By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Following the open endorsement of a leader of a Catholic charismatic group of several administration-backed senatorial aspirants, church groups are once again calling on the faithful to vote for an independent senate.
“If Mike Velarde can brazenly come out with a list endorsing magnanakaw (thieves), mamamatay tao (murderers), and dishonest people, should not our lay leaders and lay groups do at least the same – endorsing names of honest people?” said Manila Auxilliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo.
Pabillo is referring to the open endorsement of Brother Mike Velarde of the Catholic charismatic group El Shaddai to 14 senatorial aspirants, which included, among others, Imee Marcos, former police chief Ronald dela Rosa, and former presidential aide Christopher Go.
For the longest time, the faith-based vote appears to be the “sleeping giant” that various politicians always seek out every election time. The irony is not lost to some who are known to take an extra mile to woo faith-based communities – with one hand attending masses and receiving communion, for instance, while the other hand pockets funds intended to provide due social services to those in need.
It is not surprising that most religious groups refuse to openly endorse candidates in the context of not getting their hands “dirty” of politics, according to People Choice Movement convenor Alex Lacson. Instead, they focus on guiding their respective faithful, educating them of “qualities” they should look for in a candidate.
This midterm elections, however, prove to be different from the past, with several prominent church lay groups endorsing senatorial candidates as a protest vote to the looming authoritarian rule in the country by ensuring an independent senate.
In a pastoral letter earlier this year, the Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines encouraged lay groups to form discernment circles, engage in principled partisan politics and even “campaign for good candidates as an exercise of their Christian faith.”
After all, no less than Pope Francis considered “politics” as one of the highest forms of charity as it “seeks the Common Good.”
Church People for an Independent Senate
Members of Protestant Church Iglesia Filipina Independiente who formed a discernment group dubbed as Church People for an Independent Senate recently expressed their support to 10 senatorial aspirants this midterm election. This, they said, is an effort to frustrate President Rodrigo Duterte’s seeming plan to impose total control of the Senate.
At the heart of their endorsement is their strong stance against the present policies of the Duterte administration such as allowing China’s incursions and abuses in the West Philippine Sea, rampant killings in the name of the war against illegal drugs, efforts to amend the Constitution, and the attacks against people’s right to assemble and protest.
They are endorsing the following senatorial candidates:
1. Bam Aquino
2. Nancy Binay
3. Neri Colmenares
4. Chel Diokno
5. Samira Gutoc
6. Leody de Guzman
7. Florin Hilbay
8. Serge Osmeña
9. Grace Poe
10. Erin Tañada
The IFI members who formed the CPIS clarified that their endorsements are not “pledge of allegiance” to any political group but rather a part of their crusade to campaign for an independent senate.
People’s choice movement
It is also the campaign to have an independent senate that brought over 130 lay people from the biggest Christian Churches – Catholic, Protestant, Evangelicals- to discern on senatorial candidates that they will endorse and campaign for, and later formed the People’s Choice Movement.
Among the knockout issues they were able to identify are the candidates’ belief in God and their stand on the proposed charter change to shift to a federal form of government, which has been passed by the Macapagal-Arroyo Lower House with the prodding of the Duterte administration. These, they said, are crucial to the lives of the Filipino people as, especially the latter, will deprive them of hard-earned rights enshrined in the Constitution.
The two knockout issues instantly brought down their choices to 17. The candidates were again subjected to another round of standard test, as provided by “Gabay Kristo,” which guides the faithful in choosing the “right candidate who will more likely contribute to bringing about change or transformation to our land and people.”
You may take a look at the “Gabay Kristo” by clicking here.
Among the criteria are: (1) not indulging in alcohol, drugs, or illicit affairs, (2) not involved in graft and corruption, (3) genuinely empathetic towards the poor and underprivileged, (4) has the courage to fight for what is right, to name a few.
The standard test is accompanied by a profile of the candidates, to help participating lay people to rate the candidates.
Their discernment circle then resulted in 10 senatorial candidates:
1. Gary Alejano
2. Bam Aquino
3. Neri Colmenares
4. Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno
5. Samira Gutoc
6. Florin Hilbay
7. Romulo Macalintal
8. Grace Poe
9. Mar Roxas
10. Erin Tañada.
The National Council of Churches in the Philippines Acting Secretary General Minnie Anne Calub told Bulatlat they are supporting the People’s Choice Movement.
In its Easter message, the NCCP said, “let us cast our vote as an act of faith in practice, not just as an act of self-interest. Let us remain true to the biblical mandate to elect to positions of authority those who are acceptable in the eyes of God.”
Bishops’ take on upcoming elections
Prominent religious leaders have also expressed alarm over the possibility of the senate losing its independence.
Episcopalian Bishop Rex Reyes Jr. said that participating in the upcoming elections is both a duty and a right.
“We are the people of the resurrection. There is a new breed of candidates whose hearts are aflame for genuine public service,” he said in a letter dated May 1.
Pabillo, for his part, said there is a need to have a “strong opposition to preserve our democratic space” and a “strong senate who can prevent the onrush of totalitarianism.”
In March, UCANews reported that Catholic priests will also be rooting for opposition senatorial candidates. While they have been warned not to openly support candidates in public, Fr. Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of the CBCP Social Action Secretariat, said they will “whisper” it to the people.
Meanwhile, Novaliches Bishop Antonio Tobias has openly endorsed eight-member slate of the Liberal Party dubbed as “Otso Diretso.”
Why are Church groups into this?
These endorsements and efforts to seek for an independent senate have been ushered by what religious and lay leaders perceive as a looming authoritarian rule in the country.