The End Does Not Justify the Means
Faith and Order Commission
United Church of Christ in the Philippines
The Faith and Order Commission (FOC) in its meeting last November 18, 2017 in Dumaguete City has decided to issue this statement in response to the ongoing discussion in the internet social media concerning the matter of the development of UCCP church properties. Initially, we would like to clarify certain matters that pertain to the collective stand of the commission regarding this issue.
This action of the commission was driven not by any personal or partisan motivation but simply out of a desire to help correct what has been observed as a serious matter that needs immediate corrective action by the officers of our church. This is in line with the FOC mandate in the Constitution to establish norms and standards of doctrine, order and discipline in the Church (Art. 7, Sec. 22a). The FOC feels that there are some developments that pertain to the order and discipline in the church which have serious implications to our faith and order practice that have to be brought to the attention of the concerned officers.
- The FOC, as can be gleaned in all its earlier documents sent to the Council of Bishops and which have now been made accessible to the public through Facebook, has always expressed the strong and fervent desire for the development of idle and unproductive properties of the church in order to support all the programs and ministries of the church including the improvement of the salaries of our low income church workers and those assigned in rural and pioneering mission areas, and the pension for the retired pastors and even scholarship for our ministerial students. The FOC joins the COB in the goal of making the UCCP a truly self-reliant church. It also has kept confidential the issue for as long as possible since the commission first sent a letter of concern to the COB last year yet (October, 2016). It readily consented to a deferment of the date of the dialogue the commission requested with them out of respect and in recognition of the busy schedule of the incumbent bishops.
- The FOC however, had also expressed its position which differs substantially with that of the COB as to the manner, the process, the means by which church properties are to be developed and made productive. This position was first officially articulated in its Letter of Concern to the Council of Bishops dated, October 25, 2016. It collectively expressed its alarm over the seeming tendency of the national leaders to depend solely on the corporatist model of developing church properties as if it is the only model of development that is available to the church at the moment.
- At the same time, it expressed strong disagreement with the plan approved by the National Council in its meeting in 2015 in Tagum, Davao to set up two UCCP corporations, a UCCP Realty Corporation that will be in charge of the development, investing and making productive the church properties and a UCCP Holding Corporation that will take over the control and monitoring and effective ownership of such properties with the Board of Incorporators for the two corporations composed of members of the National Executive Council including a number of the incumbent bishops. This is what has alarmed the commission.
- The FOC stated its basic understanding that once the corporations have been registered at the SEC with their complete roster of Board of Incorporators, they begin to acquire a corporate life governed by their respective corporate rules and By Laws separate and independent from the basic constitutional judicatories of the UCCP.
- The FOC also expressed the opinion that such set up tends to violate the basic structure and traditional order of the UCCP as expressed in the Constitution and By Laws. The system of checks and balances and the very important element of institutional accountability appear to have been by passed since the officers of the corporations are also the same officers of the NEC and also those leading the National Council and the General Assembly. The matter of conflict of interest, as to whose interest will the board will be acting and making decisions for, the church’s or the corporations, can become a real moral and ethical dilemma. This can be a real problem especially if the members of the Board of Incorporators are members also of the National Executive Council (NEC) including some of the bishops each one being assigned one share of stock each (contrary to the original intention of the UCCP By Laws Article 5, Sec. 22a calling for a non-stock, non profit foundation).
- The FOC however expressed its strongest disagreement over the fact that two corporations were created outside of the frame of the Constitution and By Laws in order to take over the functions and responsibilities of a duly mandated constitutional body, The Commission on Stewardship and Resource Development. A Commission such as the CSRD is a body created not by the General Assembly but by the Constitution and By Laws of the Church. As is clearly stated in Art. 5, sect. 3 of the By Laws on the Constitutional and National Program Commissions, and Other National Church Bodies:
“The Church shall plan, determine and implement its ministry and mission through the Constitutional Commissions.”
The constitutional commissions are the mandated arms of the church in the planning, determining and implementing of the church programs. Of the four commissions created by the CBL (FOC, CCUU, NCDRC and CSRD) it is the CSRD that appears to have the longest, most detailed mandate. The Commission on Stewardship and Resource Development is the constitutional body mandated “to establish comprehensive and nationwide property and resource development programs to generate income for the support of the Church.
Such programs shall include the establishment of mechanism for property and human resources utilization that shall make the Church financially self-reliant and enable it to participate in the mission of the Universal Church.
