Not to worry, says Edcel Lagman, there’s no such thing as a Catholic vote. Lagman, of course, is the principal author of the Reproductive Health bill, a thing that started strong but seems to be floundering in the House. “RH advocates should not fear a negative Catholic vote because the alleged backlash has no empirical basis,” Lagman says. “In fact, if there’s a Catholic vote at all, he says, it is for the enactment of the RH bill.” That is shown by the SWS and Pulse Asia surveys, which consistently show the overwhelming majority of Catholics—70 percent or more—endorsing it.
Miriam Santiago agrees: “In the past, the Catholic Church campaigned against Sen. Juan Flavier because as health secretary, he freely distributed condoms. But Flavier won the elections. The so-called Catholic vote is a political myth.” While at this, she warned the bishops against making electoral threats against congressmen as it constituted “a borderline violation of the constitutional principle of the separation of Church and State.”
Is the Catholic vote more imagined than real?
Well, yes and no. The days when the Church could demonize people like Claro M. Recto, portraying his nationalism as godless communism, are over. That is really where the Catholic Church clout has manifested itself—not in getting candidates elected but in getting candidates not elected. But its power to do that at the national level has waned epically over the decades.
Forget Juan Flavier, mind only Erap. Jaime Cardinal Sin was far more credible in his time than Archbishop Ramon Arguelles is at this time, but he failed completely, miserably, to stop Erap from becoming president. Despite incessant harangues at the pulpit, despite repeated depictions of Erap as one of the most immoral men on earth, given to drinking and womanizing, Sin lived to see Erap sworn into office—on a Bible. Erap in fact didn’t just win, he left Jose de Venecia too far behind to even bite his dust.
But the Church does continue to have some clout in local elections. As does the Iglesia ni Cristo, which moreover can make certain candidates win by its practice of bloc voting. (That in fact is what constitutes a certifiable, and not just borderline, violation of the separation of Church and State.) That is the territory congressmen inhabit—local elections. Which explains why they have been suddenly stricken en masse by one ailment or another and been absent from Congress of late.
I don’t know though that two can’t play the game.
At the very least, I don’t know why the BIR doesn’t take a sudden interest in Church holdings, the better to establish the full extent of its tax obligations. If only to drive home the point about the Church and State being separate as articulated by Christ himself who said, “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” Collecting the right taxes from the Church should be far better than collecting sin taxes from the public, which only tax the poor more than the rich. It has the added virtue of making Arguelles and company contemplate the true meaning of sin. Avarice, if I recall, is a sin, too, one of the cardinal ones in fact.
Just as well, I don’t know why we can’t mount a “women’s vote” and a “reasonable Catholic vote” to counter the “Catholic vote” with which the Church is threatening congressmen who vote for the RH bill. Those will be a vote against the congressmen who variously disappeared from Congress in the hour of need, who withdrew their support for RH at a critical time, who have posed formidable obstacles to the passage of the bill from the start.
To this day, of course, despite the efforts of the women’s groups to raise it, there has been no such thing as a “women’s vote.” At least its effect has been marginal. But you never know. The recent US elections were determined mostly at the margins, but the combined weight of the Latin American vote, the American-Asian vote, the youth vote, and the women’s vote turned it into a massacre of Mitt Romney. The women voted for Barack Obama precisely because of his pro-choice stand, which went well beyond the RH bill to allow abortion. The RH bill, it should be said again and again, is nothing of the kind. It draws the line at abortion, limiting itself to contraception.
The logic of the US women’s vote was simple: Why should we allow these old, jaded, bigoted male dodos particularly of the GOP to decree what we may or may not do with our bodies? A good question for our own women to ask the bishops—and the congressmen who are in such fear of them—come Election Day.
Even less is there such a thing as a “reasonable Catholic vote,” but it can always be raised as a one-shot deal for next year’s elections. If the surveys are right and the RH bill finds support among the majority of Catholics, then there’s no reason the Catholic voice should not be heard, if in ways beyond the contemplation of the bishops. If in ways that controvert the position of the bishops.
If they can attempt to rally the faithful, or those they believe to be faithful to them, not to vote for those who supported the RH bill, or worse led the fight for it, then the RH advocates can just as well rally the faithful, or those who are faithful to their Catholic beliefs without being unfaithful to themselves, to not vote for the candidates who have shown themselves deserving neither trust nor confidence, neither earth nor heaven. Who are the candidates who have slunk away like cowards from a good fight. Who are the candidates who will sell themselves, their grandmothers, and their country and its future, for another crack at Congress. Who are the candidates who have stood in the way of making life in these parts a little more bearable, a little more acceptable, a little more, well: