COMMENT: Churches in Election 2010. By Patricio P. Diaz

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/08 May) —  As used here “churches” refers to the Roman Catholic Church, all other Christian churches and church-based groups or congregations. At issue is the intervention in any form of these churches in Election 2010. This will continue.  Is this healthy for a truly democratic election and governance?

Intervention of churches in Philippine elections has long been a feature of Philippine elections, not a new occurrence in Election 2010.  First, it was the Iglesia ni Cristo that endorsed candidates; later, the Catholic charismatic group El Shaddai followed; this election, the “Kingdom of Jesus Christ, the Name above Every Name” of Pastor Apollo Quiboloy joined the anointing game.

During elections, candidates pay “respect” or “homage” to local INC ministers and Supremo Manalo in Quezon City for support.  INC ministers herd their flock to vote for the INC ticket as a solemn obligation.  Nationwide, INC is said to have from five to eight million votes. Any candidate endorsed officially by INC get solid INC vote. It has endorsed the Aquino-Roxas tandem.

El Shaddai, led by Mariano “Mike” Velarde, is a Catholic renewal movement said to have eight million members or more – all potential voters who follow with fanatical zeal the voice of Big Brother Mike. Presidential candidates seek Brother Mike’s endorsement as diligently as they do INC Supremo Manalo’s.  Velarde has not yet announced his choice (as of May 8). An earlier report suggested a Villar inclination.

Quiboloy is new in the game. He told reporters that after days of prayers, he anointed the Teodoro-Roxas team as “God’s choice”.  The solidity behind him of his four million voting followers has been put to doubt by a report that the youth members of his group are for Aquino.

Officially, these groups intervene by anointing candidates and order their members to vote for their anointed as a religious duty.  When elected, the anointed ones will be – to some degree – beholden to the anointers.

Until Election 2004, the Catholic Church through the bishops or CBCP (Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines) and PPCRV (Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting) only officially published election guidelines and exhorted the Catholics to vote according to the guidelines. That was democratic compared to the autocratic voting of Manalo, Velarde and Quiboloy groups – imposed vs. free choice.

However, this Election 2010, the Church changed course.  His Eminence Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, the Archbishop of Manila, and the Media Office of CBCP have urged voters not to vote for presidential candidates who differ with or oppose the position of the Church in some issues, especially the RH (Reproductive Health) Bill – ranking the nine candidates according to how their positions agree with the Church’s.

Last Sunday, May 2, after a Mass at the Manila Cathedral, presidential, senatorial and congressional (House) were asked to sign a “covenant to protect life and to oppose the RH bill”. Villar and JC delos Reyes (Kapatiran) were the only presidential candidates who signed (Inquirer.net, May 3).  De los Reyes has been listed by CBCP as top in supporting the positions of the Church in various issues (Inquirer.net, May 1).

The publication of guidelines to educate the voters enlightens free choice. This is most necessary considering election environment in the Philippines. But ranking the nine presidential candidates according to their agreement with Church positions on various issues intrudes – to the point of imposition – into freedom of choice. For the Cardinal and CBCP spokesmen to claim otherwise by rationalization is double-talk.

Letting presidential candidates sign a covenant to support the position of the Church is tying the State to the Church since the President is the head of the State. This violates the doctrine of separation of Church and State. Villar and De los Reyes have culpably violated the Constitution even before they could be elected.  If elected, they should be immediately impeached.

The intervention of churches in Election 2010 that we have observed is in these forms: (1) intrusion into voters’ freedom of choice by imposition in the name of religious duty or by telling the voters which candidates agree with church position on various issues; (2) tying the State to the Church by letting presidential candidates sign in a covenant to support the position of the Church on certain issues.

Is this healthy for democratic election and governance?

(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You may e-mail your comments to [email protected]).

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