Greetings of love and peace in the Lord!
In a few months, we shall again reach a most critical phase in the unfolding history of our beloved country. All of us who are of the required age will come forward to perform our very serious civic and moral duty to vote into office the people who will lead us in our continuing quest for mature and just nationhood.
We, your bishops given charge by the Lord of shepherding his flock, address you this letter as we recall the exhortation of Vatican II: “Every citizen ought to be mindful of his right and his duty to promote the common good by using his vote” (G.S. 75).
Once more, we challenge your patriotism because in the coming elections our duty as Christians coincides with our duty as citizens. Pope John Paul has told us:
• In order to achieve their task directed to the Christian animation of the temporal order, in the sense of serving persons and society, the lay faithful are never to relinquish their participation in public life; that is, in the many different economic, social legislative, administrative and cultural areas, which are intended to promote organically and institutionally the common good (Christifideles Laici, no. 42).
The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines also strongly urged the lay faithful to participate in political activity. It said,
• “In the Philippines today, given the moral perception that politics has become an obstacle to integral development, the urgent necessity is for the lay faithful to participate more actively, with singular competence and integrity in political affairs” (PCP-II, p. 63).
These coming elections are very important acts of this needed participation in public life.
The importance of what we must do has been heightened by what we have done or failed to do in the past five years of transition. Some have all too willingly, and others unwittingly, allowed the squandering of time, spirit, and opportunities in our task of reconstructing a democratic society. We must change all this.
The past five years of irreplaceably lost opportunity demonstrate that the realization of our goals is determined very much by the electoral process. We have seen the wastage of our nation’s resources and the perversion of democratic principles in the disservice done by those individuals who have proven themselves unworthy of the office entrusted to them. We seem unable to establish a democracy that can ensure the satisfaction of our people’s basic human needs, and promote a life of peace and dignity.
The key is in how we shall recognize and vote for true, generous and committed leaders of service and in how we shall preserve the sanctity and value of our votes. We have made some progress in this regard. But we must preserve and improve our gains.
There are indispensable requirements to be met so that the elections in 1992 and in subsequent years may serve as democratic instruments for establishing and changing political leaders and for securing societal changes beneficial to the people.
The first requirement is a wise, informed and formed electorate. The mature social conscience will reject as objectionable and harmful our typical politics of pay-offs, patronage and personalities. The mature social conscience will vote on the basis of political, social, and economic issues and programs. Such maturity of conscience will surely assist in transforming our nation into a genuine democracy.
For this reason we must commit ourselves to a program aimed at raising the level of our voters’ political judgment. The marginalized sectors of our citizenry, powerless and often almost helpless, must realize that they ultimately end up as victims when the politics of pay-offs, patronage and personalities is perpetuated. Only when they insist that political leaders be honest and commit themselves to the poor can they be delivered from their abject condition. We all need to realize that buying or selling votes is always wrong. And we must act on this conviction. The temporary material benefit gained from immoral electoral practices can never outweigh the long-term destruction that they inflict on the democratic system and on the free and responsible values of the Filipino person.
We must know the candidates and the issues, and pray to the Lord, to show us whom he chooses to serve our people: “O Lord, make known to us whom you choose” (cf. Acts 1:24).
The second requirement is the existence of conditions that will enable voters to choose freely. Freedom of choice is undermined by corruption, fraud, force and intimidation.
In the past elections we witnessed the persistent and abhorent use of “guns, goons, and gold”. Political hooliganism and vote-buying have survived our efforts to change politics into becoming moral and mature. Even now talks are rife about expenditure of money far in excess of limits established by law and from sources that are highly objectionable, like illegal gambling and foreign interests. Guns are reported to have been smuggled into the country, in quantities allegedly sufficient to equip two more armies.
Candidates who resort to these practices do not deserve the offices they seek. They have no commitment and moral responsibility to the people. When elected they will most likely use again the same means to pursue their personal interests and those of their patrons at the expense of the people. We must denounce them and their practices. We must exact a promise from those who hold and aspire for political power to foreswear such practices.
3. The third requirement is the organization of our people down to the precinct level to combat the age-old practices calculated to falsify the expressed wishes of the people and to attain victory at any cost. Ballot-box stuffing, the switching and falsification of election documents and the intimidation and bribery of election officials sadly persist. To guard against these evils, we must set up task forces which are technically competent in election rules and courageous in the face of formidable intimidation. Parish pastoral councils can set up these task forces in parishes, and basic ecclesial communities can do the same for their localities. In this effort, we must link arms with one another and with others similarly intentioned in every barangay in the country, and thus overcome evil with good (cf. Rom. 12:21).
We urge the Commission on Elections to be steadfast in guarding against fraud and ensuring the free expression of the people’s will.
We are not helpless. If we are in solidarity there is much that we can do. If we reflect together, we can choose wisely. If we act together, we can assert real popular sovereignty in the elections. If we organize ourselves, we can screen out those who are unworthy to serve. We can vote into office capable persons of high moral integrity who are truly committed to promoting the common good. It is through our votes that God wants to choose those who will exercise God-given powers over us.
The time to prepare and act has begun. Even as forces of corruption plot their moves, we must prepare to resist them. We must be on God’s side, the side of justice and integrity, for we are his people.
In the exercise of our pastoral responsibility, we shall issue another letter to you for our common reflection and strengthening as the elections draw nearer.
Together with Mary, patroness of our country, we humbly and earnestly pray for God’s grace. Gifted with this grace, we shall prevail.
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:
(Sgd.)+LEONARDO Z. LEGASPI, OP, D.D.
Archbishop of Caceres
22 July 1991
Feast of St. Mary Magdalene