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‘Oratio imperata’ on the culture of death

IN all masses from June 21 to June 29, a prayer is now being read asking God to bless the nation’s leaders with “true love for the poor,” with “passion for truth,” with “sincere generosity and courageous simplicity of lifestyle,” with “spirit of heroic sacrifice,” and true reverence for human life and unheeding opposition to the culture of death.”

Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle issued the “oratio imperata” or “mandatory prayer,” which is also contained in a pastoral letter being read in churches all over the country during the nine days preceding the June 30 assumption to office of the nation’s new officials led by President-elect Duterte.

The prayer for God’s blessings appears to be the usual reiteration of the ideals that should be upheld and followed by all leaders everywhere – truth, love for the poor, generosity, sacrifice. The call for reverence for human life, however, is obviously meant for the incoming president who, in recent weeks, declared that he intends to stop crime, particularly the spread of illegal drugs, calling on civilians with their own guns to go after drug lords and shoot them if they resist. The incoming chief of the Philippine National Police has likewise announced the formation of a team he called “Police Avengers” that will focus on drug lords working inside the New Bilibid Prison.

The new administration has yet to assume office on June 30, but, strangely enough, many drug suspects have already been gunned down all over the country. At last count, 58 have been killed, leading some to suspect that overzealous police officials are acting in line with what they think the incoming administration wants. Or they are getting rid of those whose drug operations they used to tolerate, for fear that these might testify against their former official protectors.

The Church is particularly opposed to the announced move of the incoming administration that it will press for a revival of the death penalty for drug and other heinous crimes, and a shift to hanging instead of lethal injection which was the method of execution in the past. The Church stands on moral and religious grounds – that God alone may take life. Its tremendous influence in this country led to the moratorium on the death penalty during the Cory Aquino administration and again during the Estrada administration in observance of the “Jubilee Year” of the Church.

After the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) declared a policy of silence – the “silence of Jesus before the arrogance of Pilate” – the Church has declined to speak out openly in criticism of President-elect Duterte. But the “oratio imperata,” while giving no names or citing any announced official plan, is definitely a declaration of opposition to the ongoing killings and the call for a restoration of the death penalty.

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