08/28/2006, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Filipino bishop accepts to join panel on political murders

by Santosh Digal

The Butuan City Bishop, Mgr Juan de Dios Pueblos, has accepted a government proposal to sit on the newly set up commission of inquiry into "extra-judicial" murders despite warnings from the bishop's conference that has asked its members to take an independent stand in politics.

Manila (AsiaNews) – A Filipino bishop has accepted a government offer to sit on the newly set up commission of inquiry into "extra-judicial" murders despite warnings from the bishop's conference and an appeal to bishops to "remain neutral in the political field."

The Butuan City Bishop, Mgr Juan de Dios Pueblos, said he was ready to accept the appointment that should be conferred upon him today in a solemn ceremony at the Supreme Court in Manila.

The president of the nation, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, set up the commission on 20 August, giving it a brief to investigate murders, described as "extra-judicial", of journalists and left-wingers. The commission is chaired by the retired Supreme Court Judge, Jose Melo.

The offer to form part of the commission was already turned down by one bishop: on 23 August, the bishop of Batanes-Babuyanes, Mgr Camilo Gregorio,  "thanked President Arroyo" but declined "this honour because of urgent pastoral obligations" and "in deference to the autonomy of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of which I am a member".

Taking up such a position is forbidden by Canon Law, which stipulates that deacons, priests and bishops should not accept public political posts, especially when they effectively confer social power. Some lawyers say the commission of inquiry "falls within this definition, given that it confers upon its members the power to do practically anything."

In an interview with Radio Veritas yesterday, Mgr Pueblos admitted that he had received a warning from the leadership of the bishops' conference, which had reminded him about the importance of Church independence from state affairs.

However, the bishop added that he "held his approach to be correct, as did experts in Canon Law of the University of Santo Tomas, who I consulted before accepting."

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