bishop antonio ledesma

Christians in Politics – A Right and a Responsibility

Christians in Politics – A Right and a Responsibility

Antonio J. Ledesma, SJ
Archbishop of Cagayan de Oro

This year, the Easter season coincides with the official start of the electoral campaign period for local candidates. We are also approaching the final month before national and local elections. Christians once more are challenged to exercise their right – but much more their responsibility – to be involved in “the difficult yet noble art of politics” (Vatican II, GS 75).

I. Gospel values

Over the past decade, the Catholic bishops have made three calls to voters: (1) to form circles of discernment; (2) to engage in principled partisan politics; and (3) to exercise their right and duty to vote for candidates who work for the common good.

Forming circles of discernment, in Basic Ecclesial Communities or any other grouping, is one way to ensure that the individual can listen to other perspectives and arrive at a more balanced and collective decision regarding pressing issues and choice of candidates.

Engaging in principled partisan politics means that Christian voters should first clarify their own principles in the light of Gospel values. Then they can enter the process of discernment and form their choices of individuals as well as of political parties. For this is the essence of elections for political office: that the voter ultimately casts his ballot on election day by making partisan choices.

Some church-affiliated organizations and volunteers choose a non-partisan stand as neutral workers for the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) or the National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL). In effect these groups work with the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) as referees to ensure what PPCRV has dubbed as Clean, Honest, Accurate, Meaningful, and Peaceful (CHAMP) elections.

On the other hand, other Catholic laity may choose to exercise their right to adopt a trans-partisan or partisan stand in the choice of candidates. This resonates with the third call to support and vote for candidates who work for the common good.

What then is the common good? The social teachings of the Church describe it as “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily” (Vatican II, GS 26). Indeed, this constitutes the first of five principles enunciated by the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (no. 351) for the participation of Catholics in political life.

“a) that the basic standard for participation be the pursuit of the common good;
b) that participation be characterized by a defense and promotion of justice;
c) that participation be inspired and guided by the spirit of service;
d) that it be imbibed with a love of preference for the poor; and
e) that empowering people be arrived at both as a process and as a goal of political activity.”
The over-all values that underpin these principles are solidarity and participation of all individual citizens and various groups in public life (PCP II, no. 353).

II Five C’s in choosing candidates

Candidates for public office need to be evaluated according to some objective criteria since their decisions and actions, if elected, can have far-reaching effects for or against the common good of the community. Indeed, Pope Francis himself has pointed out that “politics, though often denigrated, remains a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good.” (italics added)

How then can we discern if a national or local candidate can and will work for the common good? Within their circle of discernment, voters can adopt an evaluation process based on five C’s that can give us a more balanced understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate.

The first C is Conscience. Is the candidate a person of moral integrity? Is he or she God-fearing and maka-Dios? Does he have a moral compass? Does he follow the dictates of his conscience that tells him what is morally right and morally wrong? Does he respect human rights and the dignity of every person, including crime suspects, indigenous people and rebel groups? Is he transparent and accountable in public transactions? Are there charges of corruption against him? Of vote-buying and other election malpractices?

Integrity comes from the root word meaning “whole,” whereas corruption denotes cor-rumpere or a fragmented heart. Pope Francis has observed that “corruption is a sinful hardening of the heart that replaces God with the illusions that money is a form of power.”

The second C is Competence. What is the candidate’s educational background? How is his health situation (physical, mental, etc.)? What is his record of service – both in government or in private life? Does he have enough years of experience for the office he is running for?

In the same way that we ride a plane with the assurance that the pilot is adequately trained and experienced, so also we have to scrutinize the competence of those who offer to pilot the ship of state or our local community.
Competence or capability should not be based on popularity alone, or on name recall. We do not go to a medical doctor simply because of his name or title. We make sure that he has the needed credentials for his profession. How much more do we need to scrutinize candidates who purport to heal not only individuals but the social ills of society.

The third C is Compassion. Does the candidate show an option for the poor and marginalized? Is he maka-tao? Is he willing to work for social justice to address the social problems of mass poverty and inequality – e.g., by pushing for asset reforms? Does he protect the rights of minority communities – particularly indigenous people, Muslims, and other marginalized sectors? Does he work for the empowerment of the poor, instead of just giving dole-outs? Finally, the candidate should not be seen as elitist or pro-rich and powerful.

The fourth C is Companionship. Who are the candidate’s supporters and advisers? Are they persons of integrity with a sound reputation? Does the candidate belong to a political party? What is its platform for governance? Are these simply promises or a concrete program of government?

Does the candidate belong to a political dynasty or is he beholden to traditional politicians (trapos)? Research findings have pointed out a disturbing correlation between the presence of political dynasties and poverty incidence, violence and corruption. The Philippine Constitution has also indicated the need to control political dynasties.

The fifth C in evaluating candidates is Commitment. Does the candidate manifest sincerity, decisiveness, and political will in his leadership style? Questions of loyalty to country in terms of citizenship and residency requirements have to be addressed. Where was the candidate during the Martial Law years and what was his stand then and now? Is he maka-bayan? What is his stand on key issues today such as protection of the environment, peace-building, and anti-poverty programs?

These then are the five C’s – Conscience, Competence, Compassion, Companionship, and Commitment – that can give us a more realistic profile of each candidate. The candidate can be rated for each C along a scale from “very poor” to “very good.” On their part, each candidate will likely highlight only his strong points in some of the five C’s.

Yet, for voters, it is imperative to weigh all the five C’s in a candidate’s profile to arrive at a more balanced view of whom to vote for. For the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), this is the meaning of One Good Vote – by the individual and for ever-widening Circles of Discernment.

“Opus Solidaritatis Pax”

+Antonio J. Ledesma, SJ
Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro

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