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J. de Venecia: The Philippine Proposal for an Interreligious Council at the UN

The Philippine Proposal for an Interreligious Council at the UN
By Jose de Venecia, Jr., Speaker, House of Representatives, Republic of the Philippines

Paper presented at a Summit of World Leaders, “The World at a Turning Point: A Global Vision of Peace and Good Governance,” Seoul, Korea, August 11-16, 2003

If the world will finally achieve peace, we have to be able to see the beginnings of reconciliation, justice, and the unification of the various religious groups and religious forces around the world. We must now come to terms with each other—Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Confucianists, and other religious groups. These great religions, cultures, and civilizations must sit down together. There is no other alternative. Without the religious groups coming together, unless we are able to achieve an Interreligious Council, and bring together the great religions of the world under one roof in a common political arena, it will be very difficult for you and I to advance the cause of peace in Asia, Africa, Europe, America, and the Middle East.

That is why President Arroyo and I, when we sat down and conferred with President Bush and the members of his Cabinet in the White House, proposed that Christian and social democrats, Islamic leaders, Christian leaders, Buddhist leaders, Jewish leaders and other religious groups should get together for the cause of dialogue among civilizations and cultures. At the fulcrum and the core of this proposal, we, with Rev. Sun Myung Moon and other leaders have proposed the creation of an interreligious council as an organ of the United Nations. Through this, we will go beyond rhetoric. We will go beyond speechmaking. We will go beyond just meetings and conferences. We came up with a very specific and concrete proposal that has now matured into an idea whose time has come. We now propose the creation of an interreligious council as an organ of the United Nations to complement the work of the Security Council, the Trusteeship Council, the Economic and Social Council, and the other organs of the United Nations. I believe that we should no longer raise up the idea of a Trusteeship Council because there are no more trusteeships to be covered in the United Nations. I propose that we instead create an interreligious council as an organ of the United Nations.

I am happy to report to you that when President Arroyo and I mentioned this to US President George Bush, he welcomed this positively and directed Condoleezza Rice, his National Security Adviser, to coordinate with us in promoting this peace initiative. The following day, I sat down in the United Nations and met with religious leaders, the Ambassadors of the United Nations, and the senior officials of the UN. We met the Deputy Secretary General of the UN and the Undersecretary for Policy. We met with the President of the United Nations from the Czech Republic. We met Ambassador Negroponte, chief U.S. delegate to the United Nations. With each of them, we advanced our proposal for the creation of an interfaith body. I am happy to inform you that all of them without exception endorsed and supported this. And so, I wish to inform you that now, the Philippine government, under the leadership of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her Cabinet, have approved this proposal. The President has now directed our outstanding Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Blas Ople and our Ambassador to the UN that the appropriate resolution should be filed at the General Assembly.

A new organ of the UN requires an amendment to the charter of the UN. We invite other nations to join us advancing this proposal until we are able to bring about concrete results. Hopefully, they will become cosponsors. We now propose that the General Assembly should create a Special Committee on the creation of an interfaith council, whose task will be to prepare an immediate feasibility study that will determine the objectives, structure, budget, financing, and goals of an interreligious council as an organ of the UN. And as an immediate prelude to the approval of this initiative, we propose that 2004 shall be declared as the Year of the Interfaith Council in the UN.

When our House Chairman of the Commission on Foreign Affairs, Congressman Jun Lozada, leads the House delegation to the UN this September, we will ask him to sponsor the resolution of the Republic of the Philippines to create this Special Committee of the UN. This special committee will invoke the declaration of 2004 as the year of the Interreligious Council for dialogue among civilizations and cultures. At the same time, it will carry a specific mandate of a fixed period of not more than two and a half years in which to create an interreligious council. This is our timetable. This is our architectural plan so that this idea will finally see the light of day.

Our specific purpose is to bring together the religious groups from all over the world—Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe, North America, and the Middle East—in order to complement the traditional legislative work of the diplomats in the UN. Through this peace initiative, we can bring together the various civilizations and cultures. Since the main problem today is between Christians and Muslims in various parts of the world, the call for this dialogue among civilizations and cultures may be initially among Christians and Muslims, but concurrently, we will be working on the dialogue among Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, and Confucianists all over the world. This is very important if we are to reduce the Christian-Muslim division, strengthen the UN (whose political authority was diminished as a result of the Iraqi war) and lessen the U.S. conflicts in the Indies, Europe, and other parts of the world, including the Philippines and East Asia.

This is an idea whose time has come. If we want to solve the problem of Mindanao in Southern Philippines; of Aceh in Indonesia; of Lebanon, Palestine, Bosnia, and Kosovo; of the Balkans in Central Europe; of parts of East Asia from Afghanistan to Bangladesh to Nepal; of Sudan and Nigeria in Africa; of Hindus and Buddhists in India, and Buddhists and Hindus in Sri Lanka. The time has come for us to create this dialogue among Christians, Muslims, and Jews. I congratulate Thailand, which has both a large Buddhist population and a significant Muslim population. The King of Thailand and the leaders of Thailand have been able to preserve this delicate balance between Buddhism and Islam.

This is a country that we have to consider as a model. During the time of President Fidel Ramos, we created the ruling party of today, which is called LakasCMD. What does CMD mean? It means Christian Muslim Democrats. It is one of the few political parties in the world that houses Christians and Muslims in a common political party. This is what we would like to build. We are one human family. Peace can be achieved. I know it will be done. It is a question of time, humility, simplicity, and reaching out. It is a question of political will. If we are able to do this, then our planet will be a planet of peace and happiness.