For this purpose, the Commission shall encourage the formation of cooperatives and endeavor to establish Church-related institutions that shall provide insurance, hospitalization, retirement and pension plans for its Church workers, and assist the local churches in the establishment of memorial plans and parks for the members. (By Laws Art. 5, Sec. 21)
Within the UCCP Constitution itself, in Art. 7, Sec. 24, the functions and main duties of the CSRD have been clearly delineated.
There shall be a Commission on Stewardship and Resource Development whose members shall be elected by the General Assembly or its National Council from the membership of the Church. Its duties and functions consist of formulating and proposing for the approval of the General Assembly or National Council policies, programs and projects for:
a. Christian Stewardship
b. Human Resource Development
c. Investment and Property Development
- With such mandate, there is no one else, or no other body or officer of the church who can have the authority to unilaterally take over the functions of a duly mandated constitutional body of the church. In the opinion of FOC, this could constitute a clear violation of a constitutional provision. A possible remedy for this situation is for the General Secretary to propose an amendment to the CBL that would in effect, empower some national officers such as the National Treasurer to take over some of functions of the CSRD but still in continuing consultation with and guidance and monitoring by the CSRD. This is basically to remedy what appears to be a growing contradiction. What should have been done is to propose first the amendment before proceeding to act on the proposed plans and projects and not vice versa. In this situation, it will appear that we have put the cart before the horse.
- The same remedy could have been done with the provision of the UCCP Resource Development Foundation which is the one mandated in the UCCP By Laws and which is supposed to be a non-stock, non profit entity (Art. 5, Sec. 22a). The General Secretary, in his letter-circular of October 25, 2017) described the matter of the UCCP Foundation as no longer operational due to its being “incongruous to a Holding Company”. Again, this problem could have been properly remedied if a proposal for an appropriate amendment had been presented to either the General Assembly or the National Council before the proposal to set up two corporations to function in place of the foundation was presented to the NC. However, the matter of setting up a foundation is also mandated in the UCCP Constitution as it has been included in Art. 4, Sec. 3, on the Ministry of the Church, as one of the entities and institutions that the church has to set up to support the ministry and mission of the church. Its proper amendment right in the body of the constitution must also be considered.
- The FOC feels that some of the national officers, in the desire to move quickly to remedy what is perceived to be an urgent economic and financial problem in the church simply took liberties with the relevant UCCP CBL provisions and came up with their own kind of justification to legitimize their action. But the justification of a violation of the Constitution and By Laws does not and cannot legitimize what is essentially an illegitimate and unconstitutional action.
Theological Premise of the Constitution and By-Laws
The FOC as a body feels that the UCCP Constitution and By Laws is not just a legal document that is supposed to guide and provide limits to what church officers can do and cannot do with their powers and authority. More than a legal document, it is first and foremost a theological statement being an expression of the faith of the church put into responsible, collective, organized and accountable action. This is why the body of the CBL is preceded by the very important theological statements of the church, the Statement of Faith (SOF) and a Covenanting Prayer. After the Bible and the Statement of Faith, the CBL is the third most important document for the UCCP. In short, the CBL is no less than a sacred statement of the church entering into covenant with God and with one another in the church. The prayer itself makes a pleading for
….the Holy Spirit to guide us (the church) into greater sensitivity, openness of hearts and minds, and a truly creative response to the challenges of our time;
It expresses further the pleading for guidance, blessing and the presence of …Jesus Christ to be upon us, even as we strive to be faithful to the true spirit of the covenant we today have forged anew.
The theological mandate for us is to remain faithful to the true spirit of being in covenant as a church. It is for the church to act responsibly as one body to actualize its mission and work towards supporting such mission and ministry of the church. The whole CBL document then ends with both the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed. These church statements and documents are there for a theological reason. They affirm the claim in the prayer that the CBL document itself is an institutional-organizational expression of being in a sacred covenant with God and with one another in the UCCP. They are a reminder of the need to treat the CBL document with due respect and to abide always in the call to be faithful to the spirit of being in such covenant relationship. Because of its distinct nature it is very important that this become part of those documents that need to be available to each and every member of the church for their own study, reflection and evaluation. This is supposed to ensure openness, accessibility, accountability and transparency in the conduct of everyone and help ensure a more informed and guided discussion, deliberation and decision making especially among the church leaders and delegates to both the National Council and the General Assembly. Its accessibility should not be limited only to the church officers, both laity and clergy. This is what will guarantee for the church the blessing of right order and harmony in carrying out its mandated functions. Openness, democratic participation and accessibility to information are a valued legacy of the UCCP and a major key towards ensuring unity.
