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.