Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Pastoral Letter of the Archbishop of Caceres On the Forthcoming Philippine Elections 2010

“…if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. (Rom 8,25)

A Pastoral Letter of the Archbishop of Caceres
On the Forthcoming Philippine Elections 2010


As we celebrate the motherhood of Mary, we reflect on her faith and how her role in God’s plan. As the Mother of Christ, she is also the mother of the Church. Devotees of Our Lady of Peñafrancia know this by heart. Thus, we lovingly call her Ina.

It is indeed fitting that the solemnity of the Motherhood of Mary is celebrated on the first day of the year. Ina is our hope and our refuge. As we begin another year, we are filled with new hope because we know that our Ina continues to journey with us.

This year, the national and local elections also signal new hope. It is an opportunity for our people to express their will and to contribute in charting the country’s future. Indeed, democratic processes are meant to uphold the dignity of the people and to lead every person towards a significant participation in the community.

The technology of automation gives us reason to be optimistic that the election will reflect the people’s true will. We are hopeful that through this automation, fraud in the counting of votes will be appropriately addressed and minimized. By their vote, the people entrust the reins of government and their votes bear their hope for a better future.

But this hope for a better future needs to be coupled with a commitment to vote for leaders who will promote the common good. Elections emphasize the sovereignty of the people. To vote is not only a duty as citizens but as believers of Christ.

Every person, when casting his or her vote, makes a moral decision where the welfare of the people is at stake. The lives of the poor and marginalized, the pursuit of justice and peace, the progress and development of our country – they are shaped by the decisions made on election day.

Time and again, the Church has called upon the faithful to follow their conscience so they may cast a meaningful vote. The faithful must not allow the election to be a battle of campaign slogans and media exposure. The hope for new beginnings cannot be pinned on impressions but rooted in fortified conscience.

To follow one’s conscience requires enlightened conscience. It must be attended by a pursuit of truth, and a discernment of God’s message in concrete circumstances. When minds understand the realities of the present and when hearts are attuned to God’s will for all His children, the people’s vote can truly pave the way for a country where common good is the vocation of its leaders and where democracy leads to the integral development of the people.

It is therefore crucial for every faithful citizen to truly understand the political situation of our country.

The Political Landscape in the Philippines

In Rerum Novarum issued in 1891, the Church has denounced the concentration of power upon a small number of very rich men who “lay upon the laboring poor a yoke a little better than that of slavery itself.” (RN, 3) This aptly describes the evil of oligarchy.

Sadly, this situation persists in our country. Philippine politics has all the characteristics of an oligarchy.

Our country’s democracy is a mere semblance of real democracy. The basic freedoms seem to be present such as the freedom of speech, freedom of association and religious freedom. But the most important freedom – the freedom to be an empowered people – remains to be a dream. When the majority is not equipped with an empowering freedom, there can be no genuine participation from the people.

This empowering freedom is elusive because majority of Filipinos live below poverty line. There can be no government of the people, for the people, by the people if almost all Filipinos are poor. Poverty deprives our people the opportunity to develop their potentials, renders them incapable to participate in public affairs and denies them the primacy of the people in a democracy.

The rule of handful elite families negates democracy. Democracy and oligarchy cannot co-exist. The long-standing poverty of the majority of the people is a continuing result of oligarchy. This is evident in our provinces. The stronger the oligarchic powers in a locality, the poorer are the people.

The national and local governments are run by handful elite families of around 300 in the whole country. According to the latest Social System survey, only one percent of the total Philippine population belong to the ruling class that craft the social, political and economic life of the country. On the other hand, only 9% belong to the middle class while the great majority, 90% of the population, belong to the lower class.

The ruling class enjoys more than half of the nation’s wealth. They rule the country by provinces, congressional districts, cities and municipalities. Their hometowns are their political bailiwicks. They allocate political power unto themselves. The consequence: a proliferation of political dynasties and politicians clinging onto power either directly or indirectly.

