In this as in past elections, the candidates have asked for, are seeking, or will seek the endorsement of various religious groups. At the top of their list is the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC), followed by, among others, the Jesus is Lord movement, and the (nominally) Catholic charismatic group El Shaddai.
They wouldn’t mind being endorsed by the Catholic Church, some 80 percent of Filipinos being Catholic. That’s not likely during these elections. But it’s not because it hasn’t happened before. Mostly through the late Jaime Cardinal Sin, the Church supported Corazon Aquino in 1986, endorsed Ramon Mitra for the presidency in 1992, and opposed Joseph Estrada’s candidacy in 1998. The Church has also endorsed other candidates before 1972, in some instances because those candidates seemed more devout in their Catholicism than others, and in others because they were encouraged by the Church to run for office to begin with.
This year, however, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has announced that the Church as an institution will not support any particular candidate. “To dictate on them (Catholics) whom to vote for it as bad as buying their votes.” Catholics are free to vote for whoever they want, said CBCP President Angel Lagdameo.
Does that mean that by endorsing candidates in the past, the Church was doing something “as bad as buying votes” and that, in those times, Catholics were not free? Even more interestingly, was the archbishop saying that those religious groups that do ask their members to vote for certain candidates are doing the same thing, as well as denying their members the freedom to choose who to vote for?
That’s what it sounded like when the archbishop, reacting to El Shaddai’s Mike Velarde’s urging that the Catholic Church endorse senatorial candidates, declared that the Catholic bishops “trust the wisdom of the people.” Archbishop Oscar Cruz, a former CBCP president, also weighed in, describing what he said was a suggestion that the Church should follow the INC example, as “incongruous.”
Conventional wisdom says INC members vote as a bloc according to the directives of their hierarchy, but it seems that the hierarchy first surveys the views of the flock, and draws up its list of endorsees later. In any event, it does make sense for a minority religion to try to maximize its influence in Philippine elections, given the overwhelming dominance of Catholic voters and, what’s even more crucial, Catholic candidates.
Some Catholic Church bishops are endorsing the openly Catholic party-list group Kapatiran (are Catholics so marginalized they need their own party-list group?), which has declared its commitment to something it calls “God-centered politics”, while others are endorsing individual candidates from the Arroyo administration’s Team Unity and the opposition’s Genuine Opposition. Since practically all the candidates are Catholics anyway, these endorsements seem superfluous, since whoever wins is, in 80 percent of the time, likely to be a Catholic. What kind of Catholic—whether he or she takes his or her Catholicism seriously enough to fight for justice, for example, or not—is of course another matter. But being in the majority in the Philippines also means being part of the power elite.
Beyond supporting anyone in elections, however, the Church has been a major player in Philippine politics since Legazpi landed on the shores of Magellan’s Islas de Ladrones. While it may not care to remember it, it did provide the ideological justification for Spanish colonialism, declaring it sin and heresy to rise against Spain. It did endorse US colonial rule as well, despite chafing over the arrival and official encouragement of US Protestant Missionaries.
It did give martial law “critical support” primarily because of the Marcos regime’s anti-communism. The support part often seemed to weigh heavier than the critical part, and Cardinal Sin’s partying with the Marcoses aboard the presidential yacht didn’t help dispel that impression. The Church broke from the Marcos regime only when it became clearer than crystal that continuing Church support for it was alienating the faithful.
The Church did redeem itself somewhat in EDSA 1. But what’s specially striking today is that it isn’t saying anything much about the human rights crisis. The last time we heard anything from anyone in authority was two weeks ago when Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales dismissed the killings as of little concern because they were “a mere blood-speck” compared to the killings during the Marcos period.
No other Church authority has said anything, much less condemned the killings, which have included churchmen from other religions. And yet, this country being predominantly Catholic and its leaders claiming to be of the same faith, it seems obvious that a condemnation of the killings, and an appeal to the Arroyo regime to just stop them, could at least help, or even do wonders.
Lagdameo insists that the Church is not “shying away” from elections despite its refusal as an institution to endorse senatorial candidates. Good for it. But what would even be better is for it—and while we’re at it, for Kapatiran– not to shrink from the moral responsibility of confronting the monumental evil known as extra-judicial killings that today as in the martial law period are ravaging this Catholic land. Alas, it does seem too much to ask of a Church whose leading lights are as much a part of the power elite as generals and presidents.