Thursday, May 6, 2010

Sowing seeds

St. Peter’s Church in the diocese of Novaliches, Quezon City, is a national landmark of sorts. Not only does it have the most number of masses during weekends (30+ on a Sunday with around 18 of these in the church building itself), it boldly stands on the same stretch of road that is shared by a religious cult noted for not respecting the consciences of its members. It is also close to government offices of national importance.

The church grounds are also a favorite staging point for political rallies.

Recently, it has become the scene of the sowing of seeds for the evangelization of politics. Last year, it became part of the emerging CiDE network. Not only did some of its staff and volunteers – led by parish priest, Fr. Tony Labiao – attend the national consultation in Cebu, the parish also organized a seminar and an orientation on CiDE for the dioceses of Novaliches and Cubao; the latter ably coordinated by Mr. Johnny Cardenas.

They had actually formed 3 teams to spread CiDE as a result of the 22-23 July seminar but nature intervened with the devastation brought about by typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng. The parish was in the forefront of disaster relief.

Things began to pick up again with a CiDE national gathering last 2-3 February followed up by a trainors’ training for pastoral workers of St. Peter’s parish and other parishes from different dioceses. To facilitate coordination for the work of CiDE, participants agreed to cross church boundaries and use political boundaries so the grassroots would be better served.

Then a discernment integrity recollection for candidates was organized last 19 March by the three dioceses in Quezon City: Novaliches, Cubao, and Caloocan. This was attended by about 70 candidates, including some very familiar faces. The recollection could not have occurred on a better date: the feast of St Joseph, truly a leader in the fullest sense of the word.
The formation of the practical conscience takes time and effort: “The Church proposes; she imposes nothing.”

At least, seeds are being sowed.


Many candidates hunger for discernment integrity recollections. In one diocese where this was organized, a priest-organizer jokingly remarked that the recollection made some candidate angry towards the local ordinary. “Why is this organized only now? We should have had this before we submitted our certificates of candidacy,” one participant was quoted as saying.

So far, feedback from participants has been overwhelmingly positive in the nine dioceses where the recollections have so far been given. There is hunger for a spiritual space for sifting through one’s thoughts and to make room for God. This rings true since such recollections do not allow entry by the media and there are no endorsements.

What is critical to the conduct and sustainability of the recollections and its key result area of creating a spiritual space for listening is the presence of pastoral companions who offer different services.

What has emerged is quite interesting. In one diocese, most of the companions were lay people who are active in the parish. In another, two bishops were visible at various times during the recollection. In another, priests played this role.

Only God really knows where this is headed. He takes the lead, and we follow. Yet, he has already shown the way. In the writer of the letter to the Ephesians reflects: “For he is the peace between us, and has the two into one entity and broken down the barrier which used to keep them apart…” (2: 14).

Exchanging places leads to healing.


Forty candidates from the local to the provincial levels attended a candidates’ recollection in the diocese of Maasin last 4 March. The spiritual space for listening had been organized by Barug Maasin (an anti-corruption group) and the social-action office.

The event was held at the St. Joseph school.
One incident stands out. The mayor of the town of St. Bernard (i.e. the horrific landslide killing many students and their teachers) stood up and made the following impassioned plea:

I believe that, if all priests do the same then we'll have more conscientious voters. My request is for priests all over the country to get involved in 'NO VOTE BUYING, NO GUNS OR GOONS AND NO CHEATING' campaign. If possible, they should guide the faithful on the good qualities of the candidates to elect and the bad qualities of the candidates to reject, short of naming names. I can see the influence of the priests upon the people, more than the influence mayors exert upon them. As candidates we will try our best to break and change the distorted political culture, but there is synergy if we do it together.

He told me later that his request was inspired by the story of another priest, Fr. Ver of Cebu.

Here was an impassioned plea from an elected public servant who recognizes the critical role the Church plays in the journey towards social transformation. This is a sign of the times, a plea for pastoral accompaniment. After all, when one journeys with another, it is not from a distance but up close and personal.

How shall we respond to this call?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

I am Catholic

A FEW days ago I had the chance to chat with a ranking PNP officer of one of the regions of the country. He looked trim and inspired confidence. I soon discovered a public servant who wanted to do his job professionally and effectively.
“I have no ambition with regards to where I will be assigned; hence, I do not really care about the reactions of politicians regarding my impartial implementation of the law during elections. I am not siding with anyone and the result is that many politicians are angry at me,” he told me.
He was not putting on airs. Before our conversation I had a chance to talk with individuals who were inspired by his example. They noted, for instance, how entire police units had been relieved due to their siding with certain politicians. The police officer means business and there is no haggling when it comes to the law concerning illegal firearms. Check points continue their vigilance.
“Do not make a wrong, right; rather, do the right thing,” he would constantly remind his men. He leads by example as he is careful not to fall into a relationship of dependency with any politician.
Then, when I was about to leave, the police officer took me aside and whispered: “I am doing this, Father, because I am Catholic.”
In another context, an elderly candidate stood up and shared before about 100 other candidates during a discernment integrity recollection: “In the 34 years that I have been in politics, I have not used any money to buy votes. I have not cheated.”
Surprisingly his claim was met with a tranquil silence and there was no contrary feedback afterwards. He seems to have told the truth.
He continued: “I have also not forgotten to practice my faith. I go to mass and I am a member of a prayer group. I am a practicing Catholic.”
Finally, during a CiDE seminar for pastoral workers in Pagadian, a priest stood up to share before the group how he has devised a simple message for his parishioners. He has a poster which reads: “I am Catholic. I do not sell my vote!”
Yes, being Catholic – a Christian – should make a difference.

About 10 percent of our population already work or live abroad. They keep our economy afloat. Many dream of coming back to the Philippines to retire. They continue to be concerned about what’s happening in the country and are affected by them.
We need to listen to their voices.
Last year, a Dilaab team gave two CiDE orientations to two OFW groups in Hong Kong. Very recently, we gave one before members of the AIT (Asian Institute of Technology) and the AFT (Association of Filipinos in Thailand). After a slow start, the group of students, professionals, and residents started to warm up and a lively discussion ensued.
One man showed a stubborn streak. He asked me who I am endorsing for president. He did this about five times, albeit in variations on the same theme. I held my ground and told him we were doing something even better than just endorsing: we were proposing a process and a mechanism for helping people make up their minds on whom to vote for.
“But we need information and data on the candidates, Fatherr,” one of them observed. It turned out that while they appreciated the LASER test and how this framework as well as process would help them, they, the OFWs, do not have much access to data and information; and if they do, they need to sift through these.
The 12 July statement of the bishops reminded “the laity that it is within their right as well as their duty to campaign for candidates they believe to be competent, honest, and public-service minded in order to reform our country.”
If the voting faithful are to fulfill this task, they need to have information on the candidates. These data and information need to be prayerfully weighed in the light of the LASER test and other frameworks.
How about our CiDE network offering this service through a website?

I am amazed how young children nowadays quickly imbibe the political air, from jingles to the nicknames of candidates.
Ino, my 4 year-old nephew, is typical of the lot. He knows the names of national candidates and even some of their taglines.
Once, in a fit of amusement, I asked him: “Ino whom are you voting for?” His answer was prompt: “Siya lang kay bati siya og nawong.” (“I will vote for this candidate who is ugly”).
I do not know where my nephew got his inspiration but I would like to think that the seeds of principle-based politics have somehow been sowed on him. He does not look at appearances or rather appearances mean something else to him.
As elections draws near, 90k+ (?) candidates are vying for 14k+ positions (?). Each one would seek out to draw the attention of individuals and groups, particularly of the many members of the C, D, and E classes who comprise the majority of voters.
Some individuals, fired up with a blind sense of self-regard, have suggested that voting be made a privilege and prerogative of certain sectors of society based on economic contributions. This is a dangerous proposition, one that has historical antecedents. Besides economic contributions, race, sex, and other determinants have been proposed. What would be the criteria? Who determines what constitutes a basis - and on what basis? What have been the results of such experiments? Images of Nazism – and other –isms – should dispel such claims.
At least, Ino’s choice goes against a current tendency to choose just on the basis of who is the most photogenic or glib.
On the other hand, various studies show that many, even majority, of Filipino voters want to choose candidates who will promote the common good. Yet, time and again, we end up with leaders who do not promote the common good.
What is the missing link? How do we address this?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Lessons to be learned

