Vote for the right reasons. Vote, not because you have been paid, or promised bounty, not because you or your relatives have been promised employment or privilege but because you trust a person to lead the community and to lead the country. Just as the discerning voter will not be easily won over by all the flattery in favor of one candidate, neither should a voter allow ‘demolition jobs’ to dissuade him from choosing a person who is truly fit for office.
— Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines President and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas
Advocates of good governance and true democracy cannot but agree with Archbishop Socrates Villegas. Voters should indeed not sell their votes for money or favors, and should see through electioneering propaganda for or against candidates.
But let’s get real. With widespread poverty and powerlessness, plus pervasive media influence and inducements, moneyed and well-connected candidates have swayed tens of millions of voters across the archipelago election after election.
Campaigns demand armies of campaigners wooing voters in vast areas, and media costs millions, if not billions, to run ads and obtain favorable coverage. Upright candidates often lose to rivals endowed with the mammoth resources from corruption and dubious supporters.
Plainly, if good men and women are to have a fighting chance at the polls, they need some way to counter the formidable campaign networks, alliances, and media clout mobilized by opponents with no scruples.
And the solution may well be in the hands of Archbishop Villegas and his fellow religious leaders: an integrity coalition of sectoral and civil society groups led by the Catholic Church and endorsing a list of upright candidates in 2016.
Pick and publicize upright candidates
Right now, even voters wishing to choose wisely are hard put to tell which of the tens of thousands of candidates running for several thousand positions nationwide, deserve their support and would truly work for the national good.
So most people just vote with nil information but what they can vaguely recall from media snippets in recent weeks or months, plus the good or bad word of local opinion makers. And both media recollections and grassroots kibitzers could well be influenced by the cash, connections and clout of corrupt politicians.
Hence, voters all over the country need trusted organizations to pick and publicize good candidates to vote for. Only then can citizens actually vote wisely, and upright personages stand some chance of getting more votes than the pittance they usually get.
Can this be done — a nationwide coalition including major religions, independent civil society, and community organizations compiling and endorsing a list of upright individuals for national and local positions from President down?
The coalition’s seal of good governance, if widely publicized by parishes and other entities nationwide, can counter the moneyed media and political clout wielded by traditional politicians.
To be sure, the “trapos” would remain hard to beat, and countless voters would still be swayed by vote-buying, name recall, favors, intimidation, and patronage politics. But the integrity coalition’s list and advocacy would offer an alternative, and make voters more conscious of good governance.
And it would be a hugely challenging task to mobilize nationwide and sectoral organizations. Even just getting the CBCP to endorse candidates may be difficult. Many would point to Cardinal Sin’s failed campaigns for rivals of Presidents Fidel Ramos and Estrada in the 1992 and 1998 elections.
But if the Catholic Church, with its nationwide reach and influence, plus the high trust rating of religious leaders, would not lift a finger for upright candidates, then no amount of pastoral exhortations can make a dent in our politics of patronage, money and media.
However, if upright organizations across the nation would lend their voices and trusted names to drum up voter awareness and support for candidates of integrity, then they would very well make more gains than ever before.
Benchmarks for integrity
Who should the integrity coalition endorse?
The hardest part about endorsing good candidates, of course, is choosing them. To keep that complex and thankless task manageable, the coalition should first keep the numbers down.
For 2016, the good candidate guide list can focus on upright, competent people for 14 national positions (president, vice-president, senators), 230-plus congressional districts, 81 gubernatorial and 35 independent city mayoral posts — about 350 candidates.
Also, the coalition need not endorse just one candidate for every position. Rather, it will give a seal of transparency and democratic governance to candidates who fulfill certain conditions that would give strong indication and assurance of integrity in public office.
What are those conditions that would screen out sleaze and buttress good governance? The coalition shall formulate them, of course, and here are some ideas:
First, candidates must go through no-holds-barred closed-door interviews on their time in public office, and execute waivers allowing the coalition to make the proceedings public at its discretion.
Second, those endorsed should execute waivers allowing disclosure to the coalition of their assets and business interests, as well as those of their immediate family. Waivers may be used if there are corruption allegations against endorsed officials.
Third, candidates shall pledge to conduct periodic dialogues on governance and policy matters with coalition representatives, whose proceedings may be made public at the coalition’s discretion.
Will Filipinos vote for the coalition’s lineup? The yearly Philippine Trust Index surveys show that the public trust religious leaders the most, with three out of every four citizens having confidence in Church leaders.
And Social Weather Stations found in early 2012 that religious groups wield positive endorsement value among 57 percent of voters. And people see integrity as the top criterion for trusting political leaders.
So at the CBCP Plenary in early July, the good bishops should ask themselves: Do we issue another pastoral letter for responsible voting, or do we join hands with other integrity groups and endorse upright candidates in 2016? May the Lord guide our prelates toward His holy will.