao so much, it being an area with great natural resources?
Archbishop Dosado: Because there are no industries there, and our people go to other parts of the country, such as Manila or Cebu, and those who stay in Mindanao are the ones who cannot emigrate.
Q: Often poverty is caused by corruption.
Archbishop Dosado: Yes, that’s what I’ve always said, that poverty isn’t caused by the number of the population. We have many good things in the Philippines, but corruption has destroyed everything. Corruption doesn’t exist only in the upper levels of society, but also in the lowest.
Q: Benigno Aquino, president of the Philippines, said a short time ago: “Corruption is endemic in the Philippines; it is a phenomenon that has taken root since the time of the dictatorship of Ferdinando Marcos. We hope that from now on there won’t be talk of the fight against corruption just to engage in propaganda.” Is it true that the structure of corruption began with Ferdinando Marcos?
Archbishop Dosado: Yes, because he declared martial law and with it came many opportunities for corruption. First in the army. Before, military men were men of integrity. Second, in the structure of the government, in all the departments, from top to bottom, there was corruption in almost all the departments, in the department of education, in the construction of roads. And then at the personal level: Marcos and his family and his friends. That’s why, as the president says, corruption is something endemic since then. That’s why, Corazon Aquino, mother of the present president — may she rest in peace — became president: to make changes in the structure. But she didn’t succeed because corruption was endemic and those who came with her also took advantage, until arriving at the situation we have today.
Q: Mindanao, unfortunately, has also become known for its religious conflicts. When did these conflicts begin?
Archbishop Dosado: Well, we should say since the year 1521. The Muslims came from Saudi Arabia and Indonesia and they arrived in the Philippine Islands in the 13th century. Then later, Magellan left from Spain and arrived in the Philippines in 1521.
With the arrival of the Spaniards in the Philippines, they met with Muslims there. The latter went to the southwest of Mindanao, while the Spaniards converted the rest to the Christian faith. Since then we have had fights with them. That’s why I say that this conflict began long ago.
Q: This conflict was reinforced in the 70s with the creation of a political group of national liberation, the Moro National Liberation Front, which wants to make a part of Mindanao Muslim.
Archbishop Dosado: Yes, they wanted to make a part of Mindanao their homeland independent of the Philippines. However — although to clarify I said earlier that the problems are old — the fact is that until the year 1971 Christians and Muslims lived in peace. In ’71 there was a war in Afghanistan, and they called for volunteers from all the Arab world to fight. Muslims of the Philippines sent men to take part in the war, and when they returned they had already become fundamentalists.
Q: A conflict was created that didn’t exist before. Figures are mentioned of up to 120,000 dead as a result of these fights, although there have also been attempts at peace processes.
Archbishop Dosado: Yes, the search for peace continues up to now. The bishops in Mindanao engage in dialogue with the MILF group (Moro Islamic Liberation Front).
Q: There have been explosions in the cathedral, in churches; missionaries have been kidnapped. Does this continue?
Archbishop Dosado: Less so now, but we must be careful. I think some of these things are the result of wanting to earn money more than for religious reasons.
Q: In many countries, in fact, there is a political or social reason behind the war of religions. Are there also political motives behind the confict in the Philippines?
Archbishop Dosado: Not so much political but …
Archbishop Dosado: Yes, indeed. They wish to kidnap someone to ask for money. I don’t think it’s a fight of religions, although I believe that there are differences between Christianity and Islam, which for the time being we can’t see how to solve. But there is no fight between religions.
Q: Do the people live with fear in certain areas of the Island?
Archbishop Dosado: Not so much because, as I have said, they live in peace, but there is always the possibility that something will happen, but not for religious reasons, I believe. I’m not in that part of Mindanao; it’s in the southwest of Mindanao where the Muslims are, the islands of Sulu, Jolo, Basilan, Cotabato and Lanao. There are almost no groups in my diocese.
Q: There have also been many attempts at peace and reconciliation. Perhaps one of the most impressive plans is that of Circila, promoted by a missionary called D’ambra, in Zamboanga. Tell us a bit more about this project.
Archbishop Dosado: Many go there for guidance, seminars, etc. It’s a very good program. I’ve heard much from other bishops about that program. Even in Indonesia there is interest in this program to attempt dialogue also with the Muslims in areas of conflict.
Q: It’s said that the Philippines suffers from a problem of overpopulation. Is this true?
Archbishop Dosado: They are attempting to pass a law in this regard, and their propaganda is that we have so much population that it must be controlled through means that are unacceptable for us Catholics, and for the people in general, because it’s a culture of death, not life. I think that only this situation is seen — of excess of population — in Manila and its surroundings, or in Cebu, the second city, and in Davao. One sees many people there because people from other parts of the Philippines go there to earn their living, and hence there is the impression that there is a population explosion in the Philippines. There are many places where this isn’t the case. In my province, for example, there are places where there is no one.
Q: In other words, as there is poverty, people emigrate to the large cities and this generates overpopulation in very large urban centers.
Archbishop Dosado: And they don’t emigrate just to Manila but to other countries, to Europe, to America, everywhere because life is hard here. We have education for people and we can’t take advantage of it because as there are no means in the Philippines, they go to other countries to earn their living.
Q: The Church is not in favor of these restrictive policies of reproduction in the family, first because it’s a culture of death; but the topic of liberty is also important. People must be able to decide for themselves how many children they want to have; it must not be something obliged by the State, as happens in China.
Archbishop Dosado: Well yes, but we are talking of an attempt to make a law that has things that shouldn’t be there, for example, to teach little ones sexuality without the parents’ control. We are in favor of women having rights, but this initiative of law includes an ensemble of things that are unacceptable to us. Since the year 2002 there have been attempts to make this initiative law and it hasn’t happened.
Q: Is there much pressure not only of groups in the Philippines, but from international groups because this lobby is very much moved by other countries?
Archbishop Dosado: Yes, some time ago, for example, we had the Plenary of the Episcopal Conference of the Philippines. We invited many members of Congress, and one of the bishops asked: “Is it true that the United Nations gives money for this?” And they answered, “Yes it’s true.” I also believe that the United States is giving money. I think that congressmen are in favor of the measures, thinking more of money than concern for the rights of women. I see clearly much money, not only of the United States, but of groups that have this agenda and that’s why there is much pressure.
Q: How can we help the Church in the Philippines?
Archbishop Dosado: Continue receiving our emigrants because we have nowhere to go to earn more. That’s the economic part. However, I think the questions is the reverse. What can we Filipinos do to re-evangelize Europe and all those countries? The missionaries went to the Philippines with much sacrifice. In my country, one perspires even when sitting. This is how the missionaries went to the Philippines, dressed in black cassocks to work hard to convert us. And now I think we have the duty to evangelize others through our migrants.
Q: You have touched on the subject of the situation of many emigrant Filipinos, not only in countries of Europe, but also in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia. What’s the situation like of these people in a country of a majority that is very different from the Catholic Christian culture?
Archbishop Dosado: In the area of faith they must be very careful. There are many Filipinos, but they must be very careful because the practice of the faith is not permitted. However, there are many Filipinos who are sincerely faithful in these difficult situations.
* * *
The interview was conducted by Maria Lozano for the weekly radio and television program “Where God Weeps,” realized in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need.
— — —
On the Net:
Aid to the Church in Need: www.acn-intl.org
Where God Weeps: info@DondeDiosLlora.org