The 5 Cs of good candidates
“Politics, though often denigrated, remains a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good,” said Pope Francis.
In the recent plenary assembly of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, the local leaders of the Church echoed this same sentiment in their pastoral statement, “Seek the Common Good.” Indeed, in an earlier assembly, the bishops had set several guidelines for Catholics in political life. These are: pursuit of the common good, promotion of justice, a spirit of service, option for the poor and the empowerment of people.
It is in this light that the bishops have pointed out three challenges for the Catholic laity to be actively involved during the election campaign period. The first call is to form circles of discernment. This may be actualized through Basic Ecclesial Communities, clusters of household heads among religious lay organizations, or any grouping of concerned citizens. Group discernment should be more enriching and enlightening instead of relying on one’s solitary perceptions.
A second directive from the bishops runs counter to the traditional view that the Church should stay neutral in politics because of the separation of Church and State. Instead, the institutional leaders of the Church have counseled the lay faithful to engage in principled partisan politics — “principled” in the sense that Christians should be guided by moral values and first principles, “partisan” in the sense that, ultimately, every voter has to choose a particular candidate representing a particular party, and “politics” in the sense that the winner in a political contest is given the legitimacy and power of decision-making for the community. Hence, the entire community is a stakeholder in the choice of its leaders.
The third call for Catholics is the reminder that it is their right and their duty to vote for candidates who work for the common good. Hence, candidates should be elected not on the basis of personal favors given to the voter, but on their record of public service and commitment to work for the common good.
What, then, are the criteria for choosing candidates for public office? Among circles of discernment, a candidate’s qualifications can be summarized as the five Cs.
Conscience. Is the candidate a person of conscience, i.e., a person of moral integrity? Is he/she God-fearing (maka-Diyos)? Does he/she respect human rights? Is he/she transparent and accountable for his/her actions? Are there no charges of corruption in his/her public record? “Corruption is a sinful hardening of the heart that replaces God with the illusions that money is a form of power,” noted Pope Francis.
Competence. What is the educational background of the candidate? What is his/her record of service, either in government or in private life? How is his/her health — physically, mentally, etc.? Popularity alone as a public figure or simple name recall cannot be an assurance of competence in public office.
Compassion. Concern for the poor and marginalized should be the hallmark of a public official. Working for social justice in addressing inequality and the root causes of mass poverty is the sign of genuine compassion. Protecting the rights of minorities and working for the empowerment of the poor are likewise attributes of a compassionate leader.
Companions. Who are the candidate’s supporters and advisers? What is their reputation and integrity? Does the candidate belong to a political party with a clear platform? Or did he/she join a political alliance out of convenience or personal interest? Is he/she a member of a political dynasty?
Commitment. Does the candidate show political will to attain his/her objectives? Does he/she hold on to key principles — e.g., maka-tao, maka-bayan, maka-kalikasan? What is his/her stand on key issues, such as peace-building in Mindanao and peace negotiations with insurgent groups, the protection of the environment, antipoverty measures, foreign relations?
These are the five Cs or key criteria for choosing candidates vying for public office. Through circles of discernment, may every concerned voter engage in principled partisan politics for the common good of our nation.
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Antonio J. Ledesma, SJ, is the archbishop of Cagayan de Oro.
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