Davao’s Abp. Valles: Church is non-partisan but lay members should be partisan and should choose good candidates

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 22 February) – Archbishop Romulo Valles on Tuesday said the church is non-partisan “but lay members ought to be partisan and should choose and support good candidates.”

Valles, who served as President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) from 2017 to 2021, made this remark during a courtesy call by Maria Victoria “Mags” Maglana, who is running as an independent candidate for Representative of the city’s first congressional district against reelectionist Paolo Duterte and two others.

Lawyer and peace advocate Mary Ann Arnado, who was with Maglana during the visit, told MindaNews that the “listening session” started at around 9:10 a.m. and ended shortly before 11 a.m.  She said the Archbishop told Maglana to write to the 12 parishes in the city’s first district for a similar “listening session” so that they can have better discernment in choosing who to vote for. 

Sought for clarification, Valles told MindaNews that Church leaders like Bishops and priests, “are not to be partisan,” that they “participate in the political exercise in other very meaningfully and relevant ways,” such as “good political education, rooted in current needs and situation of our people.” 

But “the lay faithful of the Church,” he said, “are to be engaged in the political exercise, including partisan engagement – meaning supporting particular candidates that after prayer and discernment, they consider as worthy to be elected into office.”

Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles listens to Maria Victoria “Mags” Maglana, candidate for Representative of the 1st congressional district who paid him a courtesy visit. Looking on is lawyer and peace advocate Mary Ann Arnado. Photo by MELOT BALISALISA

Asked if they had issued guidelines to help voters in their discernment, Valles said these are contained in the the DaDiTaMa’s Pastoral Letter on the elections.  

DaDiTaMa refers to the Archdiocese of Davao in Davao City, the Diocese of Digos in Davao del Sur,  Diocese of Tagum in Davao del Norte, and Diocese of Mati in Davao Oriental. 

On choosing a candidate, the DaDiTaMa in its Pastoral Letter entitled “Tudloan ug Tultulan ko ikaw” (I will teach and guide you), issued a four-point guideline: that the candidate must be God-fearing, values the sanctity of life, loves and protects creation, and has a heart for the country, especially the poor. 

The DaDiTaMa cited Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter, Fratteli Tutti on October 3, 2020, calling for “a better kind of politics, one truly at the service of the common good.”

“Common good” was a recurring theme mentioned by the Archbishop during the “listening session” with Maglana, said Melot Balisalisa, a freelance Consultant on Monitoring & Evaluation, Gender, Social Research and Valles’ high school classmate. 

The pastoral letter, signed by Archbishop Valles and his Auxiliary Bishop George Rimando, Digos Bishop Guillermo Afable, Tagum Bishop Medil Aseo, and Mati Bishop Abel Apigo, said leaders we choose in the coming elections are tasked to run the economy, cultural, social and political aspects of our lives, craft laws especially on caring for the natural resources, protection of ecology, and giving utmost attention to the sanctity of life.

“Principled partisan politics”

In the last elections in 2019, the CBCP, then headed by Valles, issued a pastoral statement,  “Seek the Common Good,”  which said the mid-term election was “in itself already crucial,” noting that in the country at that time, the checks and balances in government were “being undermined” and that “it is very crucial … that we elect public officials who are principled, courageous and who have the common good as their main concern and not their own political interests.”

“We encourage voters to be very discerning in their votes. Let the lay groups engage in discernment circles to help one another know the candidates well and choose the candidates with the common good of the whole country in mind and not according to what the candidates promise, much less according to what voters have received from these candidates,” the CBCP said.

Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles with Maria Victoria “Mags” Maglana, candidate for Representative of the 1st congressional district, during the latter’s courtesy on Tuesday, 22 February 2022. Photo by MARY ANN ARNADO

Signed by Valles, the CBCP letter emphasized that “participation in politics for Christian lay people is not just to be limited to non-partisan involvement” but Christians are also encouraged “to engage in principled partisan politics” which means that “they can campaign for good candidates as an exercise of their Christian faith.”

“Our dear People of God, we are in a crucial moment of our history. In our hands is the direction of our country. Let us be vigilant in what is happening. Let us not just be on-lookers but let us be involved,” the pastoral letter read. 

The letter also quoted two Popes on elections. 

It quoted Pope Benedict VXI as telling Bishops of Paraguay in September 2008 that “a big part of the vocation of Christian lay people is their participation in politics in order to bring justice, honesty and defense of true and authentic values, and to contribute to the real human and spiritual good of society.”

“The role of the laity in the temporal order, and especially in politics, is key for the evangelization of society,” he said. 

It also quoted Pope Francis as saying on September 16, 2013 that it is not true that a good Catholic does not meddle in politics.

Common good

“’A good Catholic doesn’t meddle in politics.’ That’s not true. That is not a good path. A good Catholic meddles in politics, offering the best of himself, so that those who govern can govern…. None of us can say, ‘I have nothing to do with this, how they govern.’ … No, no, I am responsible for their governance, and I have to do the best so that they govern well, and I have to do my best by participating in politics according to my ability.”

The CBCP also heeded the appeal of Pope Francis in his message on the World Day of Peace in 2019 that “good politics is at the service of peace.”

The CBCP said that in the age of social media, no one can say he or she cannot participate in politics. 

“Each of us can let our voice be heard and be a part of national conversation by posting our views on the social media, but with great respect for others and with the end of advancing the truth. We especially encourage the youth whose future is very much at stake to participate in the electoral process especially by using their skills and knowledge of the social media to advance what is true, what is just, and what is for the common good,” the pastoral letter said. 

“Let the common good be the aim of our politicians and let the common good be the basis of our choice for our next set of public officials, then truly, “love and truth will meet; justice and peace will kiss in our land,” the pastoral letter concluded. 

Valles said the CBCP is releasing soon a pastoral letter on the 2022 elections. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)