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Five Years of CLSP:  A Brief History
Rev. Fr. Rafael Gaudioso A. Sustento

"Canon Law does not deal only with orders from above but mostly with problems from below that can be helped by those with the power to do so."

              Abp. ALBERTO J. PIAMONTE, DD, Chair, Episcopal Commission on Canon Law and Archbishop of Jaro

I would like to encourage the clergy of the Philippine Church to join CLSP particularly those whose competence can contribute much to the well being of the local churches."

              Bp. SOFIO G. BALCE. DD of Cabanatuan


The Canon Law Society of the Philippines will be five years old this 1998. Five years ago, on April 13-15, 1993 forty three canon lawyers all over the country met in Antipolo, Rizal to organize themselves into what is now known as the CLSP.

CLSP is an association of Canon lawyers, mostly priests but not exclusively. The mandate of its constitution came from, the Catholic Bishop's Conference of the Philippines (Minutes, 66th CBCP Plenary Assembly, January 23-25, 1993). The same conference of bishops approved its statutes on July11. 1993 during its Plenary Assembly.  Its membership admits those who have knowledge, practice and interest in canon law and may EQ classified as principal, associate or honorary members.

The CLSP is a non-stock and non-profit national public juridical person established with the approval of the CBCP Its aim is to render pastoral service to the Church through the apostolate of Canon law. In the concrete the CLSP renders this service by:

    (1) promoting the on-going study of and research in canonical science and allied sciences;

    (2) fostering the knowledge and practice of Canon law; and,

    (3) facilitating the interchange of canonical findings and opinions, observances and proposals among members and with other canon law societies.

Five years have elapsed since its Foundation. Has the CLSP been able to achieve its aims? To what extent has it rendered pastoral service to the Church through the apostolate of canon law? It is time to look back, to re-visit the past.

The Beginnings

It was in the eighties when a group of canon lawyers started to explore the possibility of fanning a national society of canon lawyers. Alongside this initiative, Archbishop Oscar V. Cruz, DD, has prepared a master's list of prospective members and has drafted in 1990 the proposed statutes of such a society, copies of which were circulated for comments.

In 1992, during an Informal gathering of Canon lawyers at the Manila Metropolitan Tribunal, an ad hoc committee was fanned to prepare for the formal erection of the CLSP

With the encouragement of Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal L. Sin and the assurance of initial funding coming from him, a meeting was held at Villa San Miguel on January 7, 1993 — feast of St Raymond of Penafort, patron saint of canon lawyers — to prepare for what would be the first convention of the Society.

The CBCP approved the proposal for "a three-day seminar of canon lawyers… intended ultimately to organize the Canon Law Society of the Philippines' during their 66th Plenary Assembly on January 23-25, 1993.

Thus was the stage set for the creation and existence of CLSP?

The Conventions

Forty three Canon lawyers came for the Charter Convention of the CLSP which was held on April 13-15, 1993 at St. Michael's Retreat House In Antipolo, Rizal- It was during this gathering that the statutes of the Society was discussed, deliberated upon, ratified and endorsed to the CBCP for approval.

The approval of the statutes by the CBCP was given on July 11, 1993 during its Plenary Assembly. Undeniably, the able support of Archbishop Manuel Salvador, then incumbent chairman of the ECCL, was most instrumental to CBCP's approval.

The first set of Officers, Board of Directors and Standing Committees heads and members were elected during this gathering. They were the following: Officers: Msgr. Higinio Velarde (President), Fr. Jose Ma. B. Tinoko, OP (VP for Luzon), Msgr. Victorino Rivas (VP for Visayas), Fr. Reynaldo S. Moso (VP for Mindanao), Fr. Geronimo Reyes (Secretary), Fr Jose G. Marabe (Treasurer), Board of Directors: Archbishop Oscar V. Cruz, DD (Chairman), Fr. Nereo P. Odchimar, Fr Alex A. Menez, Bishop Miguel C. Purugganan, and Msgr. Enrique B. Perez (Members). Committees: Membership: Fr. Edgardo P. Pangan (Chairman), Msgr. Antonieto D. Cabajog, Fr. Florendo M. Cimafranca, Fr. Josefino S. Sebastian, Msgr. Ruben V. Abaya, Fr. Anselmo Pamintuan (Members); On-going Development: Fr. Adolfo N. Dacanay, SJ (Chairman), Fr Mario IF. Martinez, Fr. Romulo A. Vergara (Members); Ways and Means: Msgr. Jesus B. Estonilo (Chairman), Msgr. Pastor S. Ibanez, Msgr. Manolo A. de los Santos, Fr. Voltaire A. Rono (Members).

The Second CLSP National Convention was held on April 11-14, 1994. This time it was in scenic Tagaytay, at the Tagaste Retreat House. Fifty one attended, 29 of whom were new enrolees. This brought the total membership to 72.

Most Rev. Alberto J. Piamonte, DD, Archbishop of Jaro and newly appointed Chairman of the Episcopal Commission on Canon Law of the CBCP, gave an informative address on the practical importance of canon law in the life of the Church.  His Excellency challenged CLSP members to respond to the canonico-pastoral needs of the dioceses. He particularly underlined the necessity of forming a 'Speakers' Bureau on canonico-pastoral concerns and the publication of a canonico-pastora! companion (book of formularies) which would greatly help the chanceries and parishes.

Resource persons shared their expertise during this convention, Fr. Wilfredo lpapo talked about Matrimonial Tribunal Management. Fr. Wilfredo Paguio, on the other hand, dealt with Chancery Management. Fr, Roger Champoux, SJ, as tribunal-appointed psychologist-expel with extensive experience in personality evaluation of parties involved in marriage nullity case, lectured on Psychological Conditions Affecting Decisions on the Nullity of Marriage. Finally, Msgr. Gene Velarde clarified some issues involving Procedures for Dispensation from the Obligation of Priestly Ordination. The discussion that followed those lectures, based on experience and practical knowledge, were enriching and provided a venue for dialogue.

To facilitate communications and other matters that relate to CLSP, a Secretariat Office was created which will be based at the Manila Metropolitan Tribunal. Fr. Gau Sustento was appointed Assistant Secretary and Secretariat-in-Charge.

Bacolod City was the venue of the Third CLSP National Annual Convention, It was held at U Fisher Hotel on April 25-27, 1995 This convention saw the biggest in attendance so far:  59 participants, with 23 new enrolees.

This third convention was marked with several firsts: First time that the convention was held outside of Metro Manila. First time that he venue was a hotel. First time that families hosted participants. And most interesting of all, the first lime that the sessions were opened to lay people as observers.

The guest-of-honor was Most Rev. Oscar V. Cruz, DD, JCD, Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan.  His presentation of the topic:  Marriage Nullity Declaration on Psychical Grounds:  Its Implications in the Family Apostolate during the opening ceremonies was most lucid, witty and articulate. He simply had the Bacolod City crowd in the palm of his hand, not only wowing them with his wit but also making the seemingly dense subject matter as simple, as straightforward, and as relevant to the layman.

The other papers presented during the convention were not only timely but also of particular interest to the lay persons in attendance, Fr. Romulo Vergara, JCD, clarified the Determination of the Essential Obligations of Marriage in Tribunal Practice and Jurisprudence.  The Fundamental Rights of the Laity was expounded by Fr. Jose Ma. Tinoko, OP, JCD.

The Most Rev. Camilo D. Gregorio, D.D., Bishop of Bacolod, and Msgr. Vic Rivas, convention chairman, outdid themselves in welcoming the participants and in making the convention a huge success. Such a success, which was a lesson in organization, was greatly enhanced by the help of a most efficient staff and the innate Negrense graciousness and hospitality.

The Bacolod Convention was also an election year. Re-elected to their positions were Msgr. Gene Velarde (president), Fr. Jerome Reyes (secretary), Fr. Joey Marabe (treasurer), Fr. Edgardo Pangan (chair, membership committee), Msgr. Jess Estonilo (chair, ways and means committee), Fr. Jose Tinoko, OP (VP for Luzon) and Fr. Rey Moso (VP for Mindanao).

Newly elected offices were the following:  Fr. Rolando Manayon (VP for Visayas) and Fr. Javier Gonzalez, OP chair, on-going development committee). For the Board of Directors, Archbishop Oscar V. Cruz, Bishop Manolo de los Santos, Fr. Nereo Odchimar, Msgr. Artemio Baluma and Msgr. Victorino Rivas were duly elected.

