The time is fast approaching when the citizens of this Republic will once more go to the polls to cast their votes in a general election. In this connection, it is proper to note that voting is a right guaranteed by our Constitution to all who fulfill the qualifications stated therein. It is a precious and sacred right, won after many years of bitter struggle against colonial despotism and sealed by the blood of our national heroes. Every Filipino worthy of the name should therefore be jealous of it, and do all in his or her power to see to it that the right to vote is freely and properly exercised by all who possess it.
At the same time we wish to stress, now as in the past, that this right is also a strict duty, that is to say, a true moral obligation binding in conscience because it proceeds in the last analysis from the natural law. Whence it follows that, speaking generally, qualified voters who fail to vote without a just and proportionate excusing cause commit a sin; and this sin could well be a mortal sin if there is good reason to believe that through such negligence on the part of the electorate unscrupulous men would gain control of the government, and grave harm would in consequence accrue to religion and morality, to peace and order, to social justice, and to other essential ends of civil society.
Our present Holy Father, His Holiness Pope Pius XII, made this clear in an allocution of 16 March 1946, when he said that “the exercise of the right to vote is a grave responsibility, at least when there is involved a question of electing those whose office it will be to formulate the constitution and laws of the country.” And on another occasion he went so far as to say that under certain conditions the voter who abstains from voting, “particularly through indolence or from cowardice,” may be committing a grave sin. However, we are confident that the Catholic voters of our country are sufficiently public-spirited to do their duty in the coming elections, not so much from a merely negative fear of sin, as from a positive and patriotic desire to elect a government of which the Philippines may be truly proud.
In this connection, we wish to call the attention of all to a manner of regarding participation in public affairs which causes us no little concern. For some years now we have observed a growing disillusionment and even cynicism on the part of many towards politics and politicians. Their attitude seems to be that political activity as actually carried on is so honeycombed with corruption, so hopelessly at variance not only with the moral law, but even with the most elementary rules of honesty and decent behavior, that self-respecting citizens will do well to stay out of politics, or at least have as little to do with it as possible. We believe this view to be too pessimistic, even though we are forced to admit that the proceedings of certain politicians, whether in office or out of it, have gone far to confirm it.
Moreover, we believe that such cynicism, if it continues to spread, is fraught with the gravest danger to our democracy. Politics in itself is a good thing, and a necessary thing; it is the abuse of politics which is bad. The crimes which unscrupulous men commit in order to obtain political power or to retain it must never lead us into the fatal error of thinking that politics in itself is a degrading and unsavory business, which may be regarded as a necessary evil, but an evil nonetheless. We say this is a fatal error, for obviously the citizens of a democracy will do little or nothing to correct abuses in their government if they are convinced that such abuses are normal, and that nothing can be done about them since they flow from the nature of politics itself.
But what is the truth? The truth is, that politics in itself, which is merely the active participation of the citizens of a democracy in the conduct of their government, is not only a good and meritorious activity, but one which all are in duty bound to perform, each according to his capacity and opportunities. The minimum participation in politics which every citizen is obliged to render is, as we mentioned earlier, that of exercising his right to vote at the stated times. More than this he is not ordinarily obliged to do; yet those who do more, those who actually enter the arena of politics either as candidates for office or as party organizers and workers, and who do this from a sincere desire of promoting the common good, are deserving not only of commendation but of the gratitude of the entire community.
Certainly, even to suggest without very clear proofs that such men are inspired by wholly selfish or even sinister motives is not only grossly unfair to them personally, but detrimental to the public interest at large. Far from doing this, we ought by all means to encourage God-fearing citizens to enter public life whenever they have the ability, the means, and the inclination to do so; and when they do, we ought to give them our support in the measure that we believe their platforms and policies to be for the good of the country.
For if honest men stay away from politics, how are we ever going to rid our politics of dishonest men? Granting that the actual conduct of our political affairs leaves much to be desired, do we contribute anything to its improvement by simply condemning and ridiculing it? Such a negative and defeatist attitude will get us nowhere. Worse than that, it will merely tighten the hold upon our government of those who are least qualified to govern, in such wise that we may yet present to an astonished world the wondrous spectacle of a nation of honest men patiently tolerating a government of rogues. The solemn warning of Rizal is particularly applicable here:
“As long as the Filipino people,” he said, “does not have enough vigor to assert with head erect and bared breast its right to an autonomous existence, and to make good this claim by the sacrifice even of its blood; as long as we have countrymen who inwardly blush with shame and feel their gorge rise at injustice, but are outwardly silent or even join the oppressor in making a mockery of the oppressed; as long as they do not scruple to advance their private interests by condoning with forced smiles the most flagrant acts of injustice, while begging with their eyes for a portion of the booty; why give them freedom? … What price independence, if the slaves of today will be tyrants of tomorrow? And tyrants they will certainly be, for he loves tyranny who comes to terms with it.”
By all means, therefore, let us keep a sharp and sleepless eye on the conduct of public business. Wherever and whenever we find injustice double-dealing, malversation of funds, and the advancement of private greed or overweening ambition at the expense of the common good, let us expose and condemn these abuses. But let our criticism be always constructive; let it be based on the firm conviction that such abuses are not inherent in the politics of a democracy, but that they can and should be weeded out by the concerted and vigorous action, through constitutional means, of an aroused citizenry. It is in this spirit of constructive self-criticism that we offer the following observations to the consideration of the public.
