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Overdue time for educating Filipino voters

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Lagman 040219 - Overdue time for educating Filipino voters

During episodes of DZMM’s series on senatorial candidates, the station’s field reporters asked ordinary folks in the streets who they would vote for senator. Many said they would vote for candidates who can provide jobs or access to housing while many others said they would choose candidates who can enforce the law. A few said they would choose candidates who can “fix” things if and when they find themselves in conflict with the law.

The impression the ordinary folks gave with their answers was that they do not know what the responsibilities and duties of a senator are. Yet, in a Social Weather Stations’ survey, the satisfaction rating of Senate President Tito Sotto was +61 or “very good.” It makes one wonder what the respondents of the survey based their rating of Senate President Sotto on when they do not even know what the function of a senator is, much less the role of the Senate president.

Many are extremely puzzled why senatorial candidates like Bong Go, who is known to be no more than the personal assistant of President Duterte, and Lito Lapid, who sat out his previous terms in the Senate in total silence, are, according to surveys, among those most likely to win in the coming senatorial race.

More appalling and sickening to others is why former senators Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla, who are accused of massive graft and corruption, lead in the surveys on senatorial candidates. Both claimed it was their assistants, not them, who had plundered the enormous sum of taxpayers’ money. If so, that makes them inept. Reelecting them is like retaining the services of a bantay-bahay or a security guard after the place has been looted clean.

In his Philippine Daily Inquirer column last Sunday, retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban wrote that many of the senatorial candidates are not even fit to be barangay kagawad and that some probable winners are not known for their honesty — his polite way of saying they are known to be corrupt.

He suggests that in the choice of senatorial candidates, voters should consider not only the general qualities of trustworthiness, honesty and diligence, but also the job descriptions of senators, which are:

• the knowledge on how a bill becomes a law and the ability to participate meaningfully in the lawmaking process;

• the ability to ask relevant questions during legislative oversight hearings and investigations in aid of legislation;

• the legal background (not necessarily of a lawyer) and political savvy to unravel the yearly national budget;

• the probity to practice fair play and objectivity when senators act as judges during impeachment and electoral tribunal proceedings, or as members of the Commission on Appointments in scrutinizing presidential nominees/appointees, or as diplomats in weighing treaties and international agreements needing ratification;

• the serenity to wear a statesperson’s garb when the Senate exercises its extraordinary responsibilities to ratify treaties, to declare a state of war, to approve amnesties, to authorize the President to exercise emergency powers, and to revoke or extend martial law and/or the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus;

• the independence and intelligence to safeguard the long-term public interest when Congress calls for amendments or revisions to the Constitution.

In an assembly of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines early this year, the bishops set several guidelines for Catholics in political life. Running counter to the traditional view that the Church should stay neutral in politics because of the separation of Church and State, the institutional leaders of the Church counseled the lay faithful to engage in principled partisan politics — “principled” in the sense that Christians should be guided by moral values and first principles, “partisan” in the sense that, ultimately, every voter has to choose a particular candidate representing a particular party, and “politics” in the sense that the winner in a political contest is given the legitimacy and power of decision-making for the community.

The bishops also reminded their faithful that it is their right and their duty to vote for candidates who work for the common good. Hence, candidates should be elected not on the basis of personal favors given to the voter, but on their record of public service and commitment to work for the common good. They set as criteria in the choice of candidates for public office the following:

Conscience. Is the candidate a person of conscience, i.e., a person of moral integrity? Is he/she God-fearing? Does he/she respect human rights? Is he/she transparent and accountable for his/her actions? Are there no charges of corruption in his/her public record?

Competence. What is the educational background of the candidate? What is his/her record of service, either in government or in private life? How is his/her health — physically, mentally, etc.? Popularity alone as a public figure or simple name recall cannot be an assurance of competence in public office.

Compassion. Concern for the poor and marginalized should be the hallmark of a public official. Working for social justice, protecting the rights of minorities are likewise attributes of a compassionate leader.

Companions. Who are the candidate’s supporters and advisers? What is their reputation and integrity? Does the candidate belong to a political party with a clear platform? Or did he/she join a political alliance out of convenience or personal interest? Is he/she a member of a political dynasty?

Commitment. Does the candidate show political will to attain his/her objectives? Does he/she hold on to key principles — e.g., maka-tao, maka-bayan, maka-kalikasan? What is his/her stand on key issues, such as peace-building in Mindanao and peace negotiations with insurgent groups, the protection of the environment, antipoverty measures, and foreign relations?

About eighty percent of voters are Catholic. It is apparent that the great majority of them do not know it is their duty to vote for candidates who work for the common good. They have elected into public office, the Senate in particular, show business stars and sports heroes simply because they are celebrities, never mind if they lacked the competence for public office and the commitment to serve the people.

If the Catholic bishops want their faithful to vote for candidates who will work for the common good, they should tell the ignorant voter — they are called “mga bobong mamboboto” in social media — what the qualifications of the candidates should be. Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio J. Ledesma has done that through an article in the Inquirer and Dagupan-Lingayen Archbishop Socrates Villegas has posted on social media a video that discusses those qualifications.

But what is imperative at this time is the education of the “bobong mamboboto” in principled politics without being partisan. As the bishops have said, the midterm election is crucial as the checks and balances in government are being undermined. They cite the Senate as the only institution that is holding out as the country inches towards total control.

The bishops should therefore direct priests and lay ministers to present to Mass attendees (captured audience) the desired qualifications of candidates for public office. That can be done by projecting on the screens, which most churches now have in the transepts, those qualifications just before the start of Mass or before the end of the Mass.

In the church where I hear Mass, the priest, before giving his final blessing, asks the congregation to say with him a prayer for good governance. It asks God to grant President Duterte and Vice-President Robredo the strength, courage, and wisdom to bring about a system of governance that would redound to the well-being of the people, especially the poor. The bishops can direct priests to lead a prayer during Mass asking God to grant voters the wisdom and courage to choose candidates, particularly those candidates for senator, who will work for the common good.


Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a member of Manindigan! a cause-oriented group of businessmen, professionals, and academics.

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