CONCERNED CHRISTIAN CITIZENS FOR GOOD GOVERNANCE
by Antonio J. Ledesma, SJ
Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro
As we approach the coming day of elections for national and local candidates, it is good to remind ourselves of the three calls made by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines in their pastoral letter, entitled "Seek the Common Good," last January 2019. The letter urges all of us to form circles of discernment, to engage in principled partisan politics, and to vote for candidates who will work for the common good.
Pope Benedict XVI has pointed out: "A big part of the vocation of Christian lay people is their participation in politics in order to bring justice, honesty and defense of true and authentic values, and to contribute to the real human and spiritual good of society. The role of the laity in the temporal order, and especially in politics, is key for the evangelization of society."
Pope Francis has echoed this viewpoint more forcefully: "A good Catholic meddles in politics, offering the best of himself, so that those who govern can govern...None of us can say, 'I have nothing to do with this, how they govern.' ... No, no, I am responsible for their governance, and I have to do the best so that they govern well, and I have to do my best by participating in politics according to my ability."
Pope Francis has actually given us a concise description of what Good Governance means. It is not only the actions and policies of those who govern from above but also the demand for accountability from those who are governed from below. The election period is the moment of accountability -- provided the election process is carried out without vote-buying, and a barrage of fake news, and with the proper scrutiny of candidates.
Citizens’ Electoral Councils
But this is precisely the challenge before us: politicians with many resources and oftentimes unexplained wealth can buy enough votes to win the election, while the worthy and deserving candidates who cannot afford TV plugs or radio ads or billboards are left behind. Moreover, it is estimated that 95% of the 61 million voters in our country do not have the time to research on all the senatorial candidates in terms of their qualifications, performance and positions on important issues.
Thus, the CBCP letter states: "Participation in politics for Christian lay people is not just to be limited to non-partisan involvement. Christians are also encouraged to engage in principled partisan politics. This means that they can campaign for good candidates as an exercise of their Christian faith. (Italics supplied.)
It is in this light that concerned citizens' electoral councils have been formed -- to undertake a discernment process following certain criteria like Gabay Kristo or what we have proposed in the archdiocese, the five C's (Conscience, Competence, Compassion, Companions, and Commitment).
In Metro Manila last February, the People's Choice Movement, composed of 130 lay leaders, including evangelicals and other Christian pastors, carried out this discernment process to arrive at a short list from among the 62 senatorial candidates. On the first round, they excluded 30 candidates based on two knock-out issues: a) Must believe in God, and b) Must be against Charter Change and Federalism. On the second round, they rated the remaining 32 candidates according to four categories: character and integrity; competence and abilities; faithfulness to public service and public office; and faithfulness to God, Constitution and the rule of law.
In Cagayan de Oro, a similar process in May was followed by a group of lay leaders coming from various religious lay organizations and ministries. The group called itself KALIHOKAN 2019, meaning "Nagkahiusang Lihok Alang sa Nasud." They appended the current year 2019, implying that they would continue to be active in coming election periods by simply updating the year.
Why have these citizens' electoral councils mobilized to short list senatorial candidates? In his presentation in Cagayan de Oro on May 1, Atty. Alex Lacson, convenor of PCM, first presented a grim picture of the national situation: 12 million Filipinos living in extreme poverty; 12.3 million Filipinos without job or work; over 10 million overseas Filipino workers; around 4 million in the illegal drug trade; and over 20,000 killed in the war against illegal drugs.
For an Independent Senate
He then went on to say that the 2019 midterm elections is "the most dangerous of all elections in our country" because so much is at stake. He cited three scenarios: (1) Pres. Duterte may declare Martial Law or a Revolutionary Government. (2) Pres. Duterte may ask Congress to convert itself into a Constituent Assembly to revise the Constitution, and to shift to a Federal Form of Government. (3) Pres. Duterte seems inclined to allow China to have greater access to our government and to our natural resources.
In all these issues, the Senate has been the only check and balance remaining in our democratic system, with the Lower House controlled by the administration, and the Supreme Court neutralized with the removal of Chief Justice Sereno. Thus, for the PCM lay leaders, we need an independent Senate that can say No to President Duterte. This means that the Opposition must have the majority in the Senate by having 10 Opposition or independent-minded senators elected.
Thus, the People's Choice of candidates listed 10 names: Alejano, Aquino, Colmenares, Diokno, Gutoc, Hilbay, Makalintal, Tañada, Roxas, and Poe. KALIHOKAN's choice of candidates included the 10 names and added four more: Matula, Pimentel, Osmeña, and de Guzman. Both electoral councils were careful to point out that the names proposed are offered as an advisory list only for voters who still have the final say for their own votes.
Separation of Church and State
From his legal background, Atty. Alex Lacson clarified the meaning of "Separation of Church and State" in the Philippine Constitution. The lack of understanding of this constitutional principle by some bishops, priests, and laity has prevented concerned Christians from collectively participating in the political arena. The separation clause focuses more on the restrictions of government vis-a-vis the church: 1) Government is prohibited from preventing people to freely exercise their religion. 2) Government is prohibited from establishing a state-sponsored religion. 3) Government is prohibited from making any discrimination, preference, or support to any religion or church. 4) Government is prohibited from using any religious test for the exercise of any right--political, civil, economic, etc. (These are all in Art III, Sec 5.) 5) Churches, their lands, buildings and improvements are exempt from taxation (Art VI, Sec 28). 6) Government is prohibited from spending any public fund for any religion or church (Art VI, Sec 29). 7) A religion or church cannot be registered as a political party (Art IX, Sec 2.5). 8) The teaching of religion is not mandatory in public schools, and is allowed only if the parents give their written consent (Art XIV, Sec 3.3).
From the side of the church, Atty. Lacson pointed out that even a bishop or a priest, can share a personal list of candidates with his friends, can endorse and campaign for candidates, can run for public office, and can criticize the President or the government on any policy or program. The restrictions for some of these activities come from Canon Law or church policies rather than from the Constitution itself.
Non-Partisanship a Bane
But for Atty. Lacson, the biggest obstacle to the effective political participation of the church is the Non-Partisanship of lay organizations, such as Laity Councils at the parish, diocesan and national levels or religious lay organizations. For him, "the non-partisanship of good people is the biggest obstacle in electing good leaders for our country." He cites Edmund Burke's dictum, "It takes only for good people to do nothing, for evil to succeed."
When I was appointed Coadjutor Bishop for the Prelature of Ipil, I chose for my episcopal motto "Pax et Progressio" (Peace and Development). There is no peace without development; and there is no development without peace. But, in the course of time, after observing the actuations of local politicians, we had to add: There can be no peace and development without Good Governance.