Behold some of the striking features of an oligarchic politics:

Election Fraud and Violence. Illegal voter registration, intimidation and undue pressure of voters, vote buying and vote rigging (dagdag-bawas) are prevalent in both local and national elections. Election-related violence such as killings, kidnappings, physical attacks on rallies, homes, offices and vehicles of candidates and supporters are widespread. Intimidation, coercion and harassment usually precede the physical violence. Ruling families build up private armies and hire goons not only for protection but also for intimidating opponents. The Plaza Miranda Bombing in 1971, the murder of Evelio Javier in 1986, the murderous rivalry of the Espinosa’s and the Kho’s in Masbate are examples of the worsening election violence. On November 23, 2009, the world witnessed the worst election-related violence and it happened in Maguindanao..

Costly Campaigns. Campaigns become more expensive when competition becomes unduly intense, when economic stakes are high and when electorate continue to expand due to population growth. Tri-media advertisements are used not only during the campaign period but every single day. Personalities and celebrities are paid millions to endorse candidates as if the candidacy is a merchandize of consumer product. Vote-buying is given a sizable budget in any campaign, as if it were a legitimate expense. Campaigns are bankrolled by businessmen making candidates vulnerable to business interests at the expense of the common good. Heavy spending is done by the government to prop up administration candidates who seek re-election or election to other posts.

Political Turncoatism. Turncoatism or the switching from one party to another is another feature of Philippine politics. With the absence of marked differences in ideology, platforms and programs, shifting allegiances are commonplace. Political leaders easily jump from one party to another because their choices are centered on personalities rather than on platforms and programs. Factors considered are: party resources, winnability and networks. An ally can be an enemy the following day, not because of solid principles but only for political expediency and convenience. This indicates an absence of true ideals. Political parties are not institutions of ideologies and values but are mere machineries to facilitate campaign.

Quid Pro Quo Politics. What binds or unbinds our political leaders is quid pro quo politics. “Something for something.” Quid pro quo politics is also called transactional politics because governmental powers and authority are used for undeserved gain. Political leaders enter into arrangements with other politicians, deals that will benefit both of them. This exchange of favors is self-serving; it is detrimental to common good. Quid pro quo politics pollute the integrity of government institutions because checks and balances are undermined. These are instances when the chief executive exchanges favors with legislators. The examples are legion: scam in different branches of government, the circumvention of laws and the failure to prosecute graft and corrupt practices are abetted by quid pro quo politics. The fertilizer scams, the ZTE deal, the questionable creation of new congressional districts are but recent manifestations of this political culture among political leaders.

Extrajudicial Killings. Extrajudicial killings include “disappearances” where people are abducted, never heard from again and a body is never located. The killings’ desired impact is fear, paralysis and the breakdown of organizations that are vocal in its opposition and efficient in mobilizing public protest. Most of the victims are members of genuine party-list organizations such as Bayan Muna, Anak Pawis and Gabriela. The establishment of the party list system enabled sectoral groups to be represented in Congress. Their increased electoral success has posed a credible threat to the domination of the ruling class. According to Human Rights Watch, 110 members of party-list members have been killed in 2001 to 2006. In Bicol, students of Bicol University, Camarines Norte State College and Aquinas University have been killed in 2006 and 2007. Their killings have been linked to their membership with the League of Filipino Students.

Power Hoarding. Perpetuating one’s self in elective posts has been a tradition among many political leaders. Many incumbent politicians endorse bench warmers when they reach term limits. This way, they can easily reclaim their posts after three years. Others simply shift from the executive branch to the legislative branch such as from being governor to congressman or mayor to congressman and vice-versa.


The seemingly insurmountable issues of our political landscape have caused many Filipinos to focus on personal godliness and to distance from communal responsibility. Indeed, hopelessness has crept in and has weakened the Filipino spirit.

Our faith calls us to look upon the cross that redeems us. In Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict XVI said that to have faith is to hope. Jesus’ teachings represented a serious political challenge to the authorities of His day and for that, they crucified Him. But His faithfulness to the Father has revealed to us God’s perfect love. Accepting our responsibility towards our brothers and sisters is a public expression of our faith. To continue to hope for peace, justice and equality of human dignity is faithfulness to the Father’s will.

