Is there a Christian vote in PH?
The biblical dictum “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what belongs to God” does not always mean religion and politics must never mix.
We really do have problems with people who take the Constitution loosely and the Bible literally. For Jesus, asked the question of whether the Jews should pay taxes to Caesar, had merely wittily answered it and shown a coin carved with the image of Caesar.
Verily, Jesus did not come to earth to encourage man not to obey human authority. Steeped in His spiritual crusade, He merely recognized the existence of a temporal government—a blessing or curse dependent on how it governs.
In the Philippines, religion is very much a part of everyday life—unlike in America, for instance, where religious influence is waning and about 30 percent do not belong to any religious group. Among the 100 million Filipinos, 80 percent are Roman Catholics and a large part of the rest belongs to the Protestant and Born Again groups.
Two great leaders—Pope Francis and Mahatma Gandhi—have categorically recognized how politics and religion are intertwined. Pope Francis said: “We are all political animals with a capital ‘P.’ We are all called to constructive political activity among the people. The preaching of human and religious values has a political consequence. Whether we like it or not, it is there.” And Gandhi said: “Ethical values emanating from religion is an important part of politics. Politics divorced from religion becomes debasing.”
For indeed, religion sets moral discipline among its followers and can set high standards for their public servants to follow.
The idea that religion and politics do not mix was probably invented by the Devil to keep Christians from running their own country, as the wit Jerry Falwell sarcastically noted. He is seconded by a deathless philosopher named Plato who said: “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is you end up being governed by your inferiors.”
No, not just intellectually, but also morally, especially.
For the first time, and in the most dramatic way ever, organized Christian religion in the Philippines is taking an active part in the May elections. This participation stemmed from the Christian lay initiative late in 2015 of the Pilipino Movement for Transformational Leadership (PMTL) led by its chief convener and spokesperson, Alex Lacson.
The PMTL is a community of faithful —Catholics, Protestants and Born Again groups—who have come together and engaged the work of God in the field of politics. Sewn together by a common desire of electing God-centered public servants, the PMTL is touted capable of mustering up to 10 million voters, representing an estimated 25 percent of the 40 million faithful in the 50 million Filipino voters of diverse faiths.
Using 20 criteria items as part of the Gabay Kristo matrix, the PMTL has short-listed Grace Poe and Mar Roxas for president and Leni Robredo andZosimo Jesus Paredes for vice president. By the first week of March, Lacson says, there will be only one candidate for vice president and eight from the current 15 short-listed senatorial candidates.
Poe and Roxas will remain in the list for president. The senator has a disqualification case pending at the Supreme Court, and therefore an alternative has to be in place, according to Lacson.
Generally, the names on the PMTL short list are the result of a selection process that underscored integrity, honesty, competence, skills, fear of God and love for neighbor among the criteria. When the final candidates are selected, the 10 million followers can either vote for them based on the collective discernment anchored on the Gabay Kristo principles or actively campaign for them in their dioceses.
At the recent 11th plenary assembly of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines in Cebu City, the Church praised the initiatives of the PMTL and encouraged the Diocesan Councils of the Laity to support it.
The PMTL initiative will determine if there is indeed a “Christian vote” in the Philippines. This 2016 exercise is only a first attempt in the process to develop Christian servant leaders. The PMTL will also use the Gabay Kristo method in the forthcoming barangay elections and the 2019 general elections that will involve provincial, congressional and local leaders.
The group is proud of the fact that the selection of candidates was made in a bottom-up process, and not imposed from above. A failure in this first attempt will mean that Christian education must intensify even more through the years, according to the PMTL leadership.
This new spiritual-political movement has a trajectory straight out of the Second Vatican Council of “Gaudium et Spes,” which states that Christians must not shirk from their earthly duties and that religion does not only consist of acts of worship and the discharge of moral obligations.
Gaudium et Spes:43 also states that “the Christian who neglects his temporal duties, neglects his duties toward his neighbor, and even God, and jeopardizes his eternal salvation…”—or one who professes that religion and politics do not mix —has little understanding of both.
Because religion is that one thing that injects “absolutes” in a world deeply mired in modern-day “moral relativism.” It straightens the clutter of intellectual justification of illicit moral choices.
Today’s Christians have a choice as they face daily the reality of many men and women wounded by the wayside. They can become a Good Samaritan or an indifferent bystander.
It is a human choice full of spiritual undertones. That is one way to view the emergence of the 10-million Christian vote. Will they rise to be counted?
Bingo Dejaresco ([email protected]), a former banker, is a financial consultant, media practitioner, political strategist, and lifetime member of Finex. The views expressed here are his own.