In a pastoral letter read Sunday in the churches of the archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan, Archbishop Socrates Villegas made a forceful argument for a conscience vote in the May 13 elections. Unlike his pastoral letter last December equating contraception with corruption, Sunday’s epistle used premises and reached conclusions which we could agree with almost entirely. There was only one, but significant, exception.
The letter is a useful if stringent guide to choosing candidates, but it made the headlines because of something unusual: a clear explanation of why the Catholic Church should not endorse candidates for election.
Villegas wrote: “When the Church ENDORSES CANDIDATES in political elections she always ends up a LOSER. The endorsed candidate may win in the votes but the Church never wins with him. In endorsing candidates, the Bride of Christ, the Church, tarnishes her spiritual mission with the stain of the mundane. The endorsed candidate might win but religion has been reduced to a political party; religion has been used for political gain and our spiritual mission has been compromised” (emphases as found in the copy published by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines website).
This is advice that Church-affiliated groups may not heed, precisely because they are not the Church itself; but will anyone be able to tell the difference between, say, the effort of several Catholic groups led by the El Shaddai charismatic renewal movement to promote the so-called White Vote and the advocacy of the diocese of Bacolod, which was the first to categorize senatorial candidates into “Team Buhay” and “Team Patay”?
Note that the first six candidates endorsed by the White Vote groups are exactly the first six (of nine) candidates identified by the diocese of Bacolod as opposed to the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law—in other words, Team Buhay. Note also that Bishop Emeritus Teodoro Bacani, the spiritual adviser to El Shaddai, all but gave the game away during his homily last Saturday, at the weekly El Shaddai assembly where Brother Mike Velarde, the colorful founder of the movement, introduced the first six candidates. He said, “Kaming mga nasa altar, hindi kami puwedeng mag-endorso. Ibubulong na lang namin sa inyo.” (Those of us at the altar, we cannot endorse. We will just whisper [our endorsements] to you.)
It would have been something, a real advance in lay involvement in politics, if the White Vote produced a list of candidates that did not slavishly reflect the whispered views of the Catholic bishops. If, for example, El Shaddai and the other Catholic groups behind the White Vote used other criteria that faithful Catholics should also be using, then this lay initiative would have been truly welcome.
Archbishop Villegas’ 10th guideline for not voting for a particular candidate, for example: “The candidate has other members of the immediate family in government positions already.” This would have ruled out Rep. JV Ejercito from the White Vote Six, given that he is seeking to join his stepbrother in the Senate, or Rep. Cynthia Villar, given that her family controls Las Piñas.
How about the 7th guideline? “The candidate has been involved or linked to terrorism or the use of goons for self-protection within or outside the campaign period. Peace is the only way to peace.” This would have ruled out two more anointed members of the White Vote Six; both Senators Gringo Honasan and Antonio Trillanes IV had taken up arms against the very governmental system they now serve.
That Villegas’ pastoral letter is too strict, dare we say too Catholic, even for El Shaddai, may be gauged by the pragmatic Velarde’s assertion that the archbishop, the respected former rector of the Edsa Shrine, may have been misquoted.
The pastoral letter’s only major flaw, as far as we can tell, is the very first guideline Villegas proposes. “The candidate cannot declare a categorical and clear NO to divorce, abortion, euthanasia, total birth control and homosexual marriages or D.E.A.T.H issues. Pro-choice is
anti-life.” This is, unfortunately, mere sloganeering. In their day-to-day lives, Filipino Catholics struggle with the moral dilemmas these issues present. They are never black or white. Euthanasia, to offer only one example, may be the most Christian option for a family whose dying member wants to leave this vale of tears with dignity. Asking for a categorical position does not reflect that moral struggle.