The first time I read about a priest running for office in the 2007 elections, I did not even give the news article a second glance. “Poor priest,” I mumbled to myself, “he is in for sure defeat.”
Subsequent events proved me wrong. I eventually got to know Among Ed. His journey, to say the least, has been a very difficult one. We share a fundamental realization: when we bring Jesus on board the journey towards nation building, we reach our destinations sooner than later – even if our approaches may differ.
In a meeting nearly 3 years ago with Among Ed and some of his supporters, including some priests, we heard their dramatic account of how they tackled the unsavory prospect of choosing between two candidates, both widely believed to be involved in illegal activities.
“Ganito na lang ba tayo?” they had asked themselves. It was a valid question, one that fired up the indignation of many Kapampangans who admitted that their sense of pride was hurt by such a prospect of choosing between two evils.
This question has since been a rallying cry in the CiDE network as our team engaged various participants from different places in the country. “Ganito na lang ba tayo?” – a people so gifted and living in a well-endowed archipelago yet many feeling the compulsion of leaving the country for greener, more hopeful, pastures? “Is this what life is all about?” – a largely Christian nation but very tolerant towards dirty, even violent, elections?
Yes, “Ganito na lang ba tayo?” No! Most of our participants would say so.

One of the nine circles of discernment that Dilaab organized in 2008 was with “Silingan Ka” (“You are neighbor”) of Ipil, Zamboanga. From them we heard the story of principle-based endorsement that respected the consciences of people.
Allow me to quote extensively from write-up the group shared with us:
Silingan Ka (SK) is a multi-sectoral, interreligious, and inter-cultural group whose 15-member body of convenors decide as a body as to which candidate to endorse for those vying for provincial seats, like governors and provincial board members.
The proliferation of graft and corruption and vote-buying spurred the formation of the SK.
To endorse a unanimous vote must be reached. Failing to reach consensus no endorsement is made. For endorsement of candidates at the municipal level, ten municipal chapters are created. These municipal chapters endorse candidates for the seats of the municipal government, like mayors and councilors.

In order to qualify as member, one must: (1) not be a politician; (2) have no record of having become a political leader who was engaged in buying votes; and (3) not have sold his vote.
Members join as individuals, not as representatives or leaders of a certain parochial group or religious institution. The church members get involved, as individuals, not as representatives of the church they belong. Some members are members of the BEC, lay ministries, and catechisms. Priests sit as members and advisers, and are involved in the endorsement process.
The members are recommended and recruited by the convenors. They are chosen based on character: principled, have not sold their votes, and have hope (paglaum). Those who are recruited by the convenors are already perceived as possessing these qualities.
Choosing the members is a very crucial process. Convenors play a major role in selecting a member. If mistake is made in choosing a member, the organization will become vulnerable to graft and corruption.
Clarity of objectives and specifying recruitment standards are just two aspects needing attention right from the start. The involvement of priests is something needing special discernment; at the very least, priests are called to provide “space” – physical, emotional, and spiritual – so that such groups may emerge.

Let us allow Silingan Ka representatives to continue:
In going about the endorsement process, Silingan Ka first obtains a track record of each candidate, which will be distributed to the members for them to study.
They then discuss the issues of the province, what needed to be done for the progress of the province, and the grading of the candidate based on a questionnaire. The questionnaire comprises of a set of questions that will be rated at 0-5 by each member based on their individual opinion.
The candidate who gets the highest grade is the one who will be deliberated upon by the convenors whether he is fit to be endorsed. The convenors must reach a consensus in order to choose a candidate.
Finally, once they have chosen a candidate, they will conduct a campaign for the election of the chosen candidate. In endorsing a candidate, they allot two spaces for the voter's personal choice (e.g. if there are five provincial board members to be chosen, Silingan Ka would only endorse three candidates).
Then after the elections, those who have been chosen and won in the election are summoned by Silingan Ka, and are asked to sign a covenant. The covenant consists of objectives/promises/goals that the winning official must pursue during his term.
My friends from SK later told me that this process of endorsing led to a 70% average of endorsed local candidates to be elected; 60% for provincial candidates; and 40% for national candidates. Not bad.
By leaving room for voters’ personal choice and assuring groups that their endorsement is just a proposal, not an imposition, the SK process was not divisive.
There are lessons to be learned here.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Vote God

