Church groups in the Philippines have come up with a set of guidelines to help Filipinos choose
their candidates in upcoming national elections. A two-layer "screening process" to vet aspiring lawmakers has been introduced this week, two weeks before the polls on May 13. The first layer ensures that a candidate believes in God and opposes a proposed shift to a federal form of government. The second includes a series of questions that would test a candidate's "character, integrity, competence, and faithfulness" to public service and the rule of law. Lawyer Alex Lacson, convener of the group People’s Choice Movement, said the guidelines aim "to enable voters to choose the best candidates."
The movement is composed of more than a hundred Catholic, Protestant and Evangelical lay leaders from across the country. The Catholic Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, meanwhile, warned people to avoid the “buying and selling” of votes. Arwin Serrano, a council board member, said the organization has started to monitor
the illegal activity. "It is during the week before the elections that this vote buying and selling happens," he said, adding that among the worst offenders engaging in "vote buying" are those running for local government positions. "Buying and selling votes" are election offenses punishable by imprisonment, removal of the right to vote, and disqualification from holding public office. Lacson, meanwhile, said there is a need to guide voters because most Filipinos have no time to research candidates
. "They just rely on political publicity ... that only rich candidates can afford to mount," he said, adding that elections in the Philippines have become a "money game." Lacson said the initiative to educate voters is a response to a call by Church leaders for lay people "to engage in principled partisan participation" during the elections. He said the "biggest obstacle" in electing good leaders is "non-partisanship" of church groups. "By being non-partisan, we are not fighting enough for the poor." Protestant Bishop Joel Porlares of the Ecumenical Bishops’ Forum endorsed the "guidelines" and urged Catholics to "collectively reflect on our moral duty of promoting the common good." He said the Church respects the will of the people to choose their leaders "but our will must be guided by our faith." "It is high time for the Christian community to have one voice and one vote," said Bishop Porlares. "Our faith speaks in this election and not the power of money," he added. Another faith-based group, "Volunteers for an Independent Senate," called on voters to elect candidates who would "stand for life, liberty, freedom of our land, and for the poor of God’s people." On April 29, Caritas Philippines called on Catholic dioceses "to be objectively partisan" to ensure that "the common good is upheld, people are able to vote freely, and preserve the future of democracy." Father Edwin Gariguez, head of the social action secretariat of the bishops’ conference, said issues that divide Catholics could be set aside "in consideration of a bigger threat to our democratic institutions." He said Filipinos should be more decisive and resolute in their resolve to pull the country back from the brink of political disaster. The Catholic bishops’ conference has earlier released a statement urging voters "to be very discerning in their votes" and to "let the lay groups engage in discernment circles."
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