Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bishops and Philippine Elections

The CBCP has always felt the local Church has to play a strong role in turning elections into a vehicle of social change. So in the coming May 10 elections, what do bishops think are the changes most needed today?

The change most needed in our heavily flawed political culture has always been freeing our election process from cheating, vote-buying, murder, over-spending in campaigns, etc. — to make it clean, honest and free. This simply is saying our elections have always been open to all sorts of corrupt practices — a national shame — and correcting it is a concern that the bishops have tried doing (with little success) through pastoral letters.

This year the hope is that the new automated manner of voting would, at least, work well, and that the incumbent president fail in her various efforts to hang onto power.

The bishops’ collective voice has always been clear in their opposition to the many evils of Philippine elections. Many bishops have realized that speaking out is not what is most needed but the organization of the laity for action that only they can do. This means only one thing: the exercise of “people power.”

However, this year, four bishops have announced their candidates. A bishop has the right to express his opinion, but the bishop should make sure to tell people that they have to make their own choice based on their conscience after their own careful discernment.

In 1986, the bishops judged that the snap elections were fraudulent and condemned it and Marcos’ continued rule.

But we also made sure to call on everyone to discern and judge the polls on their own. We told people that if they agreed with our judgment, then they should pray and act together to correct the wrong.

We must be mindful of our influence and make sure we do not stifle people’s conscience, but that we educate it.

This is why diocesan social action work vis a vis elections has been concentrated on voter education during the three years between elections. Voter organization then becomes more feasible at election times themselves to ensure the untampered counting and reporting of votes.

It is a huge task, but workable and successful where people are vigilant and unafraid to guard the sanctity of their ballots.

Already, by their simple efforts to keep elections free of all the many wrongs usually done in their conduct, the social change that the Church constantly preaches is beginning to happen.

For when the people start acting in their own way and at their level against the many corrupt practices of Philippine politics, that is when the real social change takes place with the corresponding change of the values of the people.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Church, Government and Politics

How should the Church deal with a government that is failing in its obligations towards its citizens? Or, the contrary, that is doing right by them? (By “Church”, I don’t mean just the bishops and clergy but all of us who profess its faith.)

The answer many of us gave during the dictatorial regime of President Marcos was critical collaboration/opposition. It was what carried us through the darkest moments of those dark times. The term was first used by the AMRSP (the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines) practically from the very beginning of martial law. (It was later adopted by Cardinal Sin to whom authorship is often attributed—but wrongly.)

Its burden was the soul of simplicity. Of wisdom too. It meant that, however we detested the origin and intent of Marcos’ dictatorial rule, we would cooperate with it in the pursuit of whatever measures it took that we judged were for the genuine good of our people—development projects, for instance, which were truly for their advancement. But we opposed it when it acted against their good. Thus, to use the same example of development projects: when these were advertised for the people’s good but were in reality primarily for the advancement of the businesses of Marcos’ cronies or simply for show to boost his image, we were unsupportive of them.

The operative word was neither cooperation nor opposition but critical. The term didn’t mean just carping or complaining, blaming, fault-finding, but careful and honest evaluation of the good points or bad points of any act or scheme of governance, our criteria of judgment the values of Christ’s kingdom. It called for real discernment—the effort to arrive at a right judgment in one’s thoughts and acts.

In the beginning, we applied the formula mainly to Marcos’ military government. But as it worsened and the NDF, the NPA and their supporters (many of them priests and religious) began pushing aggressively their own ideas of what Philippine society should be according to their Marxist ideology, we had to apply the same formula of judgment to them and their blue-prints for reforming us as a people.

In the end we came to the conclusion that these two contending political forces, whatever were the differences in their mutually exclusive ideas and programs of social reform, were, strangely enough, of one mind in the way they would translate their visions into reality: they were not going to scruple about using force, even violence, in the pursuit of their program of reform—as they were actually doing even then in their struggling against each other for power.

Under those conditions of warring ideologies, we learned to add to our formula of critical collaboration/opposition something else: ANV—active non violence, the peaceful approach to dealing with violence itself. It worked, as we all know, eventuating in the EDSA Revolution of 1986. And working, it discredited both rightist and leftist modes of social change as they were then, militaristic, intolerant of any opposition whatsoever, red-handedly violent. ANV as our ordinary mode of working for justice and social change was later put forward by the PCP II in 1991 as our accepted and proven way of going about translating its twofold message of salvation and liberation into reality.

