The coming Referendum confronts us with questions we cannot face squarely without facing a crisis of conscience. We cannot escape the necessity of judging by our conscience the implications of the option we shall take, and the complexities of the situation which may govern the morality of our act.
In normal times past, it was enough for us to remind ourselves of the principles that citizenship imposed a strict moral obligation to go to the polls, and that one must always vote according to one’s conscience. Under martial law with its climate of surveillance and fear, and the diversity of conditions of freedom and information obtaining in diverse parts of the country, the application of these principles may not be incontestably clear to all our people. There is need to apply them to the present situation.
As Pastors of the Church we must exercise in these troubled times without fear or favor our prophetic mission to form the consciences of the faithful. For to quote Vatican II: “In the formation of their consciences, the Christian faithful ought carefully to attend to the sacred and certain doctrine of the Church. The Church is, by the will of Christ, the teacher of the truth. It is her duty to give utterance to, and authoritatively to teach, that Truth which is Christ Himself, and also to declare and confirm by her authority those principles of the moral order which have their origin in human nature itself.” (Declaration on Religious Freedom, n. 12, Abbott Ed. p. 694)
Accordingly, after conscientious discussion and prayerful discernment, we, the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines in conference assembled, have agreed to offer these guidelines to the faithful.
In the present situation, the coming Referendum and participation therein can be meaningful with the following safeguards:
Free public discussion of the vital issues involved in the referendum for a sufficient period of time before the referendum is actually held.
Freedom of speech, of peaceful assembly and of all media. Every citizen should be afforded the opportunity to freely express his views, know the views of others and discuss them through peaceful assemblies, open forums, and public meetings, or by means of printed or mimeographed materials — with an assurance from the Government that no man shall be imprisoned or subjected to threats of imprisonment or other forms of reprisal, for exercising his right to free speech or peaceful assembly.
The conduct of the referendum, including the power to supervise the voting, the canvassing, and the publishing of the results should be entrusted to a non-partisan reputable body to be manned by three citizens whose reputation for competence, integrity and impartiality must be beyond question. This is an extra-legal measure we beg the President to take because it is demanded by the present situation.
In addition, in order to make this referendum truly a free consultation with the people, we suggest to the President that for this referendum he suspend the penalties imposed on those who fail to vote, or who abstain from voting, and openly express their stand.
Most of the safeguards we had already outlined to the President in our letter to him last July 1974. They are conceived in the spirit of the President’s own desire in this referendum that “our people give expression to their genuine sentiments so that from there the government may best derive its strength.” (Jan. 12 Speech)
It is possible that even with these safeguards some of our people will remain unconvinced. Indeed we are aware that some of our faithful, including members of religious groups, have deep-seated conscientious objections to the forthcoming Referendum; they are sincerely convinced that under martial law no referendum can be truly free. Those who thus respect and follow their conscience to the point of being ready to suffer for it, deserve our respect in turn, however much we may disagree with their views. For, as Vatican II declares: “man perceives and acknowledges the imperatives of the divine law through the mediation of conscience. In all his activity a man is bound to follow his conscience faithfully, in order that he may come to God, for whom he is created.” (Declaration on Religious Freedom, n. 3, Abbott Ed. p. 681)
Conscientious objectors who are truly conscientious stand to remind us of what some day the Church may need–the ultimate courage to say with St. Thomas Moore: “We are the King’s good servants, but God’s first.”
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:
(Sgd.)+JULIO R. CARDINAL ROSALES
Archbishop of Cebu
Sacred Heart Novitiate
Novaliches, Quezon City
January 31, 1975