Updated: May 08, 2019 03:42 AM GMT
Supporters of opposition candidates in the senatorial elections in the Philippines hold a campaign rally in Manila on May 5. (Photo by Jire Carreon)
The coming national elections in the Philippines is dividing the country's Catholics.
A ranking Manila bishop has tagged as "thieves, murderers and dishonest people" candidates who were earlier endorsed by an influential Catholic charismatic group.
El Shaddai is the biggest Catholic charismatic movement in the Philippines with about eight million members.
Mike Velarde, leader of the group, said he endorsed candidates who he believed could help the poor and those who have helped the charismatic group in its advocacies.
"We’re quiet and we don’t meddle. But the people have become used to listening to one voice," said the charismatic leader who once served as spiritual adviser of former president Joseph Estrada.
He urged his members to support on election day May 13 those in power "but we should not allow them to overstep their bounds." He described the Duterte administration as having the "guts to implement the law."
Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, meanwhile, called on other lay members of the Church to speak out and endorse honest candidates.
The prelate, who heads the Episcopal Commission on the Laity of the bishops' conference, said that if Velarde "can brazenly come out with a list endorsing thieves, murderers, and dishonest people, should not our lay leaders and lay groups do at least the same ... but of honest people?"
"The ball is on your court. Should we play ball or just let them take control of the game because they are more enterprising?" said Bishop Pabillo.
Among those in the list of El Shaddai are Imee Marcos, daughter of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos; Ramon Revilla Jr. and Jinggoy Estrada, who have been accused of plunder; and Ronald de la Rosa, former national police chief who launched the government's "war on drugs."
Opposition senatorial candidates campaign in the streets of Manila on May 5, more than a week before the elections on May 13. (Photo by Jire Carreon)
Following the El Shaddai announcement, Catholic Church leaders reminded Filipino Catholics that the endorsement made by Velarde was not an order to his followers.
"His endorsement is not a command to his followers though they must consider it seriously," said Bishop Teodoro Bacani, retired prelate of Novaliches.
He said people "must still vote according to their conscience."
Father Ranhilio Aquino, a legal expert and dean the Graduate School of Law of San Beda College in Manila, clarified that when it comes to the so-called Catholic vote, "one thing should be clear: a bishop’s list of favorites is not a Catholic’s choice."
"It is a bishop’s choice — nothing more, nothing less, even if it be a gang of bishops drawing up the list," said the priest.
"It is the same thing with the endorsement of a lay charismatic leader. He does not speak for the Church nor can he compel his congregation to vote his preferences to office," added Father Aquino.
He said a "Catholic vote" is the "free vote of every Catholic who makes his choice in the light of the values of the Gospel and as citizens, principally, of the kingdom of God: a kingdom of truth and light, a kingdom of justice and peace, a kingdom of love."
"A Catholic vote is a vote of conscience — and the sovereignty of conscience is such that it must always be free," said the priest.
He said it is part of the Catholic vote to demand the agenda of candidates, "and when one if not several items in it are irreconcilable with Catholic teaching, how Catholic indeed is that choice?"
Father Aquino said, however, that on issues such as federalism and changes in the Constitution, "there is really no Catholic position, because there is not a single article of the Catholic faith nor precept of Catholic morals that makes the endorsement or the rejection of any of these a Catholic obligation."
Criteria in choosing candidates
In the southern Philippines, Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro, said Catholics should seek God’s guidance when choosing their candidates.
In January this year, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines issued a "criteria" in electing public officials.
The country's bishops said the laity should form "circles of discernment" to openly discuss issues and options in choosing their leaders.
They also encouraged Catholics to engage in "principled partisan politics."
"The entire community is a stakeholder in the choice of its leaders," said Bishop Ledesma, adding that 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."
The prelate then said he favors, in his "personal capacity," ten senatorial candidates, mostly coming from the political opposition, who were earlier endorsed by the ecumenical group People’s Choice Movement.
Jigger J. Jerusalem contributed to this report from Cagayan de Oro City.