The head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) is calling for prayers amid a “bleak political landscape” brought about by the passage of an anti-terrorism law despite major opposition, as well as attacks on free expression as shown by the forced shutdown of media giant ABS-CBN.

Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, in his first major act since taking over the CBCP as acting president, penned a pastoral latter lamenting that the Philippines had been put in the same situation as Hong Kong because of the terror bill.

“In the midst of this bleak political landscape, we draw consolation from the groups of lawyers and ordinary citizens that have filed petitions before the Supreme Court, questioning the constitutionality of the newly signed law. Will the highest level of our Judiciary assert its independence, or will they, too, succumb to political pressure?” David wrote on behalf of the CBCP.

David said the president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, Myanmar’s Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, had reached out to Filipino bishops and called for prayers for Hong Kong, now subject to a new national security law imposed by China.

Hong Kong’s new law is viewed as an instrument of Beijing to crack down on legitimate and peaceful dissenters.

“Apparently, the Chinese government assures the people of Hongkong that they have nothing to be afraid of, as long as ‘they don’t get involved in any activity that threatens national security,’” David said.

“Why does this sound eerily familiar to us Filipinos? Because we are in a similar situation…. We also asked him (Cardinal Bo) to pray for the Philippines and explained why we are as seriously in need of prayers as the people of Hongkong. Like them, we are also alarmed about the recent signing into law of the Anti-Terror Act of 2020,” David said.

He pointed to a “pattern of intimidation” that has created an “atmosphere detrimental to the freedom of expression,” citing how activists had been tagged as communists, false charges of sedition against clergy, the drug war killings, the prolonged detention of opposition senator Leila de Lima, and the “chilling effect” brought about by the closure of ABS-CBN.

David deplored how “political pressure from above” weighed more heavily on legislators who voted for the terror bill than the “voices below.”

“They did not even seem to care that many of the people they represent were against it—lawyers’ associations, the academe, the business sector, labor groups, youth organizations, NGO’s, political movements, faith-based communities and even the Bangsamoro government,” the prelate said.

Many sectors have expressed fears over the bill’s vague definition of terrorism, which they warned could lead to abuses and human rights violations.

David said he hoped that more public servants would be objective and independent-minded to keep the country’s democracy alive.

“We have nothing but admiration for these public servants in all branches of government who do only as conscience dictates and do not allow themselves to be intimidated or prevented by political pressure from performing their constitutionally mandated duties. We can only wish that there would be more of them,” he said.

“They are an important element to the strengthening of our government institutions, and are an essential key to a stable and functional democratic system,” he added.

David, a vocal critic of the Duterte government’s brutal war on drugs, took over the CBCP after the president, Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles, suffered from a mild stroke and hospital-acquired pneumonia.

The letter, dated July 16, will be read in all parish Masses on Sunday, July 19. John Ezekiel J. Hirro,