By FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JEJOMAR C. BINAY
It is hard to ignore the urgency in the pastoral statement issued last January 28 by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), speaking through its president, Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles, on the upcoming mid-term elections.
Entitled “Seek the Common Good,” the CBCP underscored the importance of active involvement by the Catholic faithful in the coming mid-term polls. To my recollection, this is the first time that the CBCP described an electoral exercise in disquieting terms: “The year 2019 is not just an ordinary election year. The midterm election on May 13 is in itself already crucial.”
“In our country today,” the bishops stressed, “the checks and balances in the government are being undermined.”
The CBCP described our current national situation “as inching towards total control,” with the Senate the only government institution standing its ground.
“It is very crucial, therefore, that we elect public officials who are principled, courageous, and who have the common good as their main concern and not their own political interests,” the bishops said.
Addressing the voters, the bishops encouraged them “to be very discerning in their votes.” To the lay organizations, the bishops counseled them to take a more pro-active role in the elections: “Let the lay groups engage in discernment circles to help one another know the candidates well and choose the candidates with the common good of the whole country in mind and not according to what the candidates promise, much less according to what voters have received from these candidates.”
The CBCP’s counsel to the lay organizations can be seen as a gentle nudge in the direction of more active political involvement. Most lay organizations are averse to politics, preferring instead to focus on the religious aspects of their ministry. But as our bishops pointed out, engaging in politics is not detrimental to the faith. It is an expression of the faith.
“Participation in politics for Christian lay people is not just to be limited to non-partisan involvement,” said the CBCP. In fact, campaigning for “good” candidates is a Christian obligation.
And to remove any ambiguity, the bishops emphasized: “Christians are also encouraged to engage in principled partisan politics. This means that they can campaign for good candidates as an exercise of their Christian faith.”
The CBCP’s call for political engagement on the part of the faithful and for lay groups to be actively involved in promoting discernment among voters comes amid a national situation fraught with discord and disunity.
We continue to witness assaults on the dignity of persons – poverty, unemployment, hunger, and extra-judicial killings.
The independence of institutions is also under siege. Initiatives to extend the control of the Executive over the other independent branches of government persist, and this effort towards “total control” is what has alarmed our bishops.
The Church has been reminding those who wield power that they should take the lead in promoting peace, unity and respect for the law. To many observers, the appeal has fallen on deaf ears.
Hence the urgent call from the bishops for the faithful to practice discernment and to be more active in politics. The bishops are telling us to overcome our fears and reservations through prayers and united political action. And the May elections will be the proving ground for the Catholic faithful.
In this, the lay organizations play an important role. Pope Benedict reminds the laity, and his words were quoted by the CBCP in its pastoral letter, that “a big part of the vocation of Christian lay people is their participation in politics in order to bring justice, honesty and defense of true and authentic values, and to contribute to the real human and spiritual good of society.”
Pope Benedict stressed: “The role of the laity in the temporal order, and especially in politics, is key for the evangelization of society.”
This reminder for the laity to “meddle” in politics was reiterated by Pope Francis in September 2013.
“A good Catholic meddles in politics, offering the best of himself, so that those who govern can govern…. None of us can say, ‘I have nothing to do with this, how they govern.’ … No, no, I am responsible for their governance, and I have to do the best so that they govern well, and I have to do my best by participating in politics according to my ability,” said His Holiness.
For our bishops, we are in the midst of “a crucial moment of our history.”
“In our hands is the direction of our country. Let us be vigilant in what is happening. Let us not just be on-lookers but let us be involved.”
It is now up to us as Catholics and as members of the laity to respond to our bishops’ call to action. Yet it is a call that transcends all faiths. Regardless of our religious differences, our faiths teach the same principles of love, compassion, peace and respect for human dignity. The CBCP’s call is a call to action for all Filipinos.