Sunday, December 6, 2009

Raising the tide of Philippine politics

When the tide is raised all sorts of boats rise with it, from large to small ones, from the lowly banca to the mighty battleship, and from the old to the new.

Raising the tide is a good metaphor for the challenge of promoting principled partisan politics in the country today. The rising tide of public dissatisfaction over the low tide of corruption and bad governance can be addressed by calling on people to step up rather than step down.

This is indeed a tall order. The way we conduct our elections can arguably be considered the original sin of graft and corruption. Raising the tide begins with a realization that elections are partisan by nature since voters have to choose among candidates. How they make up their minds results in either principled or unprincipled partisan politics.

There is a river of change flowing through our land, fed by various tributaries of change. Meaningful political change is one such tributary. People are searching for meaningful political change that leads to a transformed nation. This river must be connected to a bigger body of water. It cannot rise solely by its own power.

This body of water is our Christian faith. The common civic space we share with people unrelated to us or whom we do not even know need to be nurtured by the ocean of Christian ideas, ideals, moral and spiritual energies. Church leaders do not directly engage in partisan politics but help raise the tide by providing moral and spiritual guidance. The lay faithful, on the other, are called to be in the frontlines of such work.

The Church has been trying to raise the tide of politics by ensuring credible elections. Now another effort has begun that is distinct from, parallel with, and complementary to this usual engagement, and seeks to help emerge credible candidates.

This beyond-the-usual engagement assumes that good intentions are not enough and that there is room for conversion in the line of Zacchaeus. This requires providing “evangelical formation and pastoral accompaniment to a new generation of Catholics working in politics” (Benedict XVI). By opening this gate, the Pope opens the door to the circles of discernment for elections or CiDE, an initiative promoted by the Dilaab Movement.

CiDE is a process of accompaniment by forming the practical consciences of voters and candidates by raising specific questions on the kinds of leader people seek. It sets into motion a bottom-up mechanism for answering these questions in a deliberate, proactive, methodical, communal, and God-centered way. CiDE helps release and channel pent-up energies of people for meaningful political change from a faith perspective.

But CiDE is just one side of the coin, so to speak. The other side is Candidates’ Circle of Discernment or CCiD.

Last November 20, 2009, an extraordinary gathering took place at the Talavera Retreat House in Greenbelt Drive, Quiot, Pardo, Cebu City where 11 of Cebu’s political aspirants for 2010 responded to the invitation for a day of listening and discernment initiated by Dilaab.

This was a low-key, non-partisan, non-media and by invitation only – the event provided spiritual space for individuals who have decided or are still deciding to run for an elected office in the province of Cebu.

Running for a public office is no walk in the park. Becoming a public servant is a very demanding role vis-à-vis oneself and one’s family. It is not for the fainthearted. Those who are thinking of running for public office need all the help they can get to arrive at a wise decision. This requires a practical process of decision-making that involves the self, one’s family, and other significant others. It demands listening. Thus the theme: “Listening, the Crucial Quality for Individuals Discerning an Elected Position.”

With the help of the COMELEC, partners and friends with associations to the various political parties, over 250 invitations were sent to potential political aspirants from the barangay to the congressional levels in the province of Cebu. The response was highly encouraging. However, due to conflict with prior critical official and personal commitments, several could not make it to the first recollection but committed to join the forthcoming event.

Calmly sitting side by side while listening to God speak to their hearts were known rivals and allies in the political arena. Everyone had only positive things to say about the discernment recollection. Among the feedback: “I’m grateful for the opportunity to meet my would-be co-candidates and get to know them better… Although I do not have party mates, at any public forum I can promote this, I will,” said Francisco Ashley L. Acedillo. “I highly recommend this to all candidates,” commented Rachel ‘Cutie’ del Mar. Mary Ann De Los Santos said, “If possible (make it) massive for all who are planning to run for office and if possible conduct seminar or retreat to voters too so that we can totally change our country.”

We seek to raise the tide by proposing standards for a new political culture that makes room for Christian humanistic values and principles. This new effort by the Catholic Church is distinct from, parallel with, and complementary to the Church’s usual engagement towards ensuring credible elections by seeking to help emerge credible candidates.

CCiD is one of several others that Dilaab hopes to run in Cebu and across the country as it moves towards finding the right leaders for a broken Philippines.

The initial impact of CCiD can be gleaned in a new term agreed upon by the participants. They are no rivals or enemies but “co-candidates.” It is a good step in the right direction.

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