It is troubling that notwithstanding the fact torture is now recognized as a crime jure gentium and international law increasingly moves in the direction of classifying the prohibition of torture as peremptory norm, there are documented reports that there still are victims of torture in the Philippines according to credible reports from Amnesty International.
Contrary to Fullness of Life
In one very prophetic line of Evangelium Vitae, Saint John Paul II wrote:
All who commit themselves to following Christ are given the fullness of life: the divine image is restored, renewed and brought to perfection in them. God’s plan for human beings is this, that they should “be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom 8:29). Only thus, in the splendour of this image, can man be freed from the slavery of idolatry, rebuild lost fellowship and rediscover his true identity. (n. 36)
The Church lives by this fullness of life. The Church is its fullness. The Church is its servant. And so, in the face of the persistence of that culture of impunity by which law-enforcers take it upon themselves to torture their victims, we must speak out. We will also tend to the wounds of the victims, even as I ask all priests and religious, and lay persons who have the means to do so, to take it upon themselves to extend every possible assistance to the victims of torture.
It has often been argued that there are urgent circumstances that call for the torture of suspects, especially in cases of the threat of terrorism – when the concealment of truth by principals and accomplices in criminal activity may make it impossible to save innocent others from unconscionable deeds of terrorism.
It is well to recall the words of Pope Benedict XVI, who wrote in Caritas in Veritate:
As a spiritual being, the human creature is defined through interpersonal relations. The more authentically he or she lives these relations, the more his or her own personal identity matures. It is not by isolation that man establishes his worth, but by placing himself in relation with others and with God. Hence these relations take on fundamental importance. The same holds true for peoples as well. A metaphysical understanding of the relations between persons is therefore of great benefit for their development. In this regard, reason finds inspiration and direction in Christian revelation, according to which the human community does not absorb the individual, annihilating his autonomy, as happens in the various forms of totalitarianism, but rather values him all the more because the relation between individual and community is a relation between one totality and another.
Savagery of Torture
We appreciate the earnest efforts of law-enforcers to keep the peace and to spare the population from the ravages of terrorists, but we cannot countenance the torture of suspects even when motivated by the noble end of ferreting out the truth and sparing innocent victims. The savagery of all acts of torture contradicts all noble deeds.
Not Only the Government
We cannot end without calling attention to the fact that it is not only government agents who perpetrate torture. There are clear and undeniable reports of torture inflicted by rebels, insurgents, separatists and even bandit groups and organizations. The fact that they have taken up arms against the government constitutes no justification for the torture inflicted on others. Nothing justifies torture, more so when it is part of a scheme of lawlessness and sheer brigandage.
Our Catholic laity must not only come to the aid of victims of torture. We can stomp out this scourge from our midst by vigilance and discernment. When, in the meetings of our basic ecclesial communities, torture becomes an issue, let witnesses muster the Christian courage to speak prophetically against it – even testifying in court against its perpetrators.
When we act with resoluteness against the perpetrators of torture, it is and should be the incomparable dignity of the human person that should be our end, and the criterion of the rightness of our advocacy and endeavors.
From the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, June 23, 2015
+ SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan