Church shifts to voter education

By: Lito B. Zulueta - Arts and Books Editor / @LitoZulueta - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | October 01,2021 - 08:00 AM

The recent pastoral letter of Northern Luzon prelates signals the Catholic Church’s shift to voter education in preparation for the 2022 elections. Grimly calling the country under the Duterte administration a “valley of death,” Archbishops Socrates Villegas (Lingayen-Dagupan), Marlo Peralta (Nueva Segovia), and Ricardo Baccay (Tuguegarao) called on young voters to do their “moral duty to resist and correct a culture of murder and plunder.”

Free elections would “allow the selection and change of representatives in the most effective way to make political authority accountable,” they said. “We plead with our youth and first-time voters to register themselves.”

Alternative politics is crucial. “We appeal to the sense of patriotism of the reluctant candidates to bring back ethics in our political life and run according to your conscience and not according to the surveys,” the pastoral letter said. “This is not the time for despair but courage. This is not the time to be quiet but to stand up for God.”

Earlier, the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines started its series of web forums on voter education, with Comelec commissioner Rowena Guanzon as guest speaker.

“We need to do political education and encourage qualified young voters to register and vote,” said Marist Brother Manuel de Leon, president of Notre Dame of Dadiangas University in Mindanao. “This is part of the University’s advocacy to bring about positive change. I turn my hope to the young people.”

A Ten Outstanding Young Men awardee for education, De Leon has come up with five criteria to assess presidential aspirants. “They should be first, spiritual and incorruptible; second, should have the political will to put the house in order; third, must have genuine concern for the poor through sound economics; fourth, should reform the educational system; and fifth, must have a sense of patriotism.”

He urged voters to study the platforms of candidates and parties. “The political party must have a strong influence on the candidates rather than the party trying to accommodate personalities who are popular and have the wherewithal to run a political campaign.”

He explained that political parties are organized around “a certain ideology” or political vision. “Who are the leaders—not necessarily the candidates—who protect and preserve the principles of the party?” he said. “Is there a party discipline that the members must adhere to?”

Because the Duterte administration has severely compromised the country’s territorial integrity by kowtowing to communist China despite Beijing having built military facilities on Philippine waters, a party and candidate, according to De Leon, should declare their platform on “foreign policy.”

And because of the widespread drug killings and allegations of graft and corruption in connection with the multibillion response to the COVID-19 crisis, candidates and parties should declare their positions on how to promote human rights and good governance and transparency.

They should likewise declare their platform on improving basic social services, such as health care, housing, transportation, and waste management, said the Marist brother.

The pandemic has reinforced the fact that more and more the economy and education system have become reliant on the internet. So for the Marist educator, the next government should focus on improving the country’s communications technology. The Philippines is Asia’s outlier for internet sloth: It has the second slowest Wi-Fi in the Asean and its internet rates are also among the most expensive.

Land use conversion is another red flag, according to De Leon. In the national and local governments’ haste to raise investments, agricultural lands have been converted to industrial or commercial uses, compromising the country’s food security and violating the rights of farmers and indigenous people. The latter is especially true of the lumad cultural communities in Mindanao, said the Mindanao educator.

Candidates and parties must likewise declare their platform on political reforms, especially to put an end to political dynasties.

“Hopefully, our voters will be educated (on) these issues … during the campaign period,” said De Leon. “We need a vigilant citizenry.”

Tall order. It is nothing less than a complete rejection of the politics of guns, goons, and gold, which historically has bedeviled the nation. As Claro M. Recto pointed out: “There can be no permanent cure for graft and corruption without power politics still a primary concern of our political parties.”

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Lito B. Zulueta is a journalist, editor, and author. He teaches at the Faculty of Arts and Letters of the University of Santo Tomas.

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TAGS: church, culture of murder and plunder, Duterte Administration, free elections, genuine concern for the poor, patriotism, political will, reform the educational system, spiritual and incorruptible, valley of death, voter education

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