Catholic dioceses in areas near the West Philippine Sea issued a joint pastoral exhortation expressing profound distress over the aggressive incursions by Chinese forces into the country’s maritime zones.
The exhortation, dated February 8, 2024, coinciding with the Memorial of Saint Josephine Bakhita but provided to the media in advance, urged the faithful “to recognize the Lord in the concern of the Church for the well-being of our poor fisher folk”.
It was signed by Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Taytay, Bishop Bartolome Santos Jr. of Iba, Bishop Daniel Presto of San Fernando de La Union, Bishop Socrates Mesiona of Puerto Princesa, and Auxiliary Bishop Fidelis Layog of Lingayen-Dagupan.
The bishops lambasted Beijing’s aggression in the West Philippine Sea “resulting in the widespread destruction” of marine biodiversity.
“It is not only an issue about fish and aquatic resources but about the lives, the well-being, and the future of one of the marginal but populous sectors of our society – the fisherfolk,” the pastoral statement reads.
The bishops criticized the “policy of appeasing Chinese aggressors”, stating that it has worsened the plight of the Filipino fisherfolk and emboldened China to make unfounded claims in the disputed waters.
The prelates quoted Desmond Tutu to emphasize the need for a clear stance, saying, “If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
While advocating for a peaceful resolution, the bishops asserted that legal means must be exhausted to defend the Philippines’ rights over its maritime territories.
They called on the government to take concrete actions, beyond mere statements, to protect the resources bestowed by God through the sea for the benefit of future generations.
The bishops pleaded with the public to defend the rights of impoverished fisherfolk, support their livelihoods, and safeguard the future of their families.
They also called on small-scale fishermen to stand united in protecting Philippine waters and marine life, respecting the natural order, and being good stewards of the gifts entrusted to them by God.