By Perla Aragon-Choudhury
The May 10 elections are crucial for a variety of reasons.
Edna Estifania Co, Ph. D., professor of public administration at the University of the Philippines and lecturer at the Ateneo de Manila University, explains why: “After a long time, after more than the usual presidential terms of six years, we will be electing a national leader, a change people have been waiting for.”
Relative to the Asian region, the 2010 polls are also crucial, she adds. “If we don’t change in, say, eight years, we’ll be very much left behind Malaysia, Singapore or Indonesia where there is movement and some headway despite problems. We should move. Otherwise super, super mapag-iiwananan tayo.”
Dr. Co heads the Philippine Democracy Audit Team of the International Democratic Assessment (IDEA) which brought together in 2005 scholars to assess democracy indicators in the country.
“It is crucial that leaders change, crucial for poverty and the way we run our institutions,” explains Co, author of the Free and Fair Elections and the Democratic Role of Political Parties, and of the IDEA Managing Corruption.
Choosing the leaders
Just what kind of leaders can, in the words of Co, unleash a new life for the Philippines?
Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz says their attributes depend on the situation in the country.
“The traits I recommend are one, integrity; two, competence and three, character,” says the now retired 75-year-old former bishop of Dagupan-Lingayen.
He elaborates: “Integrity, because there is a culture of graft and corruption from the national to the local level. After integrity, competence, because we vote for one who is an actor and rides a horse all the time but is a senator. We are still star-struck. Actors win because they are popular.
“Character, as shown by political will. I’ve been in the hearings on jueteng and am told by the witnesses that they fear for their safety. I for one would not trust the Witness Protection Program because it is run by those who know where the witnesses are hiding.”
Cruz asks: “And is there anyone who has my vote? Secret!”
Now that he is retired, the outspoken prelate says he is free to engage in socio-political work and to write.
“One tiny voice – and of course, nobody listens,” he chuckles as he chats with Planet Philippines.
Religion and politics
As has been the usual practice of politicians every election time, aspirants for various posts seek the support of every group, bloc or party. Among the most sought-after is the endorsement of religious sects, which are presumed to carry a sizable “command vote.”
History, however, shows that it is only the Iglesia Ni Cristo that is able to muster a solid vote for its preferred candidates. The other religious denominations have not been shown to deliver one single voting bloc in spite of the political posturing of their leaders. Just the same, many politicians continue to seek the blessings of religious leaders who claim they speak in His name, prompting Cruz to say that God must be having fun but is also probably confused.
“I am very happy I’m not God because if I were God, I would not know what to do,” Cruz said in a forum. “Here is the son of God endorsing this, and here is the leader endorsing this. I think God must be having fun.”
Among those being wooed are El Shaddai leader Bro. Mariano “Mike” Velarde; Davao-based Christian sect Kingdom of Jesus Christ, the Name Above Every Name Pastor Apollo Quiboloy; and the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC).
Take two for JIL
For the second straight presidential election, JIL is fielding its head, Bro. Eddie Villanueva, for president in the May 10 polls. As for the other sects, so far it is only Velarde who has insinuated his presidential candidate. Without explicitly naming his choice, Velarde merely points to his favorite color, orange, which is the campaign color of Manny Villar. The INC and the Kingdom of Jesus Christ have yet to announce their endorsements.
Cruz adds: “The head of El Shaddai put up a big church,” he says of the sect’s leader, Mike Velarde. “And the big thing is, he has built an astrodome, an amphitheater, on his land. They hold events there, especially now that it’s rainy season. He has never built a church – a simbahan – and so he can say, `God told me I have served enough’, and he can just leave. Ang galing ng mamang ito – ganyan din ang gagawin ko, I have thought to myself.”
Separation of Church & State
Some sectors do not see the political endorsements of these sects in a favorable light. But Professor Co points out that the 1987 Constitution has no explicit provision on the separation of Church and State.
“But because of the influence of the Catholic Church, its leaders can say something and it can gain importance as when Cardinal Sin called for support for the group who broke away from Marcos. Also, they issue statements when they see something that is not moral and is against Church dogma.”
She believes that in People Power II, the Church did not have a role as big in People Power I.
“But its leaders still spoke out as part of their right to express their opinion, just like any other group in national society. And this is why it is difficult to totally separate the church from the state. The situation is fluid.”
This partly explains why some sects endorse candidates who may adhere to the religious principles of these groups or who may grant these sects political favors in exchange for their endorsement.
Cruz, however, frowns on it. “What is wrong is wrong and what is right is right,” he says. This is not `Scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ and this is not transactional politics.”
In an ironic twist, six Catholic bishops have come out in support of presidential hopeful John Carlos de los Reyes of Ang Kapatiran party. The endorsement came as a total surprise in the face of the long-standing position Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) against non-involvement in partisan politics.
Reacting to the bishops’ endorsement, CBCP president, Bishop Nereo Ochdimar, issued a circular to his subordinates in the Diocese of Tandag (Surigao del Sur) to avoid engaging in partisan politics.
“The Church must refrain from partisan politics, avoiding especially the use of the pulpit for particular purposes, to avoid division among the flock they shepherd,” he said. “In case, a member or leader of such association decides otherwise, and be a candidate or openly campaign for a candidate or party, he or she has to resign temporarily.”
The Church has been ambivalent about its position on partisan politics. It will be recalled that the CBCP has threatened to campaign against candidates who endorse any form of family planning, forcing presidential candidates Benigno Aquino III and Gilbert Teodor to backtrack from their support to the Reproductive Health Bill pending in Congress.