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The ‘Catholic vote’

Is there a “Catholic vote”? It would be good if there were, but there is none, certainly not in the sense of a command vote in the way El Shaddai and Iglesia ni Cristo have it and implement it.

Historically, our Church has tried to influence elections, too, why not. For voting, she just gives guidelines. The claimed reason behind this soft approach has been the Church’s desire not to “force” people to vote this way or that; to allow them to form their own consciences, to use their free will.

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Trusting people to choose well on their own is commendable and something to be proud of. The irony and inconsistency, however, is that the Church can be very rigid and strict when it comes to her official positions and rules, tantamount to imposing on conscience and curtailing freedom.

Back in 1992 with Fidel Ramos and Miriam Defensor Santiago leading the presidentiables, a “Ten Commandments on Voting” were posted on our church doors. No. 3 was: “Thou shalt seek to know the moral integrity… of the candidate you vote for.” No. 7: “Thou shalt not vote for candidates with records of graft and corruption.” No. 9: “Thou shalt not vote for candidates living an immoral life.”

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The Church did try to mobilize the vote against Fidel Ramos and Juan Flavier, but failed. Again, around the 2010s, hierarchy became ballistic and openly partisan against the reproductive health bill. The unbecoming name-calling, the flawed arguments are still fresh. The Church failed in that skirmish, although she is still in there fighting.

A permanent obstacle to “one” Catholic vote is the Church’s constituency, which is far from homogenous. She must learn to navigate within a big sector of Catolico Cerrados who belong to her, body and soul; a mean minority who think for themselves; and the rest of the populace, typified by the mammoth crowd around the Nazarene, the millions who need and deserve good governance most of all.

We have traversed worser and worser roads, often made impassable by graft and corruption, incompetence and dishonesty.

This is the way we were on Election Day last May 13. Did a Catholic vote take shape? The Church was back to guidelines: “vote wisely,” “pray.” A more aggressive Church would have been welcome instead of a meek one. So helpless did we feel that every other Catholic was praying for “divine intervention.” It was our “command prayer.”

Considering the need for good candidates for the very survival of democracy, and a rogues’ gallery standing out in the senatorial slate, a Catholic vote was supremely hoped for till the last seconds of play. At a certain point, a semblance of such a vote was on the brink of becoming. The faith-based Peoples’ Choice Movement released its choice of 10 candidates, strictly screened. The Church would carry it down to dioceses and parishes. It was eagerly awaited—but it never came. At the 11th hour, “CBCP denies endorsing Otso Diretso candidates: it’s partisan politics’” (Inquirer, 5/11/19). Who can measure the damage of that denial?

How can the priests, the foot soldiers, do otherwise? How break out from the Church’s timidity and hesitation to venture into political comment, and from people who object to priests doing so? Priest and people have taught acceptance to each other too well; they worsen the many dichotomies in our Church. “I will not talk of the election; pray,” said one. “If you can’t fill 12, you can vote eight,” hinted another. That’s as far as they went.

Hail to a priest, then, who went further: “Mga kapatid, Araw ngayon ng Pagkabuhay. Ibahin muna natin ang ‘Peace be with you.’ Kamayan ang katabi ninyo, ngitian at sabihin ‘Otso Diretso’ (Brothers, it’s Easter today. Let’s change ‘Peace be with you.’ Shake the hand of your seatmate, smile and say ‘Otso Diretso’).” Truly bold; how dare he change the words of the sacred liturgy!

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The May 13 elections were that one time Church and people were in unison. They could have coalesced and made all the difference. The people were waiting, it turned out, for Godot.

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Asuncion David Maramba is a retired professor and book editor; columnist since 1984 and contributor to the Inquirer since 1992.

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