Friday, April 26, 2013

Philippine Election 2013: Churches or Religious Leaders Should Refrain from Endorsing or Opposing the Election of Candidates

The Philippine election is just around the corner. Since the country gained independence from the United States, it has been the practice of some churches through their priests or religious leaders to endorse or oppose the election of candidates for public office. At present, some priests of the Catholic Church are endorsing or opposing the election of some senatorial candidates over the Reproductive Health (RH) Law. People are also expecting that within several days the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC), a minority but strong and solid sect will publicly announce its endorsement of senatorial bets. Members of this sect are known for voting as a bloc during election.

Despite the fact that RH Bill is already a law, the Catholic Church is still fighting against its implementation. It also vows to oppose measures on matters that promote abortion, gay marriage and other social issues. Filipinos look up to their religious leaders for moral guidance and spiritual enrichment. Because of that role the church has been at odds with government leaders who were dictatorial and corrupt. A case in point is the role played by the church in denouncing the Marcos regime for its violations of human rights and other excesses. Most people however are averse of the church interfering on their right of suffrage or of priest engaging in partisan political activity. Partisanship during the election may involve telling the members on whom to vote during the election or telling the voters not to vote for some candidates especially if it is done through the pulpit or publicly through the radio and other media. There is no issue if a religious leader expresses his voting preference in a private and personal forum or in a private conversation with his flock, friends and acquaintances.                                               

The involvement of religious leaders in partisan political acts, and the practice of politicians in seeking the help of a religious leader to boost their candidacy are not good since it may bring about undesirable consequences. Politicians who think that they win because of the help of a church through its leaders will be beholden to them so that they may not make policies or enact laws that are detrimental to the interest of that religious group. In return the religious group may turn a blind eye to the inefficiency or the abuses of the powers that be.

If religious leaders can really make politicians win an election because of their hold on their members, then they are a force to reckon with in the Philippine society. Politicians would not dare to cross their path lest they lost in the election. Under these circumstances said religious leaders can exert its influence or pressure on officials in the important branches of the government which are the legislative, executive and the judiciary. In exchange of their votes and other support, these religious groups can also put their members in high positions in the government because of their power and connections. As a result, the principle of the separation of the church and the state will be undermined because religious leaders can influence the affairs of the government behind the scenes.

To improve the Philippine electoral process, legislators should pass laws prohibiting religious leaders from endorsing or opposing the election of candidates during election or from engaging in activities that are politically partisan. Religious groups which insist to engage in partisan political activities should be stripped of their tax-exempt status.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Sense of Deja Vu in the Ambush of Mayor Ruth Guingona

Just a few days before the mid-term Philippine election on May 13, 2013, the convoy of Mayor Ruth de Lara Guingona was ambushed in the evening of April 20, 2013 by about 50 communist rebels. The incident happened after the mayor had gone to the village of Alatagan to crown the winner of the fiesta’s local beauty pageant.         

Mayor Guingona belongs to the prominent de Lara family whose patriarch Vicente de Lara was a former congressman and governor of Misamis Oriental. The park at the provincial capitol was named after him.

On the convoy’s way home, the insurgents tried to stop the first vehicle by setting up a bamboo roadblock. Sensing danger, the driver managed to break through the armed men by ignoring them and by speeding up the vehicle. However, the vehicle where the mayor was on was impeded by the road block.  That vehicle was fired upon with rifles and grenade launcher. The communists however were not able to get close to the overturned vehicle because the police escorts exchanged fires with them. During the firefight the driver and one of her bodyguards shielded the mayor from the bullets which cost their lives. That extraordinary act of loyalty saved the life of the mayor although she suffered from bullet and shrapnel wounds in her arms and feet. After she and her companions were rescued by reinforcing troops, the mayor was airlifted by a chopper to Cagayan de Oro, and she was later confined at the CUMC Hospital. The doctors pronounced her condition as stable.

In a statement the CPP/NPA leadership of Northern Mindanao took responsibility for the incident and apologized to the mayor and her family. It said that the higher leadership of the regional NPA did not order the action of its armed men. And what happened was its men’s own initiative in instantaneously reacting to a certain tactical situation in the field. It alleged that it was the escorts of the mayor who fired the first shot.  It also said that the mayor violated the NPA’s own policies of the election gun ban, that the mayor entered the NPA controlled territory without first asking permit and that she brought along with her police escorts. However, the escorts of the mayor refuted the CPP/NPA’s statements and asserted that what really happened was an ambush.

In the aftermath of the ambush different sectors condemned the incident that was perpetrated by the CPP/NPA considering that the mayor is already 78 years old and that she is not a candidate in the election. She is already in the third and last of her term as mayor, and that she is not seeking anymore another elective office. President Benigno Aquino who happened to be in a campaign sortie in Cagayan de Oro and Misamis Oriental made a brief visit to the mayor in the hospital on April 22, 2013. The president who is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces vowed to go after the perpetrators and bring them to justice.

The attempt on the life or the killing of a wife of former high government officials of the Philippines is not unprecedented. Mayor Ruth de Lara Guingona, the wife of former Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr. is a victim of communist terrorism. The most prominent victim was Aurora Aragon Quezon, the wife of the late Manuel L. Quezon, the first president of the Philippine Commonwealth. On April 28, 1949, the former first lady was on her way to the opening of Quezon Memorial Hospital when her convoy of 13 vehicles was waylaid and ambushed by about 100-200 communist rebels along Baler-Bongabong Road. In that incident the former first lady and her daughter “Baby” were killed.

