To the People of God in the Philippines,

Another crossroads in our nation’s history is confronting us.  Even before the campaign season begins, the elections of 2004 have already been poisoned by a climate of confusion, cynicism, and loss of credibility.  More than ever, political patronage, pay-offs and personalities dominate our electoral process, not principles, party platforms and genuine people’s participation.

In this critical moment, we hear Jesus’ assuring words, “Be not afraid” (Mk 6:50). We therefore confidently face up to the following challenges:

1. We have to uphold the constitutional process and the rule of law.  Clean, honest, and orderly elections are the hallmarks of a working democracy.  There are indeed shortcomings and threats to our democratic way of life.  But the freedoms we cherish are best safeguarded by a vigilant and informed citizenry during times of election. The opposite scenario would be recourse to violence, attempted coups, and anarchy. We have to work together. In various parts of the country, citizens’ movements for clean elections and good governance have sprung up.  These are often multi-sectoral, interfaith groupings of concerned citizens involved in political education, scrutiny of candidates’ qualifications, and poll-watching. With the advances in communications technology, these citizens’ groups have the potential to reach out to all sectors of society. We commend their efforts.

2. We support the formation and networking of these groups throughout the country.  In our own dioceses, we shall encourage local groups and communities to participate critically in these discussions. In particular, we reiterate the call to the Catholic laity to exercise their Christian responsibility and noble calling to be involved in politics through education in social responsibility, non-partisan poll-watching, in the conscientious choices of candidates, etc.

3. We have to believe in our own power to transform society. Clean and meaningful elections and transformed politics depend on ordinary people and on each one of us.  We start with our own values and attitudes (e.g., walang hihingi sa panahon ng eleksyon). Let us encourage the teachers, the youth, the police force, military people, and others directly involved in the elections to exercise their roles uprightly. In a Church of the Poor, it is the poor who must take the lead in transforming our society. All of us, especially the poor, must realize that this transformed society requires leaders to be public servants, not providers of favors.

Finally, we invite all of you to join us in prayer during this election period—that God’s grace may enlighten us at this difficult crossroads in our nation’s journey. May the First Friday devotion to the Sacred Heart focused on Conversion, Offering and Renewal, as well as the entire Lenten season, provide us moments of prayer —to take courage, and be guided by the Gospel as we hope for a brighter dawn for our nation. As Jesus sent his disciples, Jesus sends us now, with the same promise, “I am with you always.” (Mt 28: 20).

For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines

Archbishop of Davao
President, CBCP

26 January 2004