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Pastoral Exhortation on the 1998 Elections

Soon it will be election time.  We shall again be choosing the people who will govern us.  We shall also be choosing the kind of future we want for ourselves.  For our future depends most of all on our choices, and especially on our choice of leaders.

Present-day Crises

The choices we make in this election are critically important because of the difficulties that beset us.  We are undergoing a very severe economic crisis.  After what many thought was an economic take-off that had brought us close to the status of a newly-industrialized country, we are experiencing an economic downturn brought about by the steep depreciation of the value of the peso in relation to the U.S. dollar.  It appears that this economic crisis will be with us for some time.  In the meantime thousands of our people are losing their jobs even as the prices of goods increase.  All of us suffer, but most especially the poor.

Compounding our difficulties is an ecological crisis.  We are suffering from the "El Niņo" phenomenon.  Many places lack rain so necessary for our farms.  Even clean water for our domestic needs has become scarce and expensive.  "La Niņa" which threatens to be even more destructive is expected to follow.  All of this comes in addition to the pollution of our air and rivers, and the destruction of our ecosystem.

We are also undergoing a socio-political crisis.  Peace and order has deteriorated.  There has been a marked increase in the number of kidnappings for ransom.  Robberies both on a small and big scale and the killing of innocent victims often after they have been sexually violated are unchecked.  The problem of insurgency continues to disturb the peace while the drug menace continues to spread.  A most disturbing aspect of many crimes is the acknowledged fact that many of those who commit them are law enforcers.  This has resulted in a serious loss of confidence in the ability of our police and military personnel to combat crime and preserve peace and order.

The words of Scripture seem to be literally realized among us:  "Arrogant scoundrels pursue the poor; they trap them by their cunning schemes.  The wicked even boast of their greed; . . . their affairs always succeed; . . . The helpless are crushed, laid low; they fall into the power of the wicked" (Ps. 9-10: 2-3, 5, 10).

Underlying all of these crises is a moral crisis .  In our society today the highest premium is given to money and power.  Greed for money and power are what fuel the corruption and violence that is eating up our social fabric.  Add to this the hedonism that is fostered by the mass media and the scandal that is given by prominent personalities who are able to flaunt not only the law of the land but the law of God with seeming impunity.  Many of our leaders in politics, in business, and in the entertainment world seem to be guided by no other moral compass than self-interest.  In the political field, especially, these words seem to apply to many leaders:  "...there is no sincerity in their mouths; their hearts are corrupt.  Their throats are open graves; on their tongues are subtle lies" (Ps. 5:10).  No wonder, many of our youth go through life without any moral direction, and many adults suffer from cynicism.  We, your pastors, have our share of fault in this moral crisis gripping our country, and we take this occasion to ask pardon from God and from you for our own offenses and omissions.

The crises that mark our times make it imperative that in these coming elections we choose the right persons to lead us and that we ensure respect for our choices.  Not too long ago, we wrote a Pastoral Exhortation on Philippine Politics .  We refer you to what we said there, but in this letter we wish to underline the necessity of honest and credible elections and the correct choice of elected officials.

The Necessity of Honest and Credible Elections

In the context of the times, we must make sure first of all that those who become our leaders in government are those whom we have in fact freely chosen to lead us.  We must work for HONEST ELECTIONS.  We should make sure that people are able to freely vote for those whom they wish, that all forms of cheating are eliminated and that the votes are counted correctly from the precinct level to the final canvassing, so that the rightful winners are proclaimed and assume office.  We should not allow candidates to steal public offices they do not deserve to occupy while depriving us of the services of those whom we have chosen to serve us.  Those who steal public office will steal from public coffers.  While imposing themselves upon the people they will not hesitate to lay heavy burdens on them.  Cheats do not make good public servants.

It is people who cheat.  The automation or computerization of the voting and counting does not guarantee honest elections.  Dishonest persons can use machines to cheat.  Only the correct moral formation of persons and our concerted vigilance will serve as adequate safeguards against election cheating.

We ask the public school teachers who will be drafted to work as members of the board of elections inspectors to be true to their conscience, to their profession and to their country in the performance of their duties.

We appeal to the different parties and candidates to conduct themselves with honor.  Public office is a public trust.  Those who wish to be leaders in the political community must behave like servants and not as thieves.  To gain public office by cheating is to usurp what does not belong to you.  A person who wins public office by cheating must restore that stolen public office to the rightful winner.  This is not only an obligation under the law but a moral obligation in conscience before God.

We appeal to you, our countrymen and countrywomen,  not to cheat or allow yourselves to be used in any way for cheating in the elections.  Do not vote more than once.  Do not buy votes.  Do not intimidate others.  Do not miscount the votes or report falsely the results of the voting.  God sees what we do, even when no one else seems to know.

One form of cheating--vote-buying--is particularly revolting.  It demeans both the person who buys the vote of another and the person who sells his vote.  The person who sells his vote shows that his choice can be bought, and that he is willing to sell his and the country's future to the vote-buyer.  In so doing he confirms the vote-buyer's low opinion of him.  The person who buys votes makes clear that he will not hesitate to demean the dignity of the voters to obtain an elective position, and by that fact shows he does not deserve to be elected.

We must not give even the impression of condoning this immoral practice of vote-buying.  Hence, we ask our voters not to accept money from those who would buy their votes, but to shame vote buyers by their outright refusal to be bought.

Another form of cheating is the use of intimidation and violence.  People are forced to either not vote or to vote for a candidate who is not their choice.  To prevent intimidation and violence, we urge the COMELEC to strictly enforce a total gun ban during election time as has been successfully done in the past.  We exhort those deputized by the COMELEC to do their duties with conscientiousness and impartiality.  Likewise, citizens should band together or join citizens' groups like the PPC-RV, NAMFREL and VOTE-CARE in order to prevent or report instances of coercion.

Recent experience has shown that much of the cheating has been effectively done through the tampering of the vote counts.  Dagdag-bawas has shown that the correct counting of votes at the precinct level does not guarantee honest election results.  Votes can be added to or subtracted from the true results before they reach the final canvassing.  The delay in the tallying of votes increases the likelihood of dagdag-bawas.  Hence, it is necessary to count , tally and canvass the votes as fast as possible in order to prevent this pernicious form of cheating.  The vigilance of citizens' groups should be unrelenting.

Again, we repeat that at this critical point of our history, it is of paramount importance that those who get proclaimed as winners in the elections are those who in fact have won, no matter who they are.  The survival of our democracy demands that the people are ruled by those whom they want to rule over them, and whom they have truly and freely voted into office.  To put it bluntly, it is preferable that persons who are less qualified but voted into office in an honest election should govern our people than that supposedly more qualified men who have dishonestly won the election should govern our nation.  Hence, we must give top priority to securing honest elections.

The Necessity of Voting the Right People into Office

However, it is also of the utmost importance that we vote the right people to office.  But who are the right persons to vote for?  Whom does God want us to designate to become bearers of that awesome authority which emanates from him (cf. Rom. 13:1)?  In the past, we enumerated some guidelines to help our people make the correct choices.  Those guidelines remain valid.  But allow us to set forth a simplified guide for these elections.

In choosing our leaders in the political community it would be most logical to look first at the platforms and programs of the different political parties.  But unfortunately in our country there are practically no differences in the platforms and programs of the different parties.  Proof of this is the ease with which candidates even for the highest offices transfer parties or form alliances when their personal interests suit it.  We need to focus our attention on the qualities needed by our elective public officials.

The most necessary qualification that a candidate must have is COMPETENCE in relation to the office he is seeking to be elected to.  Is the candidate capable of fulfilling the duties of the office he aspires to?  Does he have the physical health, mental ability, and emotional capability needed to handle the demands of his office?  In other words, can the candidate do the job if elected?

An important element of this competence especially in regard to our next President and Vice-president is the candidate's possession of that quality called LEADERSHIP.  We need a President whom the people can look up to, who can inspire confidence and motivate them to unite and conspire towards the common good.  Leadership is not the same as popularity or prowess in oratory.  Neither is it the capacity to manipulate people towards self-serving ends.  Leadership is rather a way of serving that draws people together and draws the best from them so that they dare to forge a better future together despite all obstacles.

In these critical times we need a President who has the leadership required to lead us out of the economic turmoil and to restore peace and order in our land.

