Bishop speaks out in the Phillipines (22/8/2003)

The following letter has been sent by Bishop Gutierrez, Chair of the Episcopal Commission on Social Action, Justice and Peace in the Philippines, to Bishop Martino in Rome. According to a report in The Guardian, "Renato Martino is the prelate behind the pro-GM lobby" (Vatican backing sparks GM row, Report set to anger Catholics in developing world, The Guardian, 13 August 2003,

Bishop Gutierrez in his letter notes that the Permanent Council of the Catholic Bishops' Conference in the Philippines has also released a statement supporting the campaign of opposition to the commercial release of Monsanto's GM corn in the Philippines.
15 August 2003

Most Rev. Renato Rafaelle Martino, D.D.

Your Excellency:

Greetings of Peace!

Recent reports from several newspapers abroad and in the internet are raising concerns from local groups here in the Philippines regarding the possibility of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace or any other Vatican office endorsing Genetically Modified (GM) foods.  If these reports are true, then I think it is really a matter we should consider with deep concern.

Genetic Engineering remains an intense issue in the Philippines after it was brought to national attention last May by a coalition opposed to the commercial release of Bacillus thuriengiensis Corn (Bt corn).   A 30-day hunger strike was conducted by the group in front of the Department of Agriculture building calling for a moratorium on the Bt corn release. Here in my own Diocese, various protests and mass actions were already conducted even before the hunger strike, since South Cotabato in Mindanao is one of the field testing sites for Bt corn.

Several groups, non-governmental organizations, peoples' organizations, agrarian reform communities, farmers' alliances, scientists and members of the academe have expressed their opposition to the commercial release and have called for a moratorium.  The Permanent Council of our Catholic Bishops' Conference here has also released a statement supporting such clamor.  Attached is a copy of the statement for your reference.

A technology such as genetic engineering, whose long-term effects on human health and the environment are really unknown, should be applied with extreme caution following the precautionary principle.  Bt corn and all the other products of genetic engineering pose a threat to "genetic integrity, human safety and farmers' control over its basic means of production - the seed."

Poverty, inequality and injustice are just some of the things we are trying to address at the National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace (NASSA-JP).  We believe that GM food is not the answer to the problem of world hunger.  It is poverty brought about by inequality and injustice.  Filipino farmers will further plunge into the depths of poverty in using GM crops.  In the Philippines, as in the case anywhere in the world, the real problem is not on the inadequacy of food production but its inaccessibility and inequitable distribution to all people.

His Holiness in his Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (1987) even pointed out: "It is necessary to state once more the characteristic principle of Christian social doctrine: the goods of this world are originally meant for all. The right to private property is valid and necessary, but it does not nullify the value of this principle. Private property, in fact, is under a "social mortgage", which means that it has an intrinsically social function, based upon and justified precisely by the principle of the universal destination of goods." (#42)
It is the obligation of the Church to reflect on and address societal issues.  We believe that the Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace also adheres to the principles of equality and justice.  Any technological and scientific advancement must be subjected to moral scrutiny.  "Science and technology by their very nature require unconditional respect for fundamental moral criteria.  They must be at the service of the human person (and) in conformity with the plan and will of God" (Cathechism of the Catholic Church, #2294).  Thus, any endorsement the Council will give regarding genetically modified crops and foods must be based on sound judgement and discernment guided by the teachings of our Church.

We are imploring His Reverend not to take any step that will create uncertainties and further division brought about by genetic engineering.  We should rise up to the challenges posed by modern biotechnology and above all protect the integrity of creation.  We are thus, registering our strong opposition to any decision from the Holy See endorsing the use of genetically modified crops and foods.

In Christ,

Chair, Episcopal Commission on Social Action, Justice and Peace Bishop, Diocese of Marbel

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