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Single issue politics don’t change anything

MANILA (Mabuhay) : The Church in The Philippines has been embroiled in a struggle with the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) over a large tarpaulin hung outside San Sebastian Cathedral in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental, CBCP News reported.

Displayed in vivid colour, the oversized poster displays the Church’s list of goodies and baddies among senatorial candidates for the upcoming May elections.

Goodies are those against the Reproductive Health Bill and the baddies those who have supported the controversial legislation.

The large tarpaulin, together with what some people have come to call incessant harping on the bill from Church leaders, has also drawn criticism from some quarters, claiming that the bishops have embarked on what they refer to as non-transformative single issue politics in this election.

The COMELEC initially ordered the Church authorities to remove the banner on the grounds that it violated regulations controlling the displaying of campaign materials on private property.

However, a later injunction issued by the Supreme Court of The Philippines in Manila has given the banner at least a temporary reprieve.

The president of the bishops’ conference, Archbishop José Palma, is now calling on the COMELEC to obey the Supreme Court injunction and leave the banner alone until the matter is finally settled.

“In the land they are the people who interpret the law. As people, we should also be law-abiding citizens. So if the Supreme Court says (the banner can stay)… sorry to the COMELEC,” Archbishop Palma was quoted by CBCP News as saying.

An election lawyer, Romulo Macalintal, claims that the Church is quite entitled to display the banner, as the law being cited only applies to incumbent officials and candidates who are running in the election.

“They are saying that the diocese violated resolution 9615, which is the unlawful size of election materials that must be (no bigger than) two feet by three feet,” Macalintal explained.

He added that the question is, who exactly does that law apply to, explaining that in his opinion, it is only political parties or their equivalent registered with the COMELEC.

“But the Church is neither a political party nor a sectoral party, so it is not liable for an offence,” he explained, “nor did the Church file a certificate of candidacy.”

However, the authorities at the cathedral in Bacolod did take down its large banner, replacing it with smaller ones.

The administrator of the cathedral explained that the unusual step of naming goodies and baddies among the candidates is required, because the doctrine of life is being challenged.

Nevertheless, although bishops have long put their weight behind certain candidates whom they believe will push the cause of the Church in government, mostly they have more or less disguised their support under the slim veil of non-partisanship guidance.

However, Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, from Lipa, has broken ranks and named names, publicly giving his support to John Carlos delos Reyes, Lito David and Marwil Llasos during a pro-life congress in Lipa on February 15.

“Yes I endorse them very much, because they are the only ones who are committed to promoting what is good, true and godly,” CBCP News quoted the archbishop as saying.

He also endorsed delos Reyes in 2010 when he was running as leader of the Ang Kapatiran in the presidential elections. However, no one on his ticket was elected to office.

However, not all Catholic people are enamoured with what they are calling the Church’s single issue politics in this election, saying that there is much more at stake than the Reproductive Health Bill.

“Putting up lists and hammering contraception as the single election issue will not transform the Catholic conscience. Nor is it timely in the life of the Church,” Sophia Lizares Bodegon, from the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians, says in an article published by UCA News

Lay groups are doing some election education off their own bats, with Couples for Christ and the Dilaab Movement launching the I Vote Good campaign.

“Choosing to vote good means carefully evaluating each candidate, and going deeper than just name recall or remembering a catchy jingle. It is also voting according to values and conscience and choosing to vote for God,” organisers say.

Father Carmelo Diola, from Dilaab, says, “Getting this in place is the key to our being able to choose good over evil, learning to distinguish the murky grey areas of good from apparent good, the lesser evil and everything in between.”

He called the gradual emergence of a small conscience bloc a sign of hope, as it is a way of changing people’s election mindsets.

For his part, Luis Cardinal Tagle stressed the significance of the true listener as a leader, explaining that empathy is the truest and most attentive form of listening.

However, looking to the role of the Church in the development of the country, Bodegon says, “If the Church wishes to have an imprint on the 21st century conscience, it will have to speak to the Zeitgeist (spirit of the age or the times). It will have to offer the hospitality of listening and not give out the warmed up porridge of hectoring from the 16th century, when friars taught Christian doctrine in a foreign language,” she continues.

In conclusion, she reflects, “More than anything, dioceses will have to think of themselves not as outposts of doctrine, but springboards and heralds of the coming of God’s Shalom in full.”