I must confess I was not exactly comfortable when I first heard the proposed name to our election campaign: “Vote God.” It sounded so out of this world and maybe even escapist. Yet, as the communication expert on the other side of the table handed over a piece of paper with these two words inscribed in it, I saw a man saw serenely convinced about the campaign name.
Then it slowly dawned on me. If Philippine elections and politics, as the Catholic bishops had written in 1997, “systematically exclude” our Christian values, then we indeed need to choose God and the way of God during elections. So: “Vote God.”
My appreciation for this choice has since deepened. These two words capture succinctly where we presently stand as a movement by mirroring where we have been and where we are moving. “Vote God” is about an election initiative with God as choice.
God, for sure, is not running for office and no single individual or even group can claim monopoly of God. But God is in all of us, through an embedded voice in the depths of human hearts. To obey this voice is to choose God and the way of God. The challenge is the many voices competing with this voice. It takes moral and spiritual discernment to sift through these voices; also moral, even spiritual, courage to choose good and reject evil.
“Vote God” takes its cue from the remarks of a woman who had attended the first CiDE (circles of discernment for elections) seminar in a Cebu parish last year. Earlier during the day, she expressed despondency over politicians and elections. Yet, at the end of the day she reversed her view: “We can still do something about elections. Next year, I will ask all the local candidates: ‘Do you have God fearing?’”
Wrong grammar, but correct hope.


When I was a little boy, I had the typical tendency to be choosy about my food. My father had a very effective way of dealing with this defect.
He would fire up my imagination by telling me that each food group actually played a critical role in the defense of my body. Rice granules, for instance, were foot soldiers ready to engage minute enemies. Eggs were aircraft carriers. Tomatoes were grenades. Bananas were submarines. So on and so forth.
His approach was indeed convincing. This was my first exposure to a communication plan that changed behavior because it entered the world of its target audience.
Dilaab is blessed with very committed volunteers from the world of communications. They advise us on how to focus on a single message and that less is more. They have been with us in our defining moments as a movement.
Jesus was a great communicator. He used images that people understood and he embodied their deepest aspirations.
Elections 2010 offer an opportunity to evangelize politics. A Dilaab communication plan will be released today as we call on people, both candidates and voters, to choose the way of God during elections.
We call it our “VOTE GOD” campaign.

Some people see a glass either half empty or half full. They are either pessimistic or optimistic. I am not one or the other. I see a glass waiting to be filled to be brim. I am gifted with hope.
But I am not the only one.
When one first meets Fr. Virgilio “Ver” Pedrano, one does not get the impression of a fiery, passionate preacher. He really is not one nor does he need to be one. He leaves the loud histrionics to others. He leads by example which is what really counts. “The modern world no longer listens to teachers. They listen to witnesses. If they do listen to teachers, it is because they also happen to be witnesses,” Paul VI said something to this effect.
Fr. Ver is a man, a priest, of hope. And his hope is contagious.
When he was about to experience his first election as parish priest of a mountain parish in Cebu, he thought to himself how sad it is that the dignity of many of his poor parishioners would once more be trampled upon as a result of vote buying and vote selling.
He decided to do something about it.
He talked with candidates and asked them not to buy votes nor do any of its variations. He talked with voters and asked them not to sell votes. He then preached about it during mass. “Those who will not sell or buy votes, God will reward. Those who will sell or buy votes, God will remember,” he put it simply.
He then organized a candidates’ forum facilitated by a Church-based organization. This ended with a covenant signing.
Some strange things began to happen, like local politicians campaigning and, when their rivals happened to pass by, asking the latter to join them and say something to the gathering crowd.
A few days prior to elections, the good priest donned his sutana and made the rounds of barangays where he gently reminded people of their campaign against vote buying and vote selling.
One woman “wholesaler” of votes saw Fr. Ver’s figure. She returned the bagful of money she had received earlier. In all, based on interviews with locals, vote buying was reduced by 50 percent.
Not bad. Hope indeed is contagious.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Random thoughts

Someone recently reminded me to share stories of how God is changing our country, one person and one group at a time.
I recall an incident when I was in my final year in college. Out of the blue, a thought comes to me to purchase a notebook and call it “random thoughts on cluttered wisdom.” Nothing came out of that notebook.
Now more than 30 years later, I will once more share my random thoughts, this time with individuals who, in one way or another, are making the Dilaab journey with me.