- The FOC feels that it should have been the primary lookout and responsibility of the national officers led by the General Secretary to set the example of faithful compliance with both the letter and spirit of the CBL, otherwise, with what happened in the matter of the CSRD functions being taken over by another body that has no constitutional mandate the result can only be organizational chaos instead of order in the way the church is being governed. The function of one constitutional body (a commission itself) has been taken over by a non-constitutional entity and the function of the officers and members of one commission usurped by others not duly authorized at all.
- It can be claimed that whatever transaction entered into by non CBL- authorized officers of the church is deemed null and void because of lack of legitimacy of the person/s who initiated the said transactions. It is just like a couple who were wedded by a pastor without a license to solemnize marriage thus making their union null and void from the very beginning. In the case of the National Treasurer, it is important to determine by whose and by what authority he was able to enter into major transactions in the name of the UCCP with entities like Gaisano involving huge amounts of lease money. The National Treasurer is mandated by the By laws (Art. 5, Sec. 15) to perform only the following functions:
a. To be custodian of all funds of the church…b. To disburse funds…c.To submit his books for audit…d. To formulate long term financial plans including the annual budget…e. To coordinate with conference treasurers to improve remittances…f. To post bond… g. To render reports and financial statements to the GA, NC and the NEC…h. To manage day to day transactions of the church… i. To perform such other duties that may be assigned by the GA, the NC or the NEC.
Nowhere does this list of duties include the power and authority to enter into transactions in behalf of and in the name of the church. The closest to such undertaking could be the last item in this section (i), regarding other duties that may be assigned to him by the higher bodies of the church. But these bodies cannot assign to another entity functions and duties that were already assigned by the CBL to a duly constituted body, in fact a commission of the church (CSRD).
If this major constitutional violation is not rectified and properly corrected with the right measures this could be just the start of something more alarming and even more serious situation as violations after violations may just take place but simply given beautiful, rational justifications. The value and actual ordering function of the CBL then is lost in the maze of a growing situation of organizational confusion. We need to avoid actions that may actually be a violation of the very spirit of the covenant document that we have earnestly put together as a church way back in the 1993 Constitutional Convention.
- These kind of unilateral actions of the leaders of the church somehow led to an even greater problem than the one they were trying to solve especially in the case of the Bethany Hospital in Tacloban City. It may be recalled that during the 2014 General Assembly in Legaspi City, when the issue of the reopening of the Bethany Hospital was brought to the floor by some concerned delegates the chair of the FOC made the motion that was unanimously approved by the body to wit: “To task the National Executive Council to expedite the rehabilitation and reopening of the Bethany Hospital as soon as possible.” (QGA 14 – 51)
- This mandate clearly calls for an urgent action on the part of the NEC to cause the immediate opening of the hospital as soon as it is rehabilitated. The mandate did not say anything about permanently closing, nor replacing the name of the institution, nor of leasing the property to a commercial entity. What came out however was that the old institutional name and identity of Bethany Hospital was completely extinguished, replaced by an entirely new corporate group, most of the employees were terminated and the property was leased to Gaisano that will enable it to put up a commercial mall right in the area. Thus, the action of the GA in 2014 was completed ignored, violated and set aside.
- It really bothers the FOC to consider how a major transaction involving hundreds of millions of pesos could just be undertaken by some church officers without any express mandate from the GA and even in spite of a strong note of protest from the CSRD chairman citing a number of irregularities and calling for a deferment of the signing of the contract with Gaisano and most of all, in direct contravention of a clear GA mandate to the NEC. Such action undertaken without authority could fall under what lawyers call as ultra vires or action taken outside or beyond one’s power to do so.
- The FOC notes the degree of haste with which the Bethany-Gaisano transaction was finalized and the contracts signed even without any proposal being presented for the NC’s and GA’s approval, along with the haste that characterized the demolition of the major structures and buildings of the hospital with no clear authorization at all from the highest policy making body of the church. The action of the officers may reflect a serious lack of appreciation of the required institutional processes involved in our church order. In a broader sense the action reflects a serious lack of pastoral sensitivity to the prevailing cultural and social context as well as the very history and track record of Bethany Hospital. Bethany was situated in a property acquired by the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church. They have sent missionary doctors during its early years for the distinct purpose of using such property for a missionary hospital as part of the trilogical mission of the church (healing, preaching, teaching ministry).
For 95 years, Bethany has carried on such mission as the healing arm of the church in the region, which is considered as one of the poorest regions in the country, catering in so many ways mostly to indigent patients servicing about 11,000 inpatients, 30,500 outpatients and 15,000 emergency patients per year with high quality medical care that the name Bethany has become much respected and looked up to with much affection by the people of the region. It has been giving free medical services to all the ministers in the region. Certainly there is no clear reason why such church institution would just be extinguished physically and replaced by a commercial entity. This is a case where the church may have suffered incalculable reputational cost in terms of the kind of negative public image it has projected to the community, in terms of numerous feelings of hurt, anger, disappointment and actual displacement of people such action has engendered. Certainly, this is not the way the church should conduct itself before the community it is supposed to serve and bear witness to about the healing, reconciling love of Christ.
- The Bethany property may be considered as a trust asset that is entrusted to the church leaders of today for the supposed continuation and perpetuation of the mission of the hospital for its healing ministry.
Church leaders of today are to be considered as Trustees of such trust properties. In biblical terms, the land of Bethany is supposed to be treated as a nachalah, or as a sacred inheritance from the Lord, a gift from God to be used only for the purpose for which it was acquired. In biblical tradition such kind of land cannot be sold, nor exchanged or be transformed for another kind of use. To do so would be tantamount to a sacrilege committed against God’s property. The whole transaction may be considered quite legal on the surface as long as basic legal requirements are met. But in the eyes of the prophets of the Bible, and in the eyes of God this is one transaction where a grievous injustice to the affected people has been committed.
In biblical language also, Bethany, (Beth ani) means house of the poor. For decades Bethany hospital has served as the house of healing for the ordinary, low income people of Eastern Visayas including our own church workers and members there in the nearby conferences. It has even supported the various conferences of Eastern Visayas on a regular basis and has contributed to the scholarship fund for ministry students coming from the region. It is very sad to note that the “house of the poor” now has been demolished and turned over to become the house of Gaisano. This matter could have been dealt with greater pastoral sensitivity, deeper understanding of the local people’s sentiment coupled with a more consultative, dialogical process and a keener sense of what is really the missionary need in the area.
- The FOC feels that our church leaders should have already learned valuable lessons from the past investment debacles of the church, such as the cases of the Philippine Christian University where several millions of pesos invested was lost and had never been recovered, the case of the Visayas Community Medical Center (VCMC), wherein church leaders again entered into an ill-advised major construction project with a major loan from the bank. Instead, the project had placed the entire territory of VCMC, Bradford Church and Cendet in danger of being foreclosed by the bank because of the unpaid loan. The cases of Bethany and now the Vistaland deal are beginning to follow the same pattern of executive actions that reflect no clear adherence to if not outright violations of the existing policies and guidelines of the church.
- The FOC feels that a creeping sense of organizational disarray has been taking place in the church by virtue of the violations of provisions of the CBL and setting aside of mandated actions and policies of the General Assembly. A lower body ignores an official action of the highest policy-making body and an unauthorized entity just takes over and usurps the constitutional duties and function of a duly constituted commission of the church. Somehow, our covenant with God as we have articulated in the opening prayer of the CBL seems to have been forgotten or laid aside seemingly for the sake of expediency and even using the economic plight and need of our church workers as the supposed justification for all these series of violations.
- For the FOC, the end does not justify the means otherwise, chaos and authoritarianism will steadily creep in. Our CBL deserves our serious attention, respect and compliance especially on the part of those duty bound to implement it. This is akin to the president of the Philippines bound by his oath to Preserve and defend the Constitution, execute its laws, do justice to every man, and consecrate myself to the service of the Nation. This should have been the very same spirit with which our leaders should have assumed their leadership positions. After all, the elected leader of the church is bound not by an oath but by a prayer, recited not just by him, but by the whole church that consecrated him to office. The church may need to be reminded that an intentional violation of the CBL and other statutes of the church can be a ground for expulsion from the ministry (By-Laws Art. 2, Section 7, c.2.). The October 25, 2017 circular of the General Secretary may be deemed as an expression of an admission of a violation that has been abetted by his office.
- The FOC recognizes however that arriving at an opinion and interpretation of the Constitution and By Laws with finality and with executory power lies within the domain of the National Commission on Discipline and Conflict Resolution (Const. Art. 8, Sec. 4). This is why this Statement is mainly an expression of an opinion although based on both constitutional as well as theological-biblical grounds as we have argued for the whole CBL being not just a legal document but more importantly, a theological statement of the church from where it derives its higher claim to be respected and adhered to by all constituents led by the leaders and officers of the church.
- We are currently observing the 500th year anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing of his 95 thesis on the door his church in Wittenberg, Germany (October 31, 1517) which sparked the sweeping reformation movement and gave birth to the Reformed-Protestant churches to which the UCCP belongs. Luther’s act was considered by the church leaders then as highly scandalous, heretical and divisive. He faced several threats and was excommunicated by Pope Leo X and was also declared as a heretic by Emperor Charles V for his stubborn refusal to recant all his teachings. But it was his courageous stand that paved the way for what has become a landmark, watershed event in the history of the whole church.
