UCAN: Philippine Catholic bishops firm on endorsing values, not election candidates
MANILA, Philippines (UCAN) – The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has confirmed that bishops will not endorse candidates for the May 14 elections. The leader of the country's largest Catholic charismatic community had proposed they make endorsements.
Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro, vice president of the conference, spoke with reporters in Manila on March 15 after CBCP Permanent Council members met that day. He stressed that as church leaders they will not back particular candidates, but only provide "moral guidance to the faithful" to help them choose the right ones.
"That (choosing candidates) should be left to the wisdom and conscience of the mature Christian voter," Jesuit Archbishop Ledesma said, adding that voters "should not just be asked to follow ... their religious leaders."
The prelate pointed out that "as religious leaders, we should also continue to advocate the moral principles to help enlighten voters in their choice of candidates." This way, he explained, "we could also show our support for particular platforms of government espoused by particular political parties if these are in line with gospel values."
Mariano "Brother Mike" Velarde, founding elder of the El Shaddai Catholic charismatic movement, called on March 10 for the bishops to endorse senatorial candidates in the coming election.
Speaking before a crowd that filled Amvel Business Park in Paranaque City, south of Manila, for the group's weekly prayer meeting, he asked Catholic Church leaders to suggest senatorial candidates the people could choose from in the coming elections.
That same day, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported Velarde as asking the CBCP to endorse up to 18 candidates for the 12 Senate seats that are being contested.
The national newspaper quoted him as saying the principle of separation of church and State does not apply during election time, when church leaders should participate actively "not just in setting guidelines but also in guiding the flock on who the right candidates are."
CBCP president Archbishop Angel Lagdameo of Jaro released a statement three days later explaining that the CBCP wants candidates to make "a genuine covenant with the electorate," and not feel indebted to the bishops. The prelate said voters are expected to "discern, discuss and personally decide for whom to vote."
In his view, "To dictate on them for whom to vote is as bad as buying their votes." He said the CBCP believes the "wisdom of the people" can be trusted, as long as their judgment is not "violated or adulterated by guns, goons and gold."
Archbishop Ledesma told reporters that bishops at the CBCP Permanent Council meeting said they could support political parties in their dioceses that represent sectors rather than localities and whose platforms are "in tune with gospel values." He said bishops mentioned Ang Kapatiran party (alliance of the common good) as an example.
The party's Web site (angkapatiran.org) says the national political party, founded on the ideology of the common good, is based on belief in God, respect for life and human dignity, strengthening of family, community participation, basic rights and responsibilities, a preferential option for the poor and vulnerable, and the dignity of work. Its members say they are committed to work for workers' rights, to care for nature as God's creation, and to promote peace and active nonviolence.
El Shaddai spokesman Melquiades Robles told UCA News on March 15 that Velarde is considering whether to announce the names of candidates he will support, even as he characterized Velarde's plans as "fluid."
He acknowledged that Velarde is campaigning for the Buhay Hayaan Yumabong (allow life to flourish) party-list organization, which has his son, Rene Velarde, among its nominees for seats in the House of Representatives.
Robles also said that Velarde will support senators whose platforms match that of the Buhay party-list organization, saying the candidate must be "brave, unwavering in principles, honest, have the ability to craft laws and (be) Yahweh-centered or God-fearing."
The charismatic group Velarde founded in 1984 is currently the largest in the country. It claims more than 5 million members, not just in the Philippines but also in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the United States.
Philippine citizens abroad who are at least 18 years of age on Election Day may vote for president, vice president, senators and House representatives, provided the voter is not otherwise disqualified by law.
In Manila, Romel Gerali, an economics student at the pontifical University of Santo Tomas, will be voting for the second time in May. He told UCA News on March 16 that he looks to bishops to fulfill their "moral responsibility" in providing "standards" to guide Catholics in voting. Catholics comprise an estimated 81 percent of the Philippines' 80 million people.
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