I still recall his stare: they were from incredulous, even suspicious, eyes. I could not blame him; after all, what was this priest who was speaking before candidates to the May 2010 elections really trying to achieve?
My friend was one of 24 candidates from the town of Barobo, Surigao del Sur who attended the discernment integrity recollection for candidates last 16 and 20 February. This was the longest recollection so far, all of one and a half days. The parish priest and his assistant really did a good job in convincing them to “waste” time. After all, the gathering did not bring in voters or the media. It was a sacred space for listening to God.
On the Sunday after the recollection, the candidates signed a meaningful covenant at the 6 am mass.
My friend was now smiling.

Our Roman Catholic bishops have called on the faithful to be involved in “principled partisan politics.” What do they mean?
I got part of the answer during a recent recollection for candidates in Tagbilaran. While being members of the same Charismatic community, the candidates came in different political colors. They adopted the term being promoted by CiDE: candidates have “co-candidates,” not political opponents. While still a long way from eradicating political violence, this language moves away from the Maguindanao syndrome.
Some of the participants in the recollection were no strangers to violence. One was happy to note that his name had to do with “life” (“vita”). “One day several years ago,” he said, “I was a political candidate in our town and I was part of this group that was ambushed.” He then showed us his tell-tale scars.
“While I was down,” he continued, “I still managed to call upon God to save me.”
He now runs as an independent and, with very little resources, is unafraid since he feels it is God who is calling him to serve.
We pray for the safety of all our candidates.

When I was a little boy, I had the typical tendency to choose my food. My father had a very effective way of dealing with this defect.
He would fire up my imagination by telling me that each food group actually played a critical role in the defense of my body. Rice granules, for instance, were foot soldiers ready to engage minute enemies. Eggs were aircraft carriers. Tomatoes were grenades. Bananas were submarines. So on and so forth.
His approach was indeed convincing. This was my first exposure to a communication plan that changed behavior because it entered the world of its target audience.
Dilaab is blessed with very committed volunteers from the world of communications. They advise us on how to focus on a single message and that less is more. They have been with us in our defining moments as a movement.
Jesus was a great communicator. He used images that people understood and he embodied their deepest aspirations.
Elections 2010 offer an opportunity to evangelize politics.


Sunday, January 31, 2010

A marathon for peace

THIS process of peacemaking may be likened to a marathon race.
The marathon is a long-distance race wherein long-term strategy, stamina, and persistence win out over speed and short cuts, and reaching the finish line belongs to those who just keep at it. A different kind of preparation and training, as well as breathing technique, is needed in a marathon. In many respects, in a marathon the journey is the destination.
Let me suggest five elements of a marathon: starting point; companions; signposts and marshals; refreshment; and destination. These correspond to our strategy of pastoral accompaniment:

…A refuge, sanctuary, or space where people come alongside in a journey together towards integrity for the common good.
It is a trust relationship growing in a journey of faith, hope, and love, a call to all the faithful, involving discipline and special skills.

Marathon runners gather at a particular starting point. This designated area is known to all the runners. They have to begin here in order to be part of the race.
We begin our efforts for peace with the recognition, on the one hand, of man’s broken condition and need for God and, on the other, God who is both powerful and merciful. The capacity to exchange places, or empathy, is rooted in the incarnation which finds its apex in Jesus’ death on the cross: God exchanges places with sinful man.
Exchanging places allows people from various sectors and backgrounds to come alongside together in the journey towards integrity for the common good. The journey towards a transformed nation does not begin with persons of integrity but persons moving towards integrity and manifesting concrete indicators of this direction. This insight corresponds to the need to provide “a refuge, sanctuary, or space where people come alongside in a journey together towards integrity for the common good.”
Everything is grace and our capacity to take the first step is already a gift from God. There is no room for self righteousness and finger pointing. No room also for complacency and sloth.
What is crucial in a marathon is that runners are moving in the right direction. This fundamental option allows people to make mistakes and even to fall short of the mark as long as they are willing to start over again or are moving towards integrity for the common good.
The church is called to be open to working with individuals and groups who show concrete indicators that they are undertaking the journey towards integrity for the common good.