The competence of a candidate is to be measured from his native qualities and his track record in serving the community.  The way a person has served in the past is a better gauge of his competence than any academic credentials he may hold.  Performance, not promises or popularity, is the test of competence.

The second qualification necessary is the PERSONAL INTEGRITY of the candidate.  The candidate should not only be competent.  He should also be God-fearing, God-loving (maka-Diyos ) and moral.  And morality means first of all an absolute commitment to uphold the human rights and freedom of others, and honesty in the handling of public funds.  Morality also means truthfulness, and upright conduct in one's private and family life.

Personal integrity means, finally, that while we must make allowances for human weakness and sin in our public officials, we have a right to expect them to hold on to sound moral principles and to follow those principles with consistency.

For example, we have a right to expect our public officials, but especially our President and Vice-President to uphold respect for human life from conception to its natural end, and to protect the sanctity of the family, as mandated by our Constitution, both by the measures they romote and by the example of their own lives.

A third paramount quality we should seek in candidates for public office is a proven commitment to the common good.  We should elect persons who can transcend narrow self and family interests and are willing to make sacrifices for the public good.  Corrupt persons do not have this commitment.  Neither do those politicians whose actions are guided only by convenience or the desire to do the popular thing whether it be right or wrong.  Such persons should not be voted into public office.

In sum, we ask you to vote into office, especially as President and Vice-President candidates who have exhibited COMPETENT LEADERSHIP, PERSONAL INTEGRITY and COMMITMENT TO THE COMMON GOOD.

Our Competence as Pastors and its Limits

While we as your pastors propose to you these guidelines based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ (cf., e.g., Mk. 10:35-45; Mt. 24:45-51; 25:14-30; Jn. 13:1-35) to help you in voting for the right persons, we nevertheless wish to make clear that it is not our pastoral duty, nor does it fall within our pastoral competence, to name for you the persons who meet these qualifications best.  It is your task, our dear lay faithful, to inform yourselves of the qualifications of each candidate and to judge how they conform to the guidelines we have furnished.  We can only tell you what kind of persons you should vote for.  We are not entitled to dictate to you whom to vote for.

Encouragement to Various Groups

We wish to encourage non-partisan groups like PPC-RV, VOTE-CARE, NAMFREL, and similar organizations to carry out voter-education campaigns to inform the people of the requisite qualities for elective public officials.  We also ask the candidates and their supporters to honestly present the reasons why they or their candidates merit to be voted for, without however resorting to black propaganda against rival candidates.  We remind everyone that the law of God remains in force during the campaign period and election time.

We take this occasion to urge the building up of basic ecclesial communities and the formation of their members in the correct Christian participation  in politics.

Elections are always a momentous event in our country.  But these critical times make the forthcoming elections for President, Vice-President, and other elective officials especially important for our future.   The difficulties that have befallen us are due in large measure to our disregard for God's will in our political life as a nation.  "A person will reap exactly what he plants" (Gal. 6:7).  We have planted seeds of political corruption;  we are reaping economic and social troubles.   We have allowed ourselves to be swallowed by the culture of greed for money and power; we have gotten the leaders that we have deserved by our surrender to evil election practices.  We have sold our future for short term gains; our misdeeds have produced a harvest of misery, the punishment for our national sins.

If we wish upon ourselves the blessings of the Lord and peace and prosperity, we should do his will in all things, especially in politics.  We should spare no effort to make these elections honest and meaningful.  Let us once and for all rid ourselves of the policy of the politics of guns, goons and gold and those who practice it.  Let us make every effort to vote first of all, and to vote for the right persons to lead our country as we enter the third millennium, and let us make sure that the real winners are declared the winners.  Let us vote for the right persons and let us together protect our ballot.

Our Prayer

Since even our best efforts will come to nothing without the help of God, we invoke upon our people the grace of the Holy Spirit who renews the face of the earth (cf. Ps. 104, 30), and we ask the intercession of Mary, Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ and our Mother, to obtain for us through honest elections the leaders we need.  In this way may our people become a people acceptable to the Lord as we approach the year of the Great Jubilee in 2000 A.D.

For the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines:

Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan

31 January 1998

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