CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 17 August 2019

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One of the Magnificent Seven etched in history

MANILA (UCAN): The late Bishop Julio Xavier Labayen, from Infanta, was the inspiration behind the Magnificent Seven who gathered to sign an open letter challenging the martial law president, Ferdinand Marcos, over his human rights abuses in 1973.

Bishop Labayen today is among 19 people who were honoured as a hero and martyr for their role in resisting repression during the martial law era of Marcos from 1972 to 1981 at the Wall of Remembrance at the Monument of Heroes (also called the Bantayog Memorial Centre), the very spot where he was presented with a Medal of Valour Award on Independence Day in 2014.

The 19 names etched on the wall were unveiled during a simple ceremony on November 30.

During martial law, Bishop Labayen led priests, sisters and seminarians in human rights work and actively supported farming and tribal communities.

The bishop, who died in April this year, was known internationally for his outspoken comments on the Philippine situation under martial law and is remembered as one of the architects of the role the Church played in political issues and social transformation.

One of his most significant contributions was the establishment of the National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace in all dioceses across the country.

The bishops’ conference appointed him as head of the organisation, which coordinated all social action centres nationally.

“Bishop Labayen embodied the precept of preferential option for the poor, making it his life vocation to be a builder of the Church of the Poor,” Carmencita Karagdag, a member of the World Council of Churches, said.

While the hierarchy remained silent for most of the dictatorship, Bishop Labayen was among the first to condemn the atrocities of martial law.

Born into a landed clan in the central Philippine province of Negros Occidental, he witnessed the hardships of workers in sugar plantations while working as a manager on his family estate.

“My family background helped me to understand the social teaching of the Church,” he once said in an interview. “It was then that I felt a preferential love for the poor growing within me with great meaning.”

When he became a bishop, he dedicated his ministry to what he described as a Church that has a “special concern and love for the poor masses, for the victims of injustice and for those whose dignity and rights are trampled upon.”

The other knights at the table on the occasion the open letter was signed were Bishop Antonio Fortich, Bishop Felix Perez, Bishop Orlando Quevedo, Bishop Jesus Varela, Bishop Francisco Claver and Bishop Federico Escaler.

Bishop Labayen preferred to work quietly and helped to form and guide Church groups and grassroots organisations that worked against torture, illegal arrests and detention, as well as on other social issues.

“Bishop Labayen helped so many people and human rights activists,” Luis Jalandoni, the former head of the National Democratic Front of The Philippines, said.

“During his time, the Church became a sanctuary for people who were strongly opposing the violations of the Marcos regime,” Jalandoni commented.

After the ouster of Marcos in 1986, the bishop continued to be a strong voice against all forms of rights abuse and in defence of the poor.

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