Fr. Carmelo O. Diola, SSL
Spaces of Hope
IN my last column I wrote about “forging new paths…from the inside” as a key insight towards new evangelization in our country. I ended the article by referring once more to seven questions based on the LASER test that are meant to help individuals discern if they have a vocation in politics.
Nearly two months ago I asked a potential candidate to answer the questions. He obliged me. We spent two hours going through and reflecting upon his answers. The exercise helped him clarify his thoughts on the matter. We ended the mini-recollection with a prayer for enlightenment.
I continue to pray for him as he makes up his mind. I will be sharing the same questions to three other individuals even if they have already made up their minds. Since these individuals belong to different political affiliations, my effort is transpartisan (or panpartisan) rather than partisan.
I am experiencing a deeper appreciation of my role as a pastoral companion for a “new generation of Catholics working in politics,” as Benedict XVI puts it. It involves the skill of listening intently even as one raises questions. It requires a spirit of detachment as one tries to help individuals come to a decision. After all, as one theologian puts it, man’s experience of power as a sharing in the divine dominion is concretely felt in the act of making a decision.
What if members of various Church networks would deliberately—individually or as a group—offer their services to or scout for individuals who may have a calling in politics and then share these questions to them? What if they assure these individuals that their answers would be circulated among their members? After all, politicians seek to be known.
It seems to me that raising questions and circulating these correspond to two realities in the effort to evangelize politics. The first is the need to be idealistic since we assume that people have consciences and that we can appeal to this voice of God embedded in the depths of our being. The second corresponds to the need to be pragmatic since numbers is the language of politics.
The action of raising questions rather than just watching the political scene unfold – which is what many of us experience—is already the start of a paradigm shift. If elections seem like an exercise in futility, it is because it is first of all an exercise in passivity. Asking questions reverses this reality.
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But politics is not just an individual endeavor. It involves groups to socialize individuals into adopting a particular group ethos and to provide support for such individuals who engage in politics. Politics demand real political parties.
I wrote my friend Manny Valdehuesa, founder of Gising Barangay Movement, several months ago to ask him to share his thoughts regarding political parties. Here is his erudite explanation to me.
“What are the elements of a real party in a democracy?
1st of all, a political party is an institution – an organization having a public character, therefore with a heavy responsibility to society. It is to the State what a religious order is to the Church.
2nd, it consists of people who—united by a common set of principles, philosophy or ideology about the national interest and well-being of society—invest time, talent, and treasure (paying dues!) for the attainment of its goals.
3rd, it is organized to capture political power by electing choice candidates to office so that its philosophy or ideology will become public policy to guide government programs and projects—as described or defined in the party’s platform.
4th, in vying for power, a real party promotes democracy by exemplifying the democratic process especially in selecting its officials and candidates, taking care that they represent the core beliefs or preferences of the constituency. This is consistent with the dictum that sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them, and is best achieved through a nomination process involving the rank and file and other adherents guided by a coherent set of criteria.
5th, just as a religious order operates a seminary for priests and acolytes to promote the faith, a real party has a political institute, training center, or program to promote its philosophy or ideology and platform—producing a cadre of campaigners, recruiters, organizers, champions.
6th, its structure consists of officers, members, and party committees or chapters at every level down to the grassroots—i.e. barangay, precinct. The key role of the committee is recruiting candidates, for for local posts (kagawads, chairmen, mayor, governor, etc) then accrediting and proclaiming them, then sending delegates to nominating committees or conventions at higher levels to choose national candidates.
Where there is more than one aspirant to a given public office, the local committee or chapter oversees the process of selection in accordance with party rules and regulations.
After elections, more sophisticated parties form a shadow government parallel to the incumbent administration, with designated or volunteer party members as informal counterparts to sitting officials. The designated ‘shadows’ monitor the operations, activities and conduct of their official counterparts—making appropriate comments or suggestions, while helping the party formulate its positions.
A Party Platform will usually address substantive issues such as the Economy, Foreign Affairs, Education, Environment, Security, Defense, Trade, etc. And these are formulated in generalizations that can be interpreted in various ways—ambiguous by design, difficult to contradict or take issue with. Mother statements! This points out the importance of party caucuses or public meetings where questions can be asked to clarify what they mean or pin them down on their claims, positions, or commitments.
Unfortunately, such forums are no longer being held, especially by poorly educated, intellectually-challenged, and insecure or insincere candidates. Even the platforms are missing, prepared for show only but not generally circulated. This explains why so many misfits, incompentents, and corrupt candidates dominate especially at the grassroots.
It is a measure of our citizenry’s apathy, lack of sophistication, and attitude of resignation to a system that trapos bastardize beyond repair that no community insists on holding such forums.
In fact, the Church, campus institutions, and civil society circles and clubs ought to make it their mission to fill the countryside and barangays with the sound of such caucuses, consultations, and fora (sometimes called ‘deliberative conversations in the community’)—until transparency becomes real and assertive sovereignty awakens in our democracy.
You know, Father, a case should be made of the ‘priesthood’ of politics. If the ultimate ideal of the priestly vocation is to be a saint, that of a politicians is to be a statesman or patriot. While one marches towards the heavenly ideal and the other towards the earthly, both require the spirit of a man-for-others. Both demand dedication. Both serve unselfishly. Statesmanship must characterize our political culture!”
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I was moved by the passion and vision Manny displayed in his letter to me. At 72 he has not lost any of that fire in the belly he mustered as a Christian socio-political worker in his younger years.
Yes indeed: Why can’t our candidates’ and voters’ fora be geared towards challenging our candidates and their groups to move towards real political parties? Why can’t our fora discourse adopt the elements identified by Manny and so lay the groundwork for real parties?
As the N2G3 (National Network for Grassroots Good Governance) connects with local churches—with whole-day gatherings for public servants from both Church and State in Novaliches, Bulacan, Batangas, and Cebu—an impulse to restore sanity into our politics is slowly being felt. With sacrifice, deep prayer, and an authentic spirit of discernment, perhaps we can make Manny’s dream our own.
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