Hope for People Empowerment. Aristotle, in his book Politics, called democracy the best form of government. However, he pointed out that there can only be democracy where the majority comes from the middle class because virtue can only breed in people who are neither so rich nor so poor. The wide gap between the rich and the poor obstructs authentic democracy because a master and slave relationship reigns between the leaders and the citizens.

With a vast number of Filipinos, generation after generation, living under massive poverty and with the handful elite running the country, we must admit in humility that there is no genuine democracy. There is an urgent need to confront this truth so we can hope for the right kind of change.

To hope for democracy is to hope for the creation of a middle class. And the middle class can only be created when there is genuine people empowerment.

The middle class, as poetically described by PCP II, “is neither so poor that they have nothing to give nor so rich that they have nothing to receive.” But more than income and resources, the middle class is identified by their attitude towards and participation in society. The middle class has the means to be self-reliant and can break away from mendicancy or dependence from the ruling elite. The middle class is an empowered people who can positively influence the social, political and economic life of our nation.

Rerum Novarum affirms the dignity of the working class and defends the right to private property, to organize associations, to just wage and just working conditions, as well as the right to religious freedom. These rights must be respected to provide an environment conducive to people empowerment. Populorum Progressio affirms that authentic development must be complete, that is, it must promote the good of every person and of all humanity. Pope Paul VI beautifully stated that: “…there can be no complete development of individuals without the simultaneous development of all humanity in the spirit of solidarity.” (PP, 43) On helping the poor, he firmly commented: “You are not making a gift of your possessions to the poor person. You are handing over to him what is his. For what has been given in common for the use of all, you have arrogated to yourself. The world is given to all, and not only to the rich.” (PP, 23)

Therefore, I invite you to reflect together as ecclesial communities how you can contribute to people empowerment and the creation of the middle class through education, capital and ownership in the light of the Church’s social teachings.

Schools can expand scholarship programs as a concrete response. Educational institutions should include programs that will enhance special and competitive skills that can assist the poor to generate income to fend for their families. The culture of dependence can be at least minimized if the poor can find in themselves the capacity to conquer their own poverty. Schools must equip the poor to be creative so they may become productive citizens of society.

Those who are engaged in evangelization can uplift the dignity of the poor by making them aware of the nexus between poverty and political maturity and engaging them towards concrete actions that will integrate them into society. At the end of the day, evangelization cannot be complete when it is found only in motherhood statements. Jesus’ message is not limited to personal morality. The cross does not only look up and down at the morality of each individual human life, but also looks across the horizon of collective and social responsibilities of human lives. Evangelization must strengthen its prophetic voice and find relevance in the context of our people and the many issues that undermine human dignity.

Many government institutions remain silent about the right to private ownership, the reason why the people remain to be property-less. The right to shelter has been responded to by providing temporary dwelling, contingent upon the re-election of the incumbent and his allies. Through evangelization that teaches God’s will for an abundant life for His children, the poor will be led to an appreciation for the value of paying what is necessary to guarantee private ownership across generations. Payment in the form of blind loyalty or unreasonable debt of gratitude to the incumbent perpetuates patronage politics and holds hostage human dignity.

Those in the social development sector must endeavour to promote self-reliance among the poor. It has been proven that dole-outs breed dependence and subvert efforts to uphold the equal dignity of men. Social development programs must respond not only to the apparent needs of the community but must look into the structures that prevent authentic development. These programs must then provide venue for meaningful participation in the community, with the overarching goal to empower the people and assist them bring about their own advancement. Social development programs must aim to create an environment that will allow all men to fully develop and live as God’s children.

Civil society must assist in halting the vicious cycle of dependence by providing venues for people to associate and become more aware of the movements that impact their lives. Analysis of and understanding social, economic and political forces will help our people to position themselves against insults to their dignity. Filipinos must have the ability to distinguish between values and events that promote their empowerment and those that lure them into continued dependence. Only when we possess such clear distinction can we move towards true people power and democracy.

Hope for Social Justice. While people empowerment is an essential requisite for democracy, the virtue required to create and nourish democracy is social justice. The equal dignity of human persons necessisates the effort to reduce excessive social and economic inequalities.

