COMMENT: Comes Monday, what?

Cotabato Archbishop Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I. stated the true state of the nation in his pastoral exhortation, May 6, 2007, aptly entitled: “Elections, a Blessing or a Curse? Your Choice!” He said:

“Since 1946, we have always been on a political road full of promise. But the promise was never fulfilled.” – Yes, from President Manuel A. Roxas’ election  our political as well as economic road has been full of promises. The present generations are witnesses to the kind of fulfillment.

”The road is actually paved with corruption and dishonesty, the use of power for the interest of self and family, misdirected economic development, division and conflict, and the gradual loss of rich natural resources that the Loving God has Given.” — Who will deny or dispute this?

“But we have to realize that much of it is also due to the way we have voted. We need to change the way we vote.” – The fault is not just in our leaders but also in us who have voted for them. Is the Archbishop telling the voters to examine their conscience before they go to their polling place on Monday?

Moral Criteria

From elections predating the Commonwealth in 1935 to the present Republic, voters had always voted according to questionable criteria of political, economic and social leadership but had relegated to unconcern moral leadership. The first three criteria, if sound, are pillars of leadership, no doubt; but without the fourth – moral – the integrity of a leader is infirm.

The Archbishop exhorted the voters to follow five criteria in choosing on Monday the men and women to lead the local and national governments in the next three years:

1. Persons who will fight corruption, dishonesty and other forms of immorality in government. They are people of high moral character, of integrity and honesty. They are guided by moral and religious principles and not by political expediency.

2. Persons who will promote peace and justice and avoid violence. They are people of dialogue and harmony. They are firm on human rights, yet are respectful and understanding with regard to other religious and cultural beliefs.

3. Persons who will actively care for the environment. They are people who will fight against irresponsible exploitation of our natural resources. They will ensure that our environment will be sustainable and renewable.

4. Persons who will promote the common good, particularly the good of the poor and the needy. They are people who value the good of all, over and above their own vested interests. They have a preferential option for the poor and marginalized, like the lumads whose rights to land and development are constantly besieged.

5. Persons who are competent in the position they aspire for. They are people who provide us with a sense of confidence and trust in their ability to lead us. They have a vision and program of genuine human development. They have the skills to carry it out.

The Archbishop finally exhorted the voters to: (1) rely on the above criteria, not on the popularity and name of the candidates; (2) examine the qualifications of each candidate; (3) go out and vote; (4) help guard your vote so that it could be counted correctly.

The Problems

Other bishops in all dioceses of the Catholic Church, ministers of other Christian Churches and imams in mosques in Mindanao must have made similar appeals to their flocks to vote intelligently and conscientiously. But the moral path is also strewn with rocks and thorns. The problems are many.

First, how many voters have the knowledge to enable them to intellectually and morally choose the candidates to vote for? Even the local candidates are strangers to most local voters. How much do they really know of their mayors and other local officials running for reelection? It’s worse, when it comes to senatorial and congressional candidates. They become susceptible to herd mentality.

Second, how many of the local, congressional, and senatorial candidates possess all the five criteria? How many do possess four or three? Some may not even possess two. Don’t be surprised to find a few who don’t possess even one. But the tendency of voters is to fill up all the spaces in the ballot.

Third, Filipinos tend to campaign and vote for their friends. By passing words around, the friends of the friends of the candidate, and the friends of the friends of the friends of the candidate, and so goes the chain, will vote for the candidate for no other reason but friendship and chain of friendship.

Fourth, Filipinos will long remember a little act – so much more if big – of generosity, a Filipino cultural trait called utang na loob (debt of gratitude). The utang na loob to the father is utang na loob to his descendants. This promotes political dynasty.

Fifth, Filipinos tend to vote for the winner, whoever he is, whatever he is.  In the last hour, not only the fence-sitters but even partisans would jump into the leading bandwagon. Saying ang boto echoes the bandwagon mentality.

Sixth, Filipinos are hero or idol worshipers. Where their idol goes, they go. What their idol says, they follow. Movie stars are idols of the masses. So, for whomever movie stars campaign, the masses are likely to vote. Much more so if movie stars themselves run for election. Joseph Estrada became president. Fernando Poe Jr. could have become one, too. A number of movie stars are in the Senate.

Seventh, Filipinos tend to vote for members of their families or clans – close or distant. Blood supersedes mind and conscience.
These are only seven of the Filipino tendencies and traits that influence him when filling his ballot. There should be more.

The Challenge

Overcoming these problems is the challenge of the voters on Monday. Out of friendship or kinship many will have closed minds. Others may have already been bought. Many more may have had an overdose of election propaganda. And so on. Their minds and moral sense dulled, the voters may easily yield.

Whoever they write in their ballots are their choices. The candidates elected by the majority are the majority choice mandated to govern in the next three years. The Senate, the House, and the local governments elected are the choice of the people.

If Congress and the governments turn out good, the May 14 election is a blessing; if not, it’s a curse. But blessing or curse, it’s the people’s choice – our choice. This truth we must not deny.

The Archbishop opened his exhortation with the imagery of two roads – one blessed; the other, cursed — as choices in the May 14 election then, citing the Sacred Scriptures, he asked: “What road will we take? Will it be a road of blessing or will it be a road that is cursed?”

The voice is loud, clear and convincingly the truth. But it can be a voice in the desert.
("Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr. Diaz with a
"Lifetime Achievement Award" for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.")