In all the agitation today about the failures of government, the principle of critical, active but non-violent, collaboration/opposition vis-à-vis its failures and successes, still makes good sense and should at all times mark our approach as Church to government and its acts.

The CBCP’s recent exhortation for the laity to fully take part in politics—the partisan kind—should be received and acted on according to that principle. As the exhortation well brings out, we do not condemn partisan politics as evil. But it becomes such when, in our practice of it, we ignore the fundamental demands of justice, truth, charity, honesty, just so our candidates prevail in the polls. Thus the usual practice of mud-slinging, character assassination, unquestioning loyalty to candidates no matter how corrupt or incompetent they may be, etc.—we all know that these are the unyielding flaws of our political culture. Yet, somehow, every time elections come around, we blithely indulge in them, throwing aside whatever good sense we otherwise possess and make use of in ordinary times!

Critical collaboration, critical opposition: if we could only bring this principle to bear strongly and thoroughly on our politics, especially during elections, perhaps, just perhaps, we will finally be firmly on the road towards the reform of our unregenerate political culture.

I propose we start right now applying the discerning force of the principle to all would-be candidates in the coming elections—to the wildly burgeoning number of presidential aspirants especially. Or we will be forever doomed to getting what we richly deserve: second-rate, and much too often corrupt, public servants.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Church People in Politics II

In last month’s Afterthoughts, I wrote about the lay ministers (Alagads) of Bukidnon and their decision about the possibility of their running for elective office in government even while serving as BEC officers. This was a reversal of a previous policy of not holding leadership roles in the Church concurrently with civil ones. The change was made in view of the nation’s desperate need of principled politicians—a new breed of public servants who will be truly men and women of unselfish service to their constituents, the exact opposite of the “trapos” who make a mockery of the name “public servant” and are the cause of much of what is wrong with our nation today.

In last month’s column, I failed to mention a deciding factor in the change of policy regarding the Alagads’ entry into politics. It was the realization that by taking on the role of Church ministers, they didn’t lose their lay status, and therefore still had all the rights and obligations of their lay state. Their vocation as laity remained intact for the sanctification primarily of family and the work place.

In this month’s column, I’d like to look at another kind of Church people in politics, more specifically, at clerics running for elective office in government. It is a development that seems to be on the increase not only here in the Philippines but elsewhere too, in developing nations especially.

The usual arguments against priest-politicians is that the doctrine of the separation of Church and State forbids clerics from government roles and Church law likewise forbids the same. The first argument does not seem conclusive as priests do not lose citizenship rights by becoming ordained ministers of the Church. The second argument is the more cogent one as it is a direct prohibition from the positive law of the Church. The law is there, but it strikes me that no reasons are given for the prohibition. Canon lawyers—and Church historians—should be able to enlighten us on how the prohibition came about. For it is a relatively recent development if we consider how bishops and cardinals often held high government posts all through the Middle Ages in Europe. There wasn’t any problem where there was union of Church and State as in Spanish times in the Philippines, for instance, when Archbishops of Manila sometimes held the post of Governor of the islands. The change came about, it seems, as a result of the Enlightenment.

Whatever reasons are advanced from civil or Church law against clerics holding elective posts in government, I wonder whether the greatest reason is the verdict I once heard farmers in Bukidnon pronounce over too much political activity on the part of priests: dili angay—it is not fitting, it is not kosher. As far as I could see, they didn’t think it was right for a priest to wield influence in one sphere (the religious) and to use the same in another (the civil or political).

I agree wholeheartedly. The reform of our political culture is primarily the task of the laity. Pope Benedict says as much in his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est.. Hence it seems for clerics to turn politician is to usurp the role and responsibility of the laity. And if they insist on doing so, it seems the proper thing for them is to be laicized completely, re-assume all the rights and responsibilities of lay folk by becoming laicized. A priest who suffers the penalty of suspension while holding a political job seems to me to be having his cake and eating it too, as the pithy saying goes, for even in suspension a priest remains a priest and the possibility of returning to the clerical state is always open to him.