Bridging the gap between the rich and poor, the powerful and the marginalized, the elite and the lower class – this is the essence of social justice.

As prescribed by Pope Pius XI in his encyclical Quadragessimo Anno, social justice is a virtue which requires personal responsibility to transform social institutions. This virtue calls for a commitment to social change. However, many social ills hinder the concern for our society. Among them are individualism, consumerism and materialism. These ills lead to the escalation of sinful inequalities.

When we are concerned only about our family’s welfare, when we accumulate material possessions excessively even if through legal means, when our lives are measured by the income and properties we acquire, we create greater inequality between rich and poor. To be socially just, we must stop caring only for ourselves and justifying our indifference by saying that after all, we do not step on another man’s shoes. We must begin looking at our lives as a member of our community.

The founding of the Kapatiran Party is evidence that there are among our lay faithful who are committed to their role as members of the Church in the society. In the Kapatiran Party, we find among our lay faithful a deep concern to restore integrity in politics and a sense of community among our people. This concern could only be inspired by their faith. Their participation in the 2010 elections may be an uphill battle but it is a concrete sign that the hope for social justice is alive.

Social justice, however, can only be fully realized if the state recognizes it, when the right social and economic order is established by the supreme authority in society. Without these structures, social justice is impossible in our country.

We need to examine the source of the discrimination of the poor and marginalized so social justice can be truly present as a feature of government. Through active engagement and solidarity, we can open new paths towards a society that respects the equal of the dignity of the rich and poor, the powerful and the marginalized. But we need to start with ourselves by asking how we can effect change.

Gaudium et Spes urges for civic and political formation so that all citizens can play their part in the life of the political community. All citizens, most especially the youth, must learn the art of politics to work for the common good and fight all forms of injustice and tyranny, as well as arbitrary domination by an individual or a political party. (GS, 75)

We need to build and enrich civil societies. Free associations guarantee the well-being of the society. Civil society must find a voice because when power is in the hands of a few although able and competent, social justice will not prevail.

Social justice as a virtue can be expressed in many ways. When we bring to the public forum the condemnation of prostitution, jueteng, illegal logging and quarrying; when we hold our political leaders accountable for graft and corrupt practices, lavish lifestyles and abuse of power; when we organize ourselves to protect religious rights, the integrity of families and the life of the unborn, every time we exercise our civil and political rights to perform our duty towards the common good, we practice social justice.

Social justice is charity that has matured and deepened as a public response to Jesus’ message. Charity does not end in providing material goods. It demands even the provision of conditions that will enable the people to obtain what is due them in the light of the Gospel.

I make this special appeal to the businessmen and entrepreneurs to look to higher values than profit. Quadragessimo Anno states that “Every effort must therefore be made that fathers of families receive a wage large enough to meet ordinary family needs adequately. But if this cannot always be done under existing circumstances, social justice demands that changes be introduced as soon as possible whereby such a wage will be assured to every adult workingman.” (GA, 71) Here, the Church has made the distinction between minimum wage and living wage.

I call upon the capitalists to aspire for profitability with genuine care for the welfare of their workers. “Business management cannot concern itself only with the interests of the proprietors, but must also assume responsibility for all the other stakeholders who contribute to the life of the business.” (CV, 40) True relevance of business undertakings is found in ensuring that the enterprise is a means to serve common good.

Hope for the Kingdom of God. When Pope Pius XI instituted the feast of Christ the King in 1925, he called upon Christians to recognize only one King and one Kingdom: Christ and God’s Kingdom. To mature in our faith, we must clearly distinguish between the kingdom of man and the kingdom of God. The exercise of rights, the lay faithful’s participation in the public square and partisan politics must not be motivated by patronage and subservience to any political leader in the building of human and personal kingdoms, but in the building of God’s kingdom on earth.

God invites us to His Kingdom, not only as a future reward but as a present reality. Far from the kingdom of men that hinges on authority and power, God’s kingdom is a kingdom of harmony and love. We seek God’s kingdom by responding to Jesus’ message, by orienting our lives to the Gospel. The Gospel calls us to search for the ways so God’s presence will be witnessed in the world.

