Decision at the Crossroads
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
We are approaching a crossroads in our national history, the May 11, 1992 Elections. For the third time, we your bishops write to you to assist you to participate responsibly in this event. In our first letter of July 22, 1991, we urged the education of voters to enable them to vote wisely. We denounced the politics of guns, goons, and gold. We asked you to organize and band together to prevent election irregularities. On November 28, 1991 we issued a second letter indicating some guidelines for the wise choice of candidates. With the same pastoral concern which moved us to write you these first two letters, we now address you this third letter, the fruit of extensive consultation and prayerful reflection among ourselves.
Where We are Now
We see many encouraging signs in our political landscape: the emergence of a growing number of organizations promoting voters’ education and honest elections, like: the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPC-RV), Citizens’ Movement for Peaceful Elections (CIMPEL), People’s Election Watch (PEW), NASSA-CARE, GUTS, MAHAL ’92 and NAMFREL; the people’s enthusiastic response to these movements; a more credible COMELEC; members of the board of inspectors with proven fidelity; the PNP and AFP striving to enforce the ban on guns and bodyguards; the new awareness of the poor that God’s power is in them and that they are active agents shaping history; the increasing number of worthy people with little financial resources and not belonging to political parties who present themselves as fresh alternatives to the old politics.
We can sense the renewing breath of the Spirit of God in these and similar developments.
But there are evil winds that blow counter to the Spirit’s movements: the persistence and worsening of the politics of pay-offs, patronage and personalities; cynicism, and apathy towads the elections; a bandwagon mentality among the voters who will vote for the likely winner rather than for the most qualified; the continuing existence of private armies and arms smuggling; the alleged threats of extortion by the NPA from candidates.
The presence of these countervailing forces reveals a deep crisis in our history. The Lord bids us to turn this crisis into a national breakthrough.
Where We Should Go
And go we will, if we see our struggle for a renewed political order as a struggle of faith, which we personally and as Church must wage in pursuit of our Christian vocation and the Church’s mission. We bring to this struggle deep faith-convictions.
We believe that God who in former times acted to free his people and has offered us fulness of life in the Spirit through His Son, Jesus Christ, is with us still. He remains faithful though we have been unfaithful to Him.
Our God is present in a special way in the poor and powerless. He who “chose the world’s lowborn and despised to reduce to nothing those who were something” (1 Cor. 1:28) continues to do the same today.
But He will lift us up (Hos. 11:1) only if we turn to Him. The very abject situation we are in is a call to conversion to us as individuals and as a people. In a democracy a people gets the leaders it deserves. The qualities of our leaders are often a reflection of our qualities as a people. Our public officials symbolize the values of the people who elect them. A crooked people will vote crooked candidates into office. A God-fearing people will vote for God-fearing candidates. The fact that we are often reduced to a choice for a lesser of two evils among candidates is itself a telling commentary on our sad state as a people. We have many unworthy politicians because we have tolerated and even connived with evil especially during election times.
We should turn to God. We must repent!
Steps We Must Take
We must set our priorities aright. Honor and dignity before money (Prov. 22:1); service before power; the common good before egoistic or small-group-centered self-interest; the nation before personal relationships and utang na loob.
From a repentant people will arise God’s gift of renewed leaders. Then we will choose correctly the men and women whom God wishes to vest with authority (Rom. 13:1), and who will lead us out of our deplorable situation. Our votes are an expression of our own conversion and will be decisive for our country’ s future. A vote for good leaders will be a choice for our people’s fuller life.
Who are these persons we must choose? It is not our task or competence as your bishops to name specifically those you must vote for. We have, however, indicated some requisite qualities in our November 28, 1991 pastoral letter. Other Church groups have elaborated more extensive guidelines which can also help voters make a wise choice. But here we wish to simply point out our need to elect competent, committed leaders of integrity we can be truly proud of and whom we can present to the young as models worthy of emulation.
We appeal to the different candidates to obey the laws of God and of the land in their campaign and election activities. We ask them not to buy votes. Vote-buying is not only immoral, but is also an insult to the poor and retards our country’s development. We urge them to sign a covenant committing themselves to an issue-oriented campaign and to collaborate towards free, honest and peaceful elections.
We ask the COMELEC, the PNP and AFP, the members of the board of election inspectors, and all who are called to serve in the elections to carry our their tasks with continuing fidelity and courage. Your loyalty is to God and the People and to no one else.
We ask the NPA not obstruct the flow of the democratic process by demanding money from candidates. Such extortion, if true, perpetuates corruption and diminishes the people’s freedom of choice.
We ask business people to support and to help fund organizations that work for meaningful, honest and peaceful elections, and even to join such organizations.
We call on all mass media practitioners to serve the truth at all times and not partisan political interests. We ask for objectivity in reporting and fairness in commentary. We ask them to report news and not to concoct it.
We appeal to our schools to exert efforts to guide our youth both in and out of school towards meaningful participation in the electoral process, and to make their facilities available as polling places, when needed.
We urge the different parishes and dioceses to organize as quickly as possible the PPC-RV or similar groups, and to support already existing ones. We also urge the Church-based groups and other organizations to continue their educational and organizational activities and to establish linkages with one another. Specifically, we urge them to list the promises of candidates and to monitor later their fulfillment or non-fulfillment.
And we ask you all, our people, to exercise unremitting effort and unflagging vigilance to make sure that your right and duty to vote is used wisely for choosing persons who seek public office, not to be served but to serve, not to secure their vested interests but to give life to the people even at the cost of personal sacrifice (Mt. 20:26-28; Lk. 22:27). If you can, volunteer to become members of the board of elections inspectors.
Do not sell your votes. To do so is to offend God, to betray your country and to sell your dignity and future to shameless scoundrels.
To show our repentance and to obtain for our people the grace to choose wisely our public officials in free honest and orderly elections, we urge you to join us in a crusade of prayer and fasting. The election evils of our nation can be driven out only by such means (Mk. 9:29; Mt. 17:21). Let us conduct prayer vigils and set aside the Fridays of Lent not only as days of abstinence but also of fasting. We ask parishes and small Christian communities to hold on May 8-10, 1992 a triduum of prayer.
The coming elections are crucial to our future. They will become what we singly and together want them to be, work and sacrifice for them to be. They can become either another missed opportunity or the best elections we have ever had. They can signal the first orderly and peaceful transfer of power in our country after almost thirty years, or they can trigger national instability. They can be a giant step forward or a demoralizing setback. Let us not fail our country. Let us be true to our best selves. Together let us build a better future, which will be ours if we choose well our leaders. Our strength is in God and in our solidarity.
Let us heed the call of the Lord: “Stand at the crossroads and look. Ask for the ancient paths and where the best road is. Walk in it, and you will live in peace” (Jer. 6:16).
May the Virgin Mary who watches with maternal care over our country and whom we honor in the election month of May, obtain from her Son the grace we need to make and carry out decisions in this moment of the Lord.
In the name of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines,
(Sgd.)+CARMELO D.F. MORELOS,D.D.
January 31, 1992