The murder of the well-loved former first lady boomeranged to the communists because many Filipinos were outraged of the act. Ramon Magsaysay who was appointed as defense secretary and later elected as President of the Philippines dealt a death blow to the growing menace of Communist insurgency which during its height nearly captured the national capital of Manila. The social reforms that he instituted restored the people’s faith in the government, and his aggressive military actions against the armed communists who were also called the HUKBALAHAP effectively crushed the communist rebellion in the Philippines in the early 50’s.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A March for Life and for Clean, Honest and Orderly Election

On the afternoon of April 20, 2013, members of the Knight of Columbus of Cagayan de Oro and Misamis Oriental marched from Vicente de Lara Park at the provincial capitol building to Plaza Divisoria passing through main streets of Cagayan de Oro City.

The march was a show of Knight of Columbus members’ support for the conduct of free, honest and orderly May 13, 2013 mid-term election. It is also their expression of solidarity with the Catholic Church in opposing government policies and issues that will affect the morality of the faithful. A simple program was held at Plaza Divisoria. The speakers included Atty. Macudi Agus, Master of the 4th degree; Atty. Proculo Sarmin, 8th Division, NLRC commissioner and Monsignor Elmer Abacahin, President of the Cagayan de Oro Press Club.

The speakers deplored election anomalies such as vote buying, vote selling and cheating. They also touched on the Reproductive Health (RH) Law, abortion, divorce and same sex marriage. The Knight of Columbus being the defenders of the Catholic faith were urged to support the Catholic church in its stand on those issues that undermines the faithful‘s moral and spiritual fortitude.  Although Reproductive Health Bill was already signed by President Aquino into law, the petitioners against it successfully got a restraining order from the Philippine Supreme Court thus suspending its implementation.

Although the gathering was aimed in discussing present political and social issues, it was however non-partisan. It did not specifically mention or endorse any name of a candidate for the election. But the members are enjoined to take heed on the Catholic Church guidance on the ideal traits of a candidate. These include being pro-life, pro-people, pro-God, pro-environment and being patriotic.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Can Facebook Help Candidates Win in the May 2013 Philippine Mid-term Election?

With less than a month for the May 13, 2013 Philippine mid-term election, local and national candidates are now in the homestretch of their campaign to win an elective office.

In this election, candidates spend huge amount of effort and money to carry out their activities that include shaking of hands, speaking before a crowd in a public stage and the pasting of posters in places where it is allowed to be done.                                   

The advent of the internet and the availability of social networking service site like Facebook and Twitter have made it possible for new comers and least known candidates to enhance their electoral campaign by the use of said internet sites. Candidates must however adhere to the terms and policies in using site such as Facebook since any violation can result to the banning of their account.                                                                                                                                                                      

A candidate who has an account in Facebook can make his political programs known to his friends and he can also create his own group or join other groups to maximize the number of persons he could interact with. An interesting post or topic can generate many “likes” or comments from friends and other users.

In the local level, the political landscape is usually dominated by incumbent politicians. The unscrupulous ones are wont to keep their position as long as they can because with it comes power and more money. They are derisively called traditional politicians or “trapo” whose greed is hidden in the name of public service.                                                                                                                                                                           

In a society where most of the voters belong to the “D” and “E” classes or the poor and less educated, the results of the election are always swayed in favor of the incumbent and moneyed politicians. Some astute local executives subtly establish a system of political patronage where the poor looks up to them as “benefactor” but all the while exploiting them for their political advantage.  These politicians even go to the extent of buying votes to win an election. As a result, politicians are elected not because of their integrity or competence, but because of their cunning to win election by all means. This flawed political process gives rise to social maladies like the proliferation of political dynasties and corruption because politicians have to recoup what they spent in the election.

The internet with its social networking sites such as Facebook is a tool that can help minimize the excesses of some politicians during a particular period such as election. Users can share to his friends in Facebook a report from other media such as newspapers, and they can also post blogs, photos and videos related to an event. What is good about it is that the access of Facebook is for free.                                                                                                          

Through Facebook people can seek information regarding the qualification and track records of a candidate. A positive or negative report on him can generate favorable or unfavorable perceptions or reactions. Some of the hot topics during this period are on political dynasty and corruption. Some candidates consider the latter issue as a sort of “mudslinging”. However, in a country where corruption is believed to be pervasive, it is a very valid election issue. Candidates should be a fair game to the attack so that they can refute it or clear their name before the public with regards to negative reports or allegations.

Some candidates however downplay the importance of Facebook in influencing the decision of the voters. They say that most of the Facebook users come from the middle income and upper classes of the voting population. And those belonging to classes “D” and “E” who comprised the majority of the voters do not have access of the Internet and therefore have no Facebook account so that the use of the site will only have a minimal effect on the result of the May 13 election especially at the local level. The claim maybe correct since incumbent local candidates who are flooded with negative post and bad comments at Facebook seem to be still widely and warmly received by the people especially the poor.

Facebook alone will not make a candidate win because of the many other factors that are involved in winning an election. But Facebook will certainly be of help to a candidate at the national level because of its wide coverage. At the local level Facebook will also be of help but to
a lesser extent. Local candidates therefore should exert more time and effort to reach out to the poor to win their hearts and minds in this coming May 13, 2013 mid-term election.