We observe the 119th anniversary today of Philippine Independence in a somber mood, recalling the bravery of our soldiers in Marawi, and especially of those who sacrificed their lives that we might continue to be free. As we solemnly recall the names of the fallen soldiers at noon today, let us honor the invitation of the military leadership to pray in gratitude for their lives. Let us honor them in caring for their bereaved families, their weeping widows and children.
The flag of an independent Philippines is to fly over Marawi today. We pray that this mean a cessation of the use of military force that has taken lives not only of the enemy but also of our own. Such may indeed have been necessary considering the malevolent ideology, masquerading as religion, that drives these rebels to irrepressible hatred, cruelty and murder of Christians and Muslims alike. Their number includes not only Filipinos but foreigners fighting here for an Islamic State. We pray that their defeat in Marawi restore peace in Mindanao and the entire Philippines.
We pray further that peace lift martial law in Mindanao, fearing that a protracted martial law, not exempt from scandalous abuse, threatens the very peace it hopes to attain. In resolving to protect this peace, we recall Pope Francis’ words to the leaders of Egypt last April. “Peace is a gift of God, but also the work of man. It is a good that must be built up and protected, respecting the principle that upholds the force of law and not the law of force.”
While the country 119 years ago may have celebrated independence from Spain, our celebration of independence today must be from religious extremism and intolerance. Pope Francis describes the world situation of today as “a world war being fought piecemeal” in explosions of terror and packages of violence throughout the globe. Bombs explode and blood is shed in a football stadium or in a rock concert, targeting not armored combatants but innocent children. Innocent lives are taken not only by grenade launchers and missiles, but by speeding trucks and murderous vans. Here Pope Francis says, “it needs to be clearly stated that no civilized society can be built without repudiating every ideology of evil, violence and extremism that presumes to suppress others and to annihilate diversity by manipulating and profaning the Sacred Name of God.”
We Filipinos, Catholics and Muslims, but also Buddhists, Protestants, Aglipayans, Iglesya ni Cristo, Born-Again, must understand and repudiate this ideology, this fabricated set of ideas, that is not religion. It does not connect us to God, whom all religions recognize as a God of compassion. Instead, it manipulates and profanes the Sacred Name of God, who is a source and guarantor of life and love. It manipulates: it uses “God” to carry out the evil designs of some human beings. It profanes: it drags the Sacred Name of God in the bloodied mud of human politics and conflict.
In this context, Pope Francis states further: All of us have the duty to teach coming generations that God, the Creator of heaven and earth, does not need to be protected by men; indeed, it is he who protects them. He never desires the death of his children, but rather their life and happiness. He can neither demand nor justify violence; indeed, he detests and rejects violence (“God… hates the lover of violence”: Ps 11:5). The true God calls to unconditional love, gratuitous pardon, mercy, absolute respect for every life, and fraternity among his children, believers and nonbelievers alike.”
It is not we who protect God from evil, but God who delivers us from evil. The “God” therefore who “commands” or “wills” violence, destruction and death, especially of children, be they Christian or Muslim, theists or atheists, is a false God, a fabrication of evil and irreverent minds, who have yet in God’s mercy to encounter the true God.
Speaking to leaders of differing religions, Pope Francis says, “It is our duty to proclaim together that history does not forgive those who preach justice, but then practice injustice. History does not forgive those who talk about equality, but then discard those who are different. It is our duty to unmask the peddlers of illusions about the afterlife, those who preach hatred in order to rob the simple of their present life and their right to live with dignity, and who exploit others by taking away their ability to choose freely and to believe responsibly. It is our duty to dismantle deadly ideas and extremist ideologies, while upholding the incompatibility of true faith and violence, of God and acts of murder.”
This Philippine Independence Day, as we reflect on Marawi and even on Davao, and on the property and lives wasted there through irreligious extremism, let us commit ourselves to independence from this extremism. Our universities, colleges, and schools, public and private, shall have to work harder at this. So to our churches, our temples, and our mosques. Let us renew our commitment to mature religious freedom which recognizes not only my freedom to worship God through the religion of my calling but rejoices in the freedom of others to worship God as God calls them in the truth of their conscience and heart. Let is remain faithful in worshipping a compassionate God whose genuineness is indicated in the advancement of the human community, the elimination of social injustice, and the flourishing of all in the human community. Let us serve a human community that recognized itself diminished if it does not bow down before this God of Compassion and love. And let us thank God for our common home in an independent Philippines.