This season may actually be a good opportunity for the UCCP constituents to reconsider the need for a renewed reformation movement also in our church, in its organizational systems and structures, in the practice and system of choosing its leaders and in the matter of institutionalizing accountability measures to ensure vibrant and participatory, democratic and transparent processes and most of all, to preserve the basic integrity of the whole life, ministry and mission of the church.
- For the sake of real transparency and in the spirit of openness, we suggest that the officers of the NEC make available to the wider church all the pertinent documents related to the transactions involving Gaisano, VistaLand and the VCMC project. This would include the transaction documents that have been signed and are yet to be signed.
- We also suggest that the NEC make available to the wider church the official SEC registration records of the UCCP Holding Corporation and the UCCP Realty Corporation for better appreciation of the concerned members and officials in the wider judicatories of the church. If such corporations are indeed to function only in behalf of the interest of the church as the real owners of the properties being developed then the churches themselves should have access to such official corporation records including their SEC registration.
- We however suggest that a thorough review of the NC action approving the creation of the two corporations be undertaken and to defer any action that will involve these corporations using the church properties in certain business transactions.
- We suggest that the CSRD be mandated to reactivate itself and reassume their constitutional duties which had been taken over and usurped by the national treasurer and the two corporations in the cases of the Bethany-Gaisano deal and in the Vistaland deal and other projects involving property development and to act expeditiously to rectify what needs to be rectified until such time that an amendment to the CBL may be undertaken if ever an amendment is deemed to be necessary.
- We suggest that if ever an amendment to the CBL is done allowing the setting up of the 2 corporations that the members of the NEC who are members of the Board of Incorporators of the two corporations inhibit themselves from such position so as to allow the higher body of the church to review the matter and decide whom they will choose to be among the incorporators of the two corporations. These new members of the Boards of Incorporators will then be made fully accountable to the General Assembly and will be mandated to make and submit regular reports to the GA.
- We suggest and strongly advice that the incumbent bishops always seek counsel and guidance from the more senior members of the Council of Bishops, the bishops emeriti. Together with the bishops emeriti the incumbent bishops constitute the Council of Bishops (Const. Art. 7, Sec. 9). It is solely this constitutional body that is mandated to attend to matters of faith, life, mission, and welfare of the Church. It is also this collective body that should settle issues and conflicts relating to faith and doctrine. It will be difficult however if not impossible to carry this out if the subject of the conflict are among the incumbent bishops.
This is why the incumbent bishops would always need the experience and collective wisdom of the bishops emeriti through their long years of service to the church. Their contribution to the life and mission of the church cannot just be set aside. It will be ideal if the incumbent bishops will be able to call for a dialogue-reunion meeting with all the rest of the bishops emeriti in planning together the possible next steps for the church to move forward from hereon. This will be symbolic of the church moving forward to face the future while deriving valuable lessons and guidance from the wisdom of the past as it also collectively resolves the challenges of the present.
- Some sectors among many concerned church members have also suggested seeking counsel and further guidance from an informal council or summit of prominent senior church members or former lay officers, representing various sectors of the church and who have remained loyal and active in the UCCP through the years to broaden the base of the sources of guidance and wisdom in charting the next steps for the church. This is where the NCDCR may be able to exercise a facilitating role in the process of all the discussions and processing of issues and at the same time derive some guiding wisdom and lessons which may be incorporated in their final opinion. This may be worth considering also by the COB.
- We suggest that the Council of Bishops reconsider also the original counter proposal of the FOC for a more constitutionally based development program for the properties of the church anchored on a tri-party involvement in the property development- the local church where the property belongs and where the locus of mission is supposed to be, the conference and the national church. This has been done before and is still being done with some measure of success in at least one conference. Without the participation of the local churches and conferences in the development of properties that are in their areas, local churches may not be inclined anymore to entrust the processing and even safekeeping of the documents of their properties such as the land titles to the national office. For where they are supposed to be “held in trust for the UCCP” (UCCP Const. Art. 9 Sec. 1; By Laws Art. 8, sec. 1) may appear to them as no longer worthy of their trust.
God bless the UCCP!
(Sgd) Noriel C. Capulong, Chair
(Sgd) Everett Mendoza, member
(Sgd) Amy Jaim, member
(Sgd) Rudy Baslot, member
Luna Dingayan, member (Absent but gave his full agreement and approval through email sent Nov. 20, 2017).
November 21, 2017