As the Catholic Christian world observes Holy Week and our predominantly Catholic Christian population —both candidates and electorate—spend the next few days meditating on the prospects of the May 9 presidential elections, this seems to me the most appropriate question to ask of ourselves.
This is written on Palm Sunday, while the faithful seek to relive the Redeemer’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem more than 2,000 years ago, and just before the presidential candidates face off in Cebu City for the second round of their three-part debate series, which began in Cagayan de Oro on Feb. 21 and ends in Pangasinan on April 24.
Higher than politics
In that unrepeatable ride to Jerusalem, the people saw in the Messiah a great political leader who would deliver them from their political oppressors. But he quickly made them see that he had come to die for their sins and the sins of all men, rather than bring down tyrants from their thrones. That political task he would leave to others, who have learned to love God and their fellowmen.
Many have tried to follow the Lord’s example, but many more have tried to exclude everything and anything remotely godly from their affairs. Thus, while many readily concede that neither the government nor the MRT nor the electoral system nor our understanding of natural-born citizenship is working because of sheer dishonesty, ineptitude and incompetence, there is virtually no recognition that all this is because the moral and spiritual order has broken down.
In Cebu, the debate guidelines list down specific topics for discussion: disaster preparedness and climate change adaptation, health care, education and fighting corruption. Each of these has an obvious moral content, which deserves exploring, but I do not see any of the debaters seriously taking it up in this round, so I don’t believe I would be preempting anyone if we discuss it here.
What to expect from the debates
In the absence of any clear political party platforms that define the positions of the various presidential candidates, the most we can do is judge them on the basis of how they respond to specific questions put to them during these forums. We cannot judge them on the consistency or inconsistency of their positions on climate change, health care, education, or fighting corruption simply because they have no voting records on these issues, unlike, for instance, the American senators or governors seeking the presidential nomination of their respective parties; the most we can do is ask them what they propose to do on any of these issues, if elected President.
But, if the questions are dumb, as we saw during the CDO round, the answers are likely to be equally dumb and we are not likely to learn much even from the best of them. This means that those asking the questions have a really important duty to do better than the candidates, except that we do not know who chooses them, or how are they chosen. Also, the people who listen to the debates judge the candidates on the basis of what they are saying.
The rigged surveys
In the 2010 presidential debates, no one remembers anything worth remembering which candidate B. S. Aquino 3rd ever said during the series. The best answers to all the questions were given by the administration candidate Gilbert “Gibo” Teodoro, but these had no impact on his popularity ratings because then, as now, the so-called “surveys” had been programmed to show some predetermined results in favor of PNoy. Then, as now, the question of strengthening the moral fabric of society through responsible and ethical governance never entered the discussion. And we were handsomely rewarded for our moral indifference with the worst administration we ever had.
If we fail to learn from and correct our immediate past mistakes, we stand to make PNoy’s unspeakable administration even better than the one that will follow. This should not happen. We are a nation of believers. A nation of sinners yes, but believers nonetheless. We must recover our moral and spiritual bearings as a people by bringing our moral convictions and religious beliefs into the practice of our politics, rather than by politicizing our religious beliefs, as most of our politicians believe they can get away with.
The moral foundation
I have always believed that for a society to endure, it must first rest on a strong moral foundation. The Roman Empire, like other empires that once held sway for any length of time, fell when moral decay became irreversible. By contrast, America upon its founding captured the world’s imagination precisely for its moral and religious foundation from which sprang a full range of transcendental values and human freedoms; its founding fathers were men of God and prayer, and as Alexis de Tocqueville saw it, religion was their first political institution.
If America ultimately follows Rome’s downward spiral, it will not be primarily because of any imperial overreach in the Asia Pacific or elsewhere, but rather because of the radical erosion of its moral and spiritual foundation. What its atheist-deconstructionists cannot do through their radical philosophical theories, its justices of the Supreme Court are doing; they have already reworked through judicial legislation God’s intelligent design with respect to the intrinsic qualities of man and woman.
And they may have found blind imitators among some of our own Supreme Court justices who have just created a new class of citizens, outside of the Constitution, by means of statistical analysis and judicial presumption. It is essential for the nation to hear the presidential candidates on the fundamental moral and religious question. Where exactly do they stand on the issue of God’s presence within the public square?
The role of religion
The Philippines as a secular state does not favor the establishment of any specific religion. But the Preamble of its Constitution implores “the aid of Almighty God, in order to build a just and humane society and establish a Government that shall embody our ideals and aspirations, promote the common good, conserve and develop our patrimony, and secure to ourselves and our posterity the blessings of independence and democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality and peace,” through the Constitution.
Do our candidates believe that a predominantly Christian Catholic nation should be led by the best qualified Christian Catholic leader, or by the least hostile to the moral and religious beliefs of the Catholic faithful? If they do, by what qualities do they claim being such a leader? Can all our candidates at least say they are persons of good moral character?
What is their record on the more controversial moral issues that have engaged public attention? What exactly did they do when Aquino corrupted Congress in order to ram through Chief Justice Renato Corona’s impeachment and removal, and to railroad the passage of the Reproductive Health Law which put the State in charge of the reproductive rights of married couples?
Where would they stand should anyone propose, with the support of the foreign LGBT lobby, the legalization of “same-sex marriage”? Will they have the courage of the boxing champion and senatorial candidate Manny Pacquiao to say that not even animals favor such an arrangement, or will they simply yield to what many describe as “politically correct”, and quote the outrageous US Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges?
If as a candidate, one has been subjected to so many unproved accusations of wrongdoing as in the case of Vice President Jejomar C. Binay, what would he do to hold his accusers accountable should he ever be elected president? Would he go after them the way Aquino had gone after his perceived enemies, or will he simply allow justice to take its normal course?
If a candidate, again like Binay, is part or head of a political dynasty, which is prohibited by the Constitution but not by any enabling law, which Congress has so far failed to provide, will he be willing to commit that, if elected president, he would certify to Congress a bill implementing the constitutional prohibition on political dynasties, and at the same time implore the members of his family to resign their elective positions and desist from running again while he is the president?
The people’s final option
Finally (for now), since the Commission on Elections and its foreign partner Smarmatic cannot seem to guarantee the holding a clean, honest and credible election, and this remains the foremost question troubling the Filipino electorate, will all the national candidates swear a common oath that they will not only actively oppose any effort to rig the May 9 elections and refuse to assume office should anyone of them be proclaimed “winner” in such a rigged election, but will above all call on the people to reject such an election and by direct revolutionary action organize a new interim government in which none of those who had taken part in the May 9 elections would participate?
Will all of them, who profess to be practicing Catholic Christians, be willing to be bound by a sacred oath that they would rather lose the election than commit a sin against God by manipulating the electoral process?