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The Church and Filipino politicians

Rev. Eutiquio  B. Belizar, Jr., SThD

By the roadside


POLITICS, especially in the Filipino culture, is basically a game of numbers. Filipino politicians constantly aim for additions or multiplications, never subtractions. They know all too well that this last is a kiss of death. There is no more obvious place to see this at play than during the campaign season. Even the Church—meaning the institutional one, as is often understood by politicians—becomes the object of their “pursue-and-win-over” (or “research-and-destroy”) operations. Undeniably a few members of the hierarchy, both bishops and priests, have very partisan views and dealings, short of using the pulpit to promote their favored candidates. The majority, though, remains a bit wary toward, and/or detached (or try to be) from, anything that has to do with politicians or politics.

Having been taught time and again by the late St. John Paul II and by tracks of seminary formation sessions, including the local bishops’ stern reminders, that the institutional Church—which often means in practice, the clergy, even in the clergy’s own eyes—should be non-partisan, some consequences, positive and negative, have inevitably developed.

Positively, detachment from partisan politics has theoretically and practically freed the clergy from having to actively push for the candidacies of family members, relatives, friends, classmates, and the like. It has enabled them to critique even those closest to them who are into partisan politics and who in turn easily take their feedback as part and parcel of the “moral and spiritual authority” the clergy holds. It has also reduced to the barest minimum the number of priests and religious who run for or hold public office. There are abuses, of course, and our age is no exception. In certain places some priests actively campaign for their preferred candidates or, worse, join in the local debasement of the ballot, such as vote-buying and such other practices. In reaction some bishops have taken measures to prevent a repeat of similar abuses, discussing, and issuing guidelines for the clergy to observe.

Alas, the Church’s basically sound stance of non-partisan political involvement in the country also has undesirable consequences. A glaring one is the sense—a wrong understanding, naturally—among politicians and voters that religion or faith has nothing to do at all with the realm of partisan politics and, even more sadly, in the wider realm of general politics understood as the promotion of the common good. Now, more than ever, many Filipino politicians, once in office, take pains to show their “independence” from the Church (mostly the Catholic Church) by espousing advocacies, bills or measures that directly go against official Church teachings. The current president of the republic and many of his party-mates (and many outsiders too) are a case in point. The successful passage of the RH Bill into law is undoubtedly partly influenced by a sense of “the-Church-or-any-religion-for-that-matter-has-no-business-in-legislation”.

The present crop of candidates for the Philippine House of Representatives and Senate features familiar names, many of them leading in pre-election surveys, who have habitually advanced causes directly contradicting official Church’s positions. As far as they are concerned, the only thing keeping them from successfully passing laws on divorce, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, abortion etc. is the Philippine constitution (thank God). If surveys and polls are to be believed, there may be more of them in both houses of Congress in the coming years. The Church can only ignore them to our own peril.

It may not be useful, and rather late into the night, to play the blame game on our common failure to instill in our Catholic lay faithful their basic mission, as taught by the reforms of Vatican II, to bring the values of the Gospel and the Catholic faith into the wide fields of politics, culture, science, education, and the running of government. But we must at least admit it. Secularization, rather than the Gospel or magisterial teaching, now seems to have a firmer grip on our politicians and voters alike.

Meanwhile, the Church, like the father of the prodigal “sons”, waits and prays for them to return to the house and rediscover their faith in ever newer ways of understanding and applying it. In the past we decry the words: “Now we can only pray.”

Today, it is the first and best thing we can and must do. As a first step, that is, among many others.

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