No one runs the marathon alone. Even those who finish last are part of the group, each one running at his or her pace.
We recognize that we are all in this together, as part of the problem and part of the solution. This is why in the partnership with and outreach to the PNP the motto is: “Underneath the uniform and the sotana are the same human beings, created in God’s image and likeness, broken by sin, and needing God and each other in the journey towards wholeness.” This is why Benedict XVI calls the Church to “provide pastoral accompaniment to a new generation of Catholics working in politics.”
Signposts are visible markers – or indicators – that allow runners, their companions, and marshals to gauge where they are at and to move on. The formation of conscience and the process of conversion demand visible fruits that provide indicators of transformation; words and good intentions are not enough. (cf. Luke 3:7-14).
Marshals are our accountable partners and shepherds who keep a watchful eye over the run/race. They are there at critical points when crucial decisions are to be made, i.e. in the crossroads of the race routes where there is probability of succumbing to shortcuts or of taking the easy way out. These temptations take us off the right direction and will most likely cost us disqualification. The marshals are our accountable partners at the crossroads directing us to the right route and seeing to it that we do it right to arrive right.
Faith-impelled social transformation calls for “marshals” who stand apart from the runners but, at the same time, are in the routes and crossroads. They share the same space as the runners yet have a different objective. These advocates raise questions, clarify, affirm, encourage, and rebuke, if need be. They propose, never impose. They live by the spirit of caritas in veritate (“love in truth”).
Water and food stations are strategically located every 2.5 kms from the starting point to the finish line. Water and runners’ food are vital requirements to finish the race. With no refueling we will never reach the finish line alive, or we will never reach the finish line at all.
We need to replace fluids and electrolytes that are shed off when we run and perspire. Non-replacement could be fatal.
Daily guided and prayerful reading of Sacred Scriptures, daily personal and communal prayers, regular confessions, our Sunday masses and services, our spiritual nourishment by way of receiving the body of Christ in communion, our regular fellowship with fellow believers, etc. – all these correspond to the vital refreshment for replacement and refueling that should be made available to marathoners and of which they avail.
Missing these implements will definitely cost us our spiritual lives, hence our inability to arrive and finish the race of our life.
The finish line is the gate to heaven for every runner who struggles to finish the race, despite all the odds.
This is the endpoint that began with the decision to run the race. The end begins with this end in view. It starts with the decision to religiously follow a training schedule, a diet, a sleeping schedule and a mind setting or praying schedule which must end in an anchoring that will provide the necessary focus to stick with the resolve to run and finish the race.
The 42.195 grueling kilometers, cramps, blisters, the ever present temptation to just stop running or just quit, the lingering questions “what for”, “why go through such hardship” – all these are defeated by focus and the desire to finish and arrive at the destination, the blissful and peaceful taste of victory and the eternal reward of finally having the indelible mark of a “marathoner” finally resolves it all.
Running the race is definitely worth everything because such is the essence of one’s being. To finish the race is to be called to life with and for GOD and ending at the destination which is a PEACEFUL, blissful eternal fellowship with GOD.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Adios Amigo