Along with many other thoughtful citizens, we have noted with alarm the tremendous increase in the amount of money spent on political campaigns. It is high time that we seriously questioned the necessity of such enormous expenditures, especially in view of the present precarious state of our national economy. Obviously, a measure of self-restraint is called for in the candidates for office and their campaign managers. But it is equally obvious that ordinary citizens cannot put the entire blame on the politicians; for if politicians spend money with so lavish a hand, it is at least in part because voters expect and even compel them to do so. Here, then, is an excellent opportunity for private citizens to raise the standards of our political life considerably. All that they would have to do is to make it clear for candidates for office that their votes are not for sale, and that even short of sale it cannot be influenced by the various handouts, entertainments, and other expensive favors which are the current accompaniments of an election campaign.
Another all too common practice which can very well do without, or at least lessen considerably, is that of hurling unjust charges against a political opponent, or of foully ruining his reputation with a view to defeating him at the polls. Let us not forget that even a candidate for office has a right to his good name, and that this right imposes on everyone else a strict obligation to respect that good name. It is true that by entering his candidacy, he must be held as having consented to a public scrutiny being made of such aspects of his private life as may have a bearing on his qualifications for office. Still, this does not mean that anyone may make any assertion or insinuation whatever regarding any aspect of a candidate’s private life, even those wholly irrelevant to the public good, and not incur grave responsibilities before God and the laws of our country.
Finally, we exhort candidates and their leaders to be extremely careful not to misrepresent public issues in order to gain a passing political advantage. For this practice, besides being injurious to the nation as a whole, will not in the long run be of any benefit to them. It may have been possible in the past, before we had quite reached political maturity as a people, for such deception to succeed. We doubt whether it can succeed today, when we have enough enlightened citizens to inflict condign punishment on those who would stoop to such devices, and inflict it where it would be most keenly felt – at the polls.
With regard to the vote itself, let each one seriously and prayerfully reflect during these days immediately preceding the elections on how he may cast it to the best advantage of the common good. Let him consider well the qualifications of each candidate for the office to which he aspires.
According to democratic tradition and Christian ethics, a public office is a public trust. This means that the holder of that office has authority, not in his own right, but because it has been conferred upon him by God through the people. Hence, the office holder in a democracy is in a very real sense a servant of the people as well as a servant of God; and he must use his authority only as the law of God dictates and the interests of the people demand. To do otherwise is to betray a sacred trust. Now then: to which ones among the candidates for office may we safely commit this sacred trust? What do their past records have to tell us in this matter? Are their basic attitudes, their scale of values, their habitual manner of acting such that we may reasonably expect them to put the public welfare before their private interests? Such are the questions which we as voters must ask ourselves.
The virtues of humility, simplicity and sincerity are also highly desirable and even necessary in the officer of state. Without them he runs great risk of abusing the very great powers committed to him. A philosophic historian once said that “power corrupts; and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. There is a great deal of truth in this saying; but it is not the whole truth. He should have added that power does indeed possess this corrosive quality, but it cannot corrode the man who cultivates the sterling virtues abovementioned, understood in their proper signification; the man, that is, who is humble without being subservient, simple without being gullible, and sincere without being tactless.
But besides a high degree of moral integrity, the holder of public office must have other qualities as well. The high posts in the executive and legislative departments which are at stake in the forthcoming elections demand men of great prudence, balanced judgment and wide vision, for they will have to frame policies gravely affecting the lives, the property and the future of our people. Thus, it would be extremely foolish for us to cast our votes for candidates who may be capable enough in other ways, and who may even have won fame and fortune because of such abilities, but who give no promise of being the statesmen we need to frame the laws of our country or to direct it towards its chosen ends.
Once again we appeal, as we have appealed in the past, to all men of good will to see to it that the votes of the electorate may be freely cast, truly registered, faithfully transmitted and loyally observed. We appeal especially to the schoolteachers, municipal treasurers and law-enforcement officers, who have rendered such invaluable service in past elections as poll inspectors and custodians of the ballot, to surpass their high previous record of honesty and devotion to duty in the present elections. Let them remember that upon their fidelity depends in a large measure our proud reputation as the show-case of democracy in Asia.
Such are the considerations which we deem proper to propose in view of the forthcoming elections. We propose them in the first instance to the Catholic citizens of the Philippines, for our duty of enlightening consciences is owing to them. But we see no reason why Filipinos of other religious faiths may not join with Catholics in a common effort to raise the level of our political life both in standards and in actual performance. We believe this to be a cause in which we can all cooperate despite our religious differences, for its success will redound to the benefit of all, irrespective of religion, and hence to the peace and prosperity of this nation which we all love so much.
This is our earnest prayer; to this end we ask Almighty God to grant us the grace that our national election may be conducted in a peaceful and orderly manner; that the winning candidates may use the authority with which the people shall have invested them with justice and charity; that those who lose may willingly assume the responsible task of providing a vigorous but loyal opposition; and that all may rise above merely partisan considerations to a large, serene and operative vision of our national destiny.
October 11, 1957, Feast of the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
For the Philippine Hierarchy:
(Sgd.)+JUAN C. SISON, D.D.
Apostolic Administrator, sede plena, Nueva Segovia
President, CWO Administrative Council