(Feature)Impact of Catholic vote remains to be seen in pre-dominantly Catholic Philippines

May 10, 2016 5:18 am 

By Ronald O. Reyes

TACLOBAN CITY, May 9 (PNA) – Filipinos went to vote on Monday for this year’s national elections, but it remains to be seen whether its 76 million Catholics will have an impact in the poll results.

Compared to the traditional ‘bloc voting’ practiced by other organized denominations in the country like the 1.7 million solid voters from the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC), Catholics remain divided on its so-called Catholic vote.

“No. I uphold the constitutional provision in separation of church and government. If the state upholds freedom of religion, religion like Catholic should let the voters decide on whom to vote,” said Marissa German, a government employee in Palo, Leyte province.

“There is none. Bishops' and priests' exhort on choosing the candidates based on morale standards, respect for others and sense of service patterned towards Christ's call to leadership for others. While church leaders may hope for said qualifications, at the end, freewill blessed by prayers is positively hoped and prayed,” said Harold Naputo, a school teacher in Tacloban city.

The same negative response was echoed by Tacloban vice mayoral candidate Sambo Yaokasin, adding only INC is practicing bloc voting.

"The Catholic Church respects the freedom, the will of every individual. The most she can offer is propose criteria for a good leader to guide voters whom to vote," added Fr. Ric Melendres of Northern Samar province.

Rico Cajife, who works as consultant for the Netherland-based Interchurch Cooperative for Development Cooperation (ICCO) yet a member of the The Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints or commonly called Mormon, he observed that the country has no such thing as Catholic vote during elections.

“There is none. They themselves are divided like the El Shaddai . Yes, somehow they can influence but not significant,” he said

“Is there a Catholic vote? Maybe, although most probably none. Religious beliefs may just be one among many factors that Catholics consider in elections,” said Tonyo Cruz, known social critic in Manila.

Although the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has released a pastoral statement for the elections, which has been interpreted as dissuading Catholics from voting for a particular candidate, the bishops’ organization did not name names, according to Cruz.

“If the objective is to match the INC's bloc voting, this is impossible. INC's religious beliefs include voting as one body — which forms part of its believers' constitutional right to free hold beliefs. The Catholics don't have such a doctrine,” he added.

Cruz recalled that Catholic parties fielded presidential and Vice-presidential candidates in 2010, yet they fared badly.

Along with the negative views, some Catholics also came forward to declare that Catholic vote is possible during elections.

Eileen Ballesteros, a court employee and active lector at the Sto Niño Church Parish in Tacloban, declared there is a Catholic vote.

“Yes. Parishioners who have high trust in the church as well as the clergy taking care of God's flock believe in what their stewards exhort them including whom to vote although the CBCP is not endorsing any candidate,” she said.

A known Filipino journalist from Palo, Leyte now a U.S. citizen Danny Petilla firmly believed that there is a presence of Catholic vote in the Philippines knowing that “our country is a very conservative country, fear of God, respect for institutions and existing order.”

Petilla said that although this year’s presidential forerunner Rodrigo Duterte, who earned the ire of Catholic church due to his alleged crimes and unrepentant personality, “will not get that vote, but there are a lot of Catholics that will vote for him.”

“It will just not be a solid vote because of his devil-may-care personality,” he said, while expressing his frustration on the violent and corrupt political landscape of the country.

“I cannot vote here for Philippine elections, I have been a U.S. citizen since October 14 last year. I decided to be a U.S. citizen after staying there for 17 months, I was so sad to see that my homeland still plagued by the same problems from the day I left,” Petilla said in an interview.

Chief Insp. Maria Bella Rentuaya, public information officer of the Eastern Visayas regional police, also said that there is a catholic vote if people choose a righteous candidate and make his choice with freewill.

Catholic vote ambiguous yet existing

Cebu city and award-winning columnist priest Roy Cimagala maintained that if one means by Catholic Vote is Catholics vote as a bloc, like the INC, he said the answer is no.

“But there definitely is also a Catholic vote….In other words, it is voting to a Catholic is an act of prudence,” he said.

Archdiocese of Palo outspoken priest Virgilio Cañete also said that the question on whether there is a catholic vote is an “ambiguous.”

“We don’t indulge in block voting, or the hierarchy recommending candidates to be voted on. There are only guidelines issued, which sometimes is misread as a campaign ‘against’ some personalities. So there is really no Catholic vote in that sense because the Catholic way is to leave voters free to follow their conscience.

“There is, if you notice Catholic personages even in social media, joining discussion. There was a political party inspired by Catholic social teaching trying to be in the midst of the political ferment. But really, it’s not their time. Now such a party, composed of lay peoples who wish to serve government, is silent. That is the way since clerics, the bishops are barred from ‘partisan politics,’” he added, while naming some priests who ran during previous elections.

Asked if pastoral letter is not sufficient enough to influence its flock to take a united stand on whom to choose, Canete said the letter also came misinterpreted.

“We cannot just heard them. The letters are supposed to be reflected on and acted upon,” he said.

Pressed on the same issue, Msgr. Ramon Aguilos of the Palo Archdiocese said his views have been reflected also in the latest pastoral letter of CBCP President Archbishop Socrates Villegas, as the prelate offered his prayer for the country to be united and be healed due to politics instead of naming candidates for its flock to elect on Monday.

“The Catholic Church has never asked any political candidate to seek its endorsement, but the Catholic Church has always demanded of Catholic voters that they cast their votes as an act not only of citizenship but also as a public declaration of faith. We ask this most earnestly of all of you, Catholic brothers and sisters, in the forthcoming election,” Villegas said in his letter.

“There is a fundamental difference between right and wrong, and not everything is fair game in politics. A choice for a candidate who takes positions that are not only politically precarious but worse, morally reprehensible, cannot and should not be made by the Catholic faithful and those who take their allegiance to Christ and his Kingship seriously.” (PNA)

RMA/SQM/RONALD O. REYES/EGR

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