There’s the Rub

Give unto Caesar

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The Iglesia ni Cristo will be a huge factor in these elections, say several people. Its leaders have just issued a circular that demands that the “unity vote” be strictly observed.

“With a tight race,” says Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara, “the INC blessing and solid vote may play a role for those fighting for the last few slots in the magic 12 since vote differences between these slots can be as little as a few hundred thousand.” Tito Sotto agrees, saying the INC could produce a core base of 3 million votes, which could determine who the top three and last three senatorial candidates would be.

From the other end, the Catholic Church has been warning darkly about punishing the congressional and senatorial candidates who voted for RH. It first issued that warning last December, vowing to continue the fight against “the culture of death” at the polls. It has intermittently reiterated it.

The first question is: Can they?

Well, first the Catholic clout: It hasn’t been evident at all. Certainly, it hasn’t been evident in national elections, not even during the reign of fairly powerful, and popular, Church leaders like Jaime Cardinal Sin. Sin campaigned with Edsa-like fervor against Erap, portraying him as the No. 1 breaker of all the cardinal sins—specifically drunkenness, gluttony, and lust—and did nothing to dent him. It might even have made him more popular, coming off the unceasing diatribe as an endearing rogue.

Of course the Church has shown some clout in local elections, though selectively, though sporadically. RH, however, is not the Church’s best suit. Most of the faithful believe in it, most of the faithful find it the most reasonable—and moral—thing on earth. The Church insists on demonizing the candidates who voted for it, it might produce the opposite effect. It might make the voters sympathize with them more.

The INC is another story. Its clout is far more evident than that of the Catholic Church, which is why candidates woo it ardently. Quite curiously, and revealingly, it wielded tremendous power during Marcos’ and Gloria’s time, both tyrannical times. Of course it was pretty much a nonfactor in the last elections, but that doesn’t mean its clout is gone. It merely means that where the elections are far more “ideological,” or where the lines are more sharply drawn between candidates, such as in epic battles between right and wrong, decency and rottenness, good and evil, that clout isn’t there. But where the elections are far more traditional, or indeed trapo, where the differences between the candidates are blurred, where the choice is between the popular and the obscure, the exciting and the dull, the pogi and the pangit, that clout will be there.

Which is what the May elections are. They are not a fight between right and wrong, good and bad, they are a fight between mostly exchangeable personalities, between Jojo Binay and Mar Roxas. Can the INC shape their outcome? Oh, yes, it can. It can do wonders for the top three and last three senatorial candidates. That is quite apart from the representatives and candidates in the local elections. A “unity vote” of three million is one very big clout.

But which brings me to the second question, and a far more important one: Should we allow them to?

The Catholic case is borderline. The Church wants to vilify those who voted for RH, that is its business. It wants to cajole the faithful into not voting for them, that’s not just its business, though it remains arguable how far it violates the separation between church and state. It may not be condemnable legally, but it is certainly so morally. There’s something despotic about it. You wonder why a secular group doesn’t also launch a campaign calling on all Catholic Filipinos to boycott the priests and bishops who have been shrill in their opposition to RH, indeed who have been using the pulpit to disturb their peace, or torment them. The INC is not borderline at all; without a doubt it tramples on the principle of the separation of church and state. You may no more command a citizen, whatever his faith, to vote for a candidate as you, his religious superior, bid than you may command him to not owe allegiance to the flag on the ground that that diminishes his obedience to God. And yet the INC does it, and does it not just shamefully but shamelessly, not just furtively but openly, not just clandestinely but proudly. Hell, it advertises it. You want to win, come begging before the INC. You want to win big, come crawling to the INC. Of course that comes with a price tag, which you’ll have to pay later on.

It’s atrocious. We’re at pains to root out the practice of “one village, one vote” that often happens in Mindanao, and yet we’re powerless to do something about its equivalent, or worse, “one church, one vote” right in our midst. In fact, we’re not just powerless to do something about it, we tolerate it, we consent to it, we approve of it. Certainly, the candidates do, who troop to their temples that grandly proclaim the dawning of a “New Era”—a new era of what?—hat in hand.

I don’t know why nobody brings a legal challenge to it before the Supreme Court. The evidence is prima facie. It’s immoral, it goes against the very foundation of citizenship, which is the freedom to vote according to one’s conscience. One’s conscience cannot be held hostage to the preferences, or whims, of others in the name of religion. And it is illegal, by all the laws of God and man. The Constitution is clear on it: The church is the church and the state is the state, and ne’er the twain shall cross the line. And Jesus Christ, in whose name the Iglesia ni Cristo has been built, is even clearer on it.

Give unto Juan what is Juan’s, and to God what is God’s.

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