Among the important resolutions passed by the convention were the following: (1) that through the President, the CBCP be informed of the programs and activities of the CLSP, especially the services it offers through its speakers' bureau; (2) The need to inform, civil lawyers and judges of the mens legislatoris behind the Family Code, especially Arts. 35-65 which deal with nullities and separations; (3) that the Faculty of Canon Law of UST make an in-depth study on Freemasonry in the country with regard to its canonical and pastoral implications and submit the same to CBCP; and, (4) that the CLSP Board of Directors study the possibility of the civil courts to recognize Church decisions on marriage nullity for the civil effects thereof, and submit the result of such study to the CBCP for their deliberation, approval and submission and recommendation of the same to Phil. Congress for enactment into law.

Cabanatuan City hosted the 4th CLSP National Annual Convention on April I5-I8, 1996 at the Maria Assumpta Seminary. Fifty seven attended this convention, 17 participants of whom were new enrolees to the Society.

The entire presbyterium of Cabanatuan Diocese was involved in the preparation, headed by their diocesan bishop,  Most. Rev. Sofio G. Balce. The convention chairman was Msgr. Jess Estonilo, who did not leave a stone unturned in order to ensure what turned out to be a most successful and enjoyable gathering. The massive turn-out of lay participants for the talks was proof enough of the importance that the diocese gave to this convention.

Three very important topics which posed serious canonico-pastoral implications were taken up during the convention.  Msgr. Rolando Oliverio gave a talk on the "Empowerment of the Laity". This was followed by a group discussion where lay participants eagerly shared their experiences, the joys and pairs they encountered, the problems they meet and solutions they propose In their bid to truly live and witness to their being Church. Fr. Jose Marabe delivered the second talk, "On Freemasonry."  Another intense discussion followed among the different groups. The third lecture was delivered by Msgr. Artemio Baluma.  It dealt with "The Family Code of the Philippines."

Concretely, one tangible result arising from this convention, aside from the expected camaraderie and deeper appreciation of the canonical apostolate among priests-canon lawyers, is the CLSP's appreciation and realization of the lay people's hunger to understand church law and the need for those with the capability to respond to such a contingency. In fact, the resolutions that came out of the general assembly were Indicative of this concern, One, because of the lay people's desire for seminar in canon law, the different ecclesiastical jurisdictions will be continuously encouraged to avail of the services of the speakers bureau. Two, the freemasonry "problem" needed to be addressed pastorally and this would need an in-depth study and proposals of pastoral means to the CBCP for the guidance of bishops and priests.  Third, that a proposed bill ("An Act to Legalize Church Decisions of Nullity of Marriage for Civil Effects and Other Purposes") be submitted to the CBCP for approval so that it can be brought to the Philippine Congress for tiling into a bill that would eventually become part of the law of the land. Fourth, that a committee be created to study Parish Pastoral Councils and to propose sample structures and statutes that can be used by the different diocese after they have been approved by the CBCP.

The 5th National Annual Convention was held faraway from Manila in the friendly city of Cagayan de Oro.  From April 7-10, 1997 the canon lawyers who came enjoyed the hospitality provided by the archdiocese led by Archbishop Jesus Tuquib and Msgr. Rey Monsanto, convention chairman.  Nothing was spared to make the convention successful, pleasant and fruitful:  the friendly welcome, lie sumptuous food served at every meal, the hosting of participants by families, the cooperation of the city and provincial governments, the city-and out-of-town tours, the first class convention facilities, the cooperation and support of the clergy.

The focus of the talks during this convention was the 'controversial' Canon 1095, the canon which deals with some Psychic Incapacities in marriage nullity declaration cases. Lecturer was Rev. Dr. Charles J. Scicluna, Substitute Promoter of Justice of the Signatura Apostolica. Many confusions and misconceptions regarding the understanding and usage of this canon were clarified by Fr. Scicluna. Hopefully, it paved the way to a correct and better tribunal practice. This lecture was of great interest to canon law practitioners engaged in marriage tribunat work.

Lighter stuff came from Rev. Fr Michel de Gigord, chaplain of the Mindanao State University, not because his topic, "Inter-Religious Dialogue" was less important but because it was presented humorously. The talk was relevant in the light of the resurgent Muslim fundamentalist ascendancy in Mindanao. Msgr. Rey Monsanto, on the other hand delivered his piece on "The Canonical Stat us of Lay Associations/ Movements/Organizations in the Church." This topic generated much discussion, in view of the many problems besetting the governance and orthodoxy of such groups.

