“Seek good and not evil that you may live.” (Amos 5,14)
Beloved People of God:
God is calling us to participate in transforming our society, to “seek good and not evil” (Amos 5,14). This is part of our mission as People of God (cf. Justice in the World, 1971). In 1991 the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II) called the lay people to fulfill their responsibility in renewing the political order. In 2001 the National Pastoral Consultation on Church Renewal (NPCCR) made this task one of the nine major pastoral priorities of the Church. The same call is echoed by the pastoral letter last year on the Year of the Two Hearts for Peace Building and Lay Participation in Social Change.
I. Our Situation
To transform our political order—how imperative this task is today! The election fever is on us! Campaign advertisements, presidential debates, and sadly, political killings, fill our media. Outrageous political violence has awakened us to the reality that if we do not keep watch together as a nation our electoral processes can drag us down. The existence of private armies, the proliferation of loose fire arms, and political dynasties are obstacles to the growth of a genuine democratic system.
In this situation we urge once more all Filipinos to form circles of discernment so that they can see, judge, and act together on issues of public concern according to moral values. Moreover, we remind once again the Catholic laity that it is their right and duty to support candidates that are qualified and have a record of striving for the common good. They should not hesitate to engage in principled partisan politics. We are asked to first articulate the key values and principles by which we can evaluate individual candidates across political parties. This is the kind of politics in which Gospel values form the bases of our choice of candidates and not party or family loyalties.
B. On Automated Elections
We have always hoped for a modernized, better, and faster form of voting and counting, imbued with transparency and integrity. Automated election has been in use for some time in many countries. For the first time in our history we are adopting one example of poll automation called Automated Election System (AES). But at this late hour there are still many questions regarding the AES that revolve around the readiness of personnel and equipment as well as the readiness of the electorate in the use of the system. Even more important, many serious questions about the reliability and integrity of the equipment and the personnel involved have not been satisfactorily answered. To be sure those who are responsible for the AES are striving to make the system work. But we must make sure that there are prepared fall back positions that can be quickly adopted when there are some glitches in the system and in the logistics. We have to be vigilant and be involved. One example would be to help in educating voters regarding the AES and in using the equipment.
C. To Candidates
We ask the candidates, already at this point, to start serving the nation by being honest and sincere in educating the people on the situation of our country in their campaign. They should not campaign to manipulate the perceptions of the people but to help them to make good choices for the sake of the country. They are to present their platforms and convictions rather than attack others.
D. To Peace-keepers
We call on our soldiers and the police to be extra-vigilant so as to bring about peaceful elections. They should not allow themselves to be used by politicians or ideological groups. Rather, they should be vigorous in disarming illegally armed elements.
E. To Voters
We appeal directly to you, our fellow countrymen and women, as well as to all members of our Basic Ecclesial Communities and religious lay organizations to exercise your right to vote wisely i.e. following the criteria indicated several times in our previous pastoral letters. Automated elections will not give us good public officials. Ultimately the leaders that our country shall have will depend on our wise choice of candidates. Do not be swayed by survey results or political advertisements. Follow the dictates of your conscience after a prayerful and collective period of discernment. “Winnability” is not at all a criterion for voting! The vote you cast will be a vote for the good of your country and your children’s future. Serve the common good with your precious vote!
III. Signs of Hope
In spite of the grim scenario that some may paint that every election is just the same, we feel winds of change for the better. Many of our faithful are now heeding the call of their pastors to be actively engaged in politics. Many are running for public office issuing from the call of faith and service so that people should no longer vote simply for the lesser evil among the candidates. There are now many civil society groups that are concerned and are actively moving to ensure that this election of 2010 will be an honest and credible one. We especially note with encouragement many young people who go out of their way to offer their services for the good of our nation. These signs are fruits of the efforts of many in the past years to educate our people to develop their social conscience and to make their faith the motivation of their political actions. Pope Benedict XVI teaches us: “Worship pleasing to God can never be a purely private matter, without consequences for our relationship with others: it demands a public witness of our faith” (Sacrosanctum Concilium #83)
Let us be ever vigilant for our country. Together let us be involved in the coming automated elections. Let us vote wisely that we may have God-fearing and honest people as our leaders.
May our Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Peace, be our guide and teacher in our hope for a better tomorrow. May our Good Lord receive our offerings of prayers, good intentions and selfless service for the good of our people! To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines,
+NEREO P. ODCHIMAR, DD
Bishop of Tandag
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines
January 24, 2010