The only prohibition on Churches is against registering as a political party
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — Non-partisanship.
This is perhaps the biggest obstacle nowadays as many faith-based organizations try to appear “clean” in the face of the “most dangerous” elections yet, according to lawyer Alex Lacson of the People’s Choice Movement.
In a forum today at the Iglesia Filipina Independiente Conference Center in Manila, bishops, priests, and lay organizations gathered to discern on the need to have an independent senate and actively campaign for it.
Being non-partisan, Lacson said, will benefit those who have the money and the machinery of a political dynasty.
“Ayaw kasi nilang madumihan,” he said.
Why is there a need to have an independent senate?
In what he considers as the “most dangerous” elections yet, Lacson said it is high time for faith-based organizations to join the political battlefield and fight for an independent senate.
Lawyer Cristina Yambot of the Makabayan Bloc underlined the importance of an independent senate that will not be kowtowed to the political interests of the present administration.
The senate, she added, plays a big part in present government actions such as in the extension of martial law, charter change, and its foreign policy, including its present relations with China.
“Their loyalty must lie in the people,” she said, adding that country needs “to have a senate who will dare ask critical questions on extrajudicial killings and seek justice as well.”
Lacson said that to have an independent senate, the opposition must have majority in the senate. As it stands, he added, voters need to elect at least 10 opposition senatorial aspirants.
How about the separation of Church and State?
Lacson pointed out that Church leaders and workers actively campaigning for certain candidates do not violate the separation of Church and State, as provided by the Constitution.
He explained that the Constitution only prohibits the government from preventing the people from practicing their faith, establishing a State-sponsored religion, showing preference or discrimination to any religion, using of “religion test” to avail of any right, and carrying out of mandatory teaching of religion in public schools.
Meanwhile, the Church is not allowed to register as a political party.
In fact, he noted that it was President Duterte himself who violated the separation of Church and State clause when he issued derogatory statements and even death threats against bishops.
Lacson said that if at all, church leaders who will come up with a list of senators they will vote for and share it among the faithful is “good guidance.”
What history tells us
Meanwhile, Ateneo de Manila University history professor Francis Gealogo said it is important to “historicize” the present cry of the people for an independent senate.
He said such calls have been present from the fall of the Malolos Convention up until this very day.
As such, the present political conditions pave the way for the ruling few to dominate elections. Gealogo added that these are politicians who can afford to cough up funds for a 30-second television advertisement that could be somewhere from P299,000 to P1.4 million.
Case in point, the professor added, former presidential aide Christopher “Bong” Go’s mere P12.8 million assets and liabilities on one hand and P422.5 million electoral spending on another speaks a lot.
He called on the faithful to discern voting for candidates who are for life, liberty, freedom, and for poor people.
People’s choice movement
But more than just a set of criteria, lay organizations have gathered and joined a selection convention in March that led to the identification of their 10 best candidates, whom they will actively campaign for in the midterm elections.
Lacson explained that in the process of selecting the 10 candidates, they identified two knockout issues: if they believe in God and if they are against moves to shift to a federal form of government or Charter Change.
He said that only 17 candidates were able to make it to the first cut.
The 17 candidates were then subjected to another round of standard test using “Gabay ni Kristo” until they were able to reach 10 candidates.
They are: Gary Alejano, Bam Aquino, Makabayan senatorial bet Neri Colmenares, human rights lawyer Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno, peace advocate Samira Gutoc, former solicitor general Florin Hilbay, election lawyer Romulo Macalintal, Grace Poe, Mar Roxas, and Erin Tañada.