Msgr. Gene Velarde delivered his valedictory address during this convention after two terms of being 0.5? President. He was happy to note that the Society has surmounted its growing pains and that It is now able to really pursue its avowed aims and purpose to serve the Church through the canonical apostolate.

A new set of officers was elected in Cagayan de Oro:  Msgr. Victorino Rivas (President), Msgr. Edgardo Pangan (VP for Luzon), Msgr. Bernardo Pantin (VP for Visayas), Msgr. Rey Monsanto (VP for Mindanao). Msgr. Geronimo Reyes and Fr. Jose Marabe were retained as Secretary and Treasurer, respectively.

The new Board of Directors were Bishop Leonardo Medroso, Bishop Manolo de los Santos, Msgr. Artemio Baluma, Msgr. Higinio Velarde and Fr. Nilo Peig.

Working committees were constituted as well. Msgr. Arcadio Mejia headed the Membership Committee with the following members:  Msgr Anselmo Pamintuan, Fr. Josefino Sebastian, Fr Gamaliel Tulabing, Fr. Florendo Cimafranca, Fr. Linus dela Cruz.  Fr. Javier Gonzalez, OP, remained to chair the Committee on On-going Development.  For its members he chose Msgr. Higinio Velarde, Fr. Jaime Achacoso, Fr. Samson Silloriquez, OAR, Fr. Ted Torralba and Fr. Gau Sustento.  Msgr Estonilo was also retained as head of the Committee on Ways and Means.  His members are Msgr. Ruben Abaya, Fr. Jonas Mejares, OSA, Fr. Rolando Mabutol, Fr. Reynaldo Moso, Fr. Nelson Lucas, Sister Lourdes Lipat and Fr. Jerry Bitoon.

Since Palawan was chosen to be the next convention venue, Fr. Carlos Vila and Fr. Albert Sanchez were appointed hosts of the 6th National Annual Convention.

In-between Conventions

Matters pertaining to the organization, projects and studies pursuant to convention resolutions, and executive board meetings are the stuff that occupy the 0.51' in-between conventions.

Since 1993 up to the present, the Executive Board (elected officers together with the committee heads) held regular meetings to pursue the aims of CLSP and to enflesh the mandates of the Society given as resolutions during conventions. What's heartening to note is the interest and enthusiasm of the members of the Executive Board to attend these meetings, usually held in Manila, and to spend their personal resources in order to do so the Society being unable yet to pay for its officer's travel expenses in die performance of their official duties and functions.

Concurrent with this responsible performance of duties of the Executive Beard is the important work of the Secretariat. It takes care of records, minutes of meetings, convention papers and communications. It works closely with and assists in the projects of the Committees, especially those on membership and on-going development Fr. Gau Sustento, secretariat in-charge, is ably assisted by the Manila Metropolitan Tribunal staff.

After the 1994 convention in Tagaytay, at the bidding of Archbishop Alberto Piamonte, ECCL Chairman, CLSP embarked on two projects: the creation of a Speakers' Bureau to give canon law seminars to the local ecclesiastical jurisdictions, and to publish a Book of Practical Formularies on The Sacraments for the use by chanceries, parishes and seminaries.

The Book of Practical Formularies came out in the later part of 1994. Its contributors included Msgr. Bemardo Pantin (Baptism), Fr. Nilo Peig (Holy Orders), Fr, Jose Ma. Tinoko, OP (Penance), Msgr. Rey Monsanto, Msgr. Gene Velarde, Fr. Adolfo N. Dacanay, SI, and Msgr. Jerorne Reyes (Marriage, Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist). The book on formularies is now undergoing revision and the revised edition will be coming out soon. It is helpful to note that the formularies are a great help in the practicum for canon law seminars for parish priests and parish secretaries.

One of the fruits of the 1995 convention, aside from the interest and the participation that it generated among lay people with the CLSP and canon law is the publication of a bi-annual newsletter caned the CLSP Gazette. Fr. Javier Gonzalez, OP, elected at Bacolod to head the Committee on On-Going Development, took it upon himself to see to it that the Gazette becomes a vehicle through which CLSP can render service to the Church and to the country. In the words of Fr. Gonzalez himself, "the ends the CLSP intends to serve is not only to consolidate our identity as Society but also to identify some of the fields of the new code that need attention: ...justice and fairness in Church juridical practice, effective ministry, a deeper appreciation of the law that, in Christ Jesus, is life-giving, a strengthening of that special bond of respect and friendship that we treasure as members of the Society."  Slowly but surely these ends are being realized.  Since 1995 July up to this writing five issue of the CLSP Gazette have seen publication and been sent to members, Bishops, chanceries, and lately, seminary libraries.

