Activist groups welcomed the election this week of Bishop Pablo Virgilio David as president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
“Amidst the chaos brought about by the current health and economic crisis, we were greeted with positive news of Bishop [David]’s election,” read a statement from the Kilusang Mayo Uno.
Bong Labog, chairperson of the leftist labor center, said Bishop David has “always sided with the poor and the oppressed, particularly the victims of extrajudicial killings.”
“Just as he continues fighting for human rights, we hope that he also works hand in hand with the workers in advocating for labor rights,” said Labog in a statement to the media.
He said Filipino workers hope that Bishop David will join them in campaigning “for a just and livable national minimum wage, government aid and support for all, and an end to contractualization.”
“Contractualization” is a practice of hiring workers for a short time before terminating their services. Many are hired for less than six months or are laid off to avoid hiring them as regular workers.
During his election campaign, President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to end the practice. Labor groups, however, said nothing has happened since.
“As attacks on workers continue to intensify under the Duterte regime, we need more exemplary figures like Bishop [David] who will stand firmly against state repression,” added Labog.
He said Bishop David “can lead the way for the Catholic Church to unite as an institution that will stand up against corruption, criminality and brutality especially on unabated killings, and push for the assertion of Philippine sovereignty.”
The party-list group Akbayan, meanwhile, welcomed the prelate’s new position, describing him as “a person of integrity and has lived his life exemplifying a spirit of service to others.”
“This is a welcome development,” the group said in a statement.
“His long track record in defending human rights, and his staunch and consistent opposition to extrajudicial killings makes him the ideal leader of the CBCP to help lead the Church and shepherd its flock back to the path of democracy,” it added.
The country’s Catholic bishops elected Bishop David as president of the conference on July 8 during a two-day plenary assembly.
Bishop David, who heads the Diocese of Kalookan in the northern part of the Philippine capital, is known as a vocal critic of the policies of the Duterte administration, especially the government’s bloody “war on drugs.”
Most of the killings linked to the five-year government campaign against narcotics in Metro Manila happened in the Diocese of Kalookan.
Authorities claimed that less than 6,000 suspected drug users and peddlers have died in police operations, but human rights groups insisted that close to 30,000 have been killed across the country.
Bishop David has been a target of the ire of President Duterte, and in several pronouncements the president called the bishop a “son of a whore.”
The bishop was also among priests and leaders of the political opposition who were accused of sedition by the government. Bishop David had since received several death threats.
He was ordained priest in 1983 and bishop in 2006. He finished his theology studies at the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University and holds a doctorate in theology from the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium.
He was auxiliary bishop of San Fernando in Pampanga province until he was named by Pope Francis bishop of Kalookan in January 2016.