As believers, it is our mission to fully understand the richness and beauty of His Kingdom and be fully engaged in building this kingdom on earth. All our efforts for people empowerment, all our struggles for social justice find fullness and meaning when they lead us to the kingdom of God.

To make present the kingdom of God, political leadership must be a means to serve the people, especially the poor. Leaders must be measured by their sacrifices for the welfare of the people. Wealth and material resources are mere tools so each person may serve the other. All human capacities are shared for the good of the community so God’s will can prevail.

In human and personal kingdoms, society is ruled by selfishness, dishonesty, distrust, and enmities. In this kingdom, man hoards power and wields it unjustly, as we can see in our present context. The greed for power and wealth in the midst of abject poverty, the relentless pursuit for self-gratification, the exploitation of institutions and disrespect for law - they persist because man prefers to create his own kingdom; and followers of this kingdom fail to see that this kingdom is nothing compared to God’s kingdom.

When our sight is not set on seeking the Kingdom of God, all our labours are designed upon our own individual self-centered will. The marginalized will continue to be disadvantaged, the poor will only become poorer and the oppressed will never find justice.

When we hope for a better future, for a better society, we hope for the kingdom of God and to see God’s light shine through. To establish His Kingdom, we must fully engage in investing on moral treasure and not material treasure, in restoring a social order that respects the primacy of human dignity and in building the moral well-being of our country.

To continuously engage in building God’s kingdom, we must be equipped with love. We become open to sacrifice, to deny our selfishness and pride, to decide for common good, when we are motivated by love. The just ordering of society can only be possible when we are filled with love for God and for our brothers and sisters. “Love is rich in intelligence and intelligence is full of love.” (CV, 30)


God so loved each and every one of us that He put us in a community. He calls us to be His people not as individuals, without bond or link, but by making us into a single people – His family. Our membership in His family demands a sense of responsibility for each other as brothers and sisters. Our aspiration of a better life is meaningless if it does not include that of our brothers and sisters. We cannot call it a better life if we are blind to the poverty and injustice all around us. But in the same breath, we must not surrender to the poverty and injustice just because they are systemic and deeply entrenched in our society. There are many opportunities to conquer them.

The coming elections can be a fresh start in our hope for a better future. But as any opportunity, we must be prepared to embark on the journey despite our fears and limitations, trusting that God, the source of all good, will not forsake us.

In order for the election to mark a new beginning, we must accord it with sincerity and understanding that the change of leaders does not mean a change of systems. We may elect new leaders but it does not guarantee an end to the scams and corruption. We must hope for the right change so genuine transformation can take place.

We need to create and strengthen the middle class before we can witness genuine democracy. Empowerment of the people is best reflected by a vibrant middle class that will move the country towards social justice. Imbued with a social conscience, the middle class will champion the equitable distribution of wealth, lead the collapse of oligarchy and advance social justice. The quest for social justice finds true motive, inspiration and fulfilment in building God’s kingdom on earth.

People empowerment and social justice is not a work of one man, or even one administration. It is the work of one people – the people of God – that are in different human institutions and sectors of society: in the family, the Church, the schools, the business sector and government.

By our baptism, we have been tasked a prophetic role: to see, judge and act. We must be vigilant at all times. We need to see and understand the long-standing suffering of our people. We must make judgments, not only opinions. We need to discern and identify the evil that has caused our society to continuously suffer. Finally, we must make a move.

We need to denounce the evil by making the kingdom of God present in our lives and in our institutions.

A keen understanding of the causes of our misery and a conviction to rise above it will equip us as we bring about the transformation that we truly need and deserve as a Filipino nation.

In Mary’s Magnificat, Ina echoes God’s promise of His Kingdom. It is a Kingdom where the poor are no longer powerless. It is a Kingdom where: “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly.” (Luke 1:52) Her Magnificat moves us to be a constituency of the kingdom of God and not of the kingdom of man.

Upon all I impart my New Year’s blessing.

Archbishop of Caceres

January 1, 2010

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