Another project in the offing is The Philippine Canonical Forum. It will be a scholarly compendium of current issues in canon law, studies in canonico-pastoral concerns, abstracts of theses and dissertations, book reviews and other matters aimed to raise the level of canonical scholarship and practice in the Philippines. The first issue of this Forum will be due before the end of 1998.  Fr. Javier Gonzalez, OP has been tasked to head the editorial board whose members include Msgr. Higinio Velarde, Fr. Jaime Achacoso, Fr. Samson Silloriquez, Fr. Ted Torralba and Fr. Gau Sustento.

Immediately after the Bacolod Convention in 1995, the Speaker's Bureau has been created to assist dioceses in updating the clergy and other interested groups on the new Code. So far, the only updating seminar officially coursed through the CBCP-ECCL was that which was held In San Jose, Mindoro at the instance of Bishop Vicente Manuel on May 20-23, 1996. This was attended by 30 priests, religious and seminarians and a large number of lay people. This does not mean, however. that there were no other updating seminars held in the country. Similar seminars had been held in Bacolod, lloilo, Bukidnon. Cagayan de Oro, Leyte and other dioceses, initiated and staffed by local Canon lawyers.

The foregoing projects and programs point to an organization looking beyond itself.  But those acts are performed by few members only A few hardworking members do net a Society make; it is the general membership that does. Efforts have been done to draw Canon lawyers' interest in the Society and to invite them to become part of it. Whether enroled or not in the CLSP, they are constantly informed of its activities and are invited to its meetings and conferences. The regional and sub-regional conferences, which were only started in late 1997 onwards, were precisely held to generate interest about and to promote membership in CLSP. (Incidentally, conferences had been held for Luzon on November 10-Il. 1997 in San Fernando, Pampanga, for the Visayas at the Sacred Heart Seminary in Bacolod City on February 23-24, 1998 and in Bicol in Pili, Camarines Sur on March 4,1998.)  At the same time, provisions in the Statutes are being looked into for possible amendments with regard to membership. qualifications, classifications and status.

Looking Forward:  Projections and Challenges.

As we review the gains of CLSP since its foundation, we look forward to how it can strengthen itself more in order to serve better the Church. Slowly but surely, if CLSP has to achieve its aims that define its existence, it has to pursue the projects already initiated and to take up new ones as need arises.

From the very start of his incumbency as new President, Msgr. Vic Rivas has defined the direction CLSP has to pursue. 

"We will continue to respond to requests of Bishops for the updating of their clergy and lay leaders of Canon law.  Likewise, we will facilitate and conduct training of parish secretaries and Church personnel for an effective management of chanceries and parish offices. More significantly, we will assist dioceses to organize their Marriage Tribunals either at the diocesan or archdiocesan levels.

"In view of its foregoing commitments, we need to professionalize on membership as we promote a better understanding of Church law and its pastoral application. Accordingly. it was decided that the three CLSP vice presidents will hold periodic meetings of members in their respective regions for officials, conferences, updating, consultations, etc."

At present, there are 232 canon lawyers in the Philippines as far as the latest listing is concerned. Not all of them are actively involved with the Society's programs and projects. In fact not all of them even are members of CLSP. There is a need for members to play an active role in CLSP, and to reach out to those who haven't enroled yet to do the same. Regional and sub-regional conferences can do much to sustain the much-needed interest and participation of all canon lawyers in the Society and its activities. It is in this area of shared responsibility that our regional vice presidents can truly help in the Increase of membership and in the strengthening of the Society's internal organization.


The history of CLSP not a done thing.  In fact, it is still history-in-the-making. Only time can tell whether it will be able to fulfill faithfully the mission it has set out to do in the service of the Church. Eventually, it will redound to each and every member, acting individually and collectively, to strengthen it organizationally, to perform tasks for it to achieve its programs and projects, to promote, protect and honor it with commitment arid fidelity, and to renew it by continually renewing themselves.


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