THE late Engr. Ernesto R. Aboitiz had unusually young looking eyes: sharp, inquisitive, clear, and active. Surrounded by a thick frock of gray hair and a prominent goatee, his eyes revealed a youthful spirit that no aging body could confine.
It was as if the poet Samuel Ullman was thinking of him when he wrote the memorable lines: “You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear, as young as your hope, as old as your despair.”
I got to know Engr. Ernesto Aboitiz during the defining days of People Power 2. A friendship was born between a veteran advocate and a middle-aged upstart in the work of political advocacy. He soon became a dear friend, a feisty fiscalizer, and a precious mentor. He also became the first personal monthly pledger of our fledgling movement.
Ernie was an acquired taste. At first encounter, one gets the uneasy feeling of being stretched out of one’s comfort zones. After all, Mr. Aboitiz had been there and done those things that were just beginning to dawn on me. Ernie had worked with two presidents and was involved in the phase of transition between the two. It was no easy role but he had his conscience and his Church to guide him. I recall with admiration how often a man of his stature would humbly ask specific guidance from persons much younger and less well known than himself, only because they were priests of the Church.
One can say he was a dye-in-the-wool Catholic who was not timid about concealing his core identity in the challenging worlds of business, government, and high society. He was a bearer of Catholic identity and culture. Once, when he was with me in our rather tight and bare space we called a “prayer room” for a mass, I asked him to remove his shoes before entering. He did so with no hesitation. Ernie was a simple man who had a deep sense of the sacred even if he was not exactly what people ordinarily refer to as religious. Sir Ernie, a title bestowed on him in 2009 by his St. Sylvester Papal award, was so becoming of him.
The gospel last Sunday (Luke 2:41-52) on the finding of Jesus in the temple show an inquisitive boy of twelve who is comfortable in the presence of influential people, even as later on he also showed himself to be very much at home with the poor.
Inquisitiveness is the first step towards wisdom. Wise people begin by asking; often good questions are more important than good answers. Ernie had endless questions that threatened the uninitiated but shed light to those who were open. While there would be disagreements, the process of asking removed the superfluous and often only the truly essential remained. It was his way of sharing his cumulative wisdom as well as channeling the energies of what later on became the Dilaab movement.
The questions taught us many things: that resources, when the hearts and the systems are not in the right place, can be a curse; that empathy and compassion towards public servants is essential if we are to have meaningful change; that by linking with others and becoming part of a network we do not have to reinvent wheels; that people need to put their money where their mouths are; that prevention is better than cure; that effectiveness is not just a frenzy of activities; etc. By insisting on concrete counterparts from stakeholders in advocacy work, he embodied the Church’s vision of a community of disciples where no one is so poor so as not to be able to give anything and no one is so rich so as not to be able to receive anything.
Last December 2009 he showed himself thinking of others even as he entered a very difficult period in his life. He said to me: “It is really so simple to help others if you really want to and the best way to help is to be in government. It gives you a big high just because many are helped due to a little effort on your part.” It is small surprise that my dear friend was happiest with our outreach to the police and he was looking forward to the germination of the seed of our effort to evangelize politics.
Last year, Ernie and other members of our network planted some seedlings. He did more than that. He planted some seeds for Dilaab, the Church, and the nation.
Do not worry Ernie, we will continue to water the seedlings while God will give the growth. Adios Amigo!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Circles of Discernment for Elections

Keeping the flame of people power alive
Heroic Christian citizenship and leadership practiced on a daily basis is the new name of People Power. A good Christian must also strive to be a good citizen and a good leader. We are reminded of this in the final words of the priest in the novena mass of the Sto. NiƱo at the Basilica in Cebu: “Go in peace and remember a good Christian makes for a better citizen.”
Doing one’s solemn duty of voting wisely during elections is a concrete exercise of good citizenship in the search for good leaders. These are two sides of the same coin. As the saying goes, we get the leaders we deserve.
Voting wisely is a key ingredient of development. Development, the common concern of all social sectors, requires good governance. The latter, in turn, results from principled politics, the fruit of principled politicians and engaged citizens. How we vote and whom we vote for determines the kind of politics we have.
A play on words on the term “politics” yields the Greek words polis (“city”) and tiktw (“I give birth”). Those who are engaged in politics, therefore, are giving birth to the city. Citizens (polites) give birth to the city and the birthing process includes voting during elections. Politicians, on the other hand, are also called to this birthing process through “the art of government and public service" (CBCP 1997). The latter is a noble calling.
Sadly, already more than a decade ago, our bishops point out that “Philippine politics--the way it is practiced--has been most hurtful of us as a people. It is possibly the biggest bane in our life as a nation and the most pernicious obstacle to our achieving of full human development." The challenges continue.
The situation becomes even more painful when we recall that we Filipino Catholics comprise the majority of our people and are primarily responsible for building a more just society (CFC 1197). That corruption and lack of good governance continue to be rampant in the country indicate that a just society is still largely a distant dream. Yet, while admitting our failures as individuals and as a sector, we need to move on and learn from our experiences.
Several points need to be made. The bishops reiterate that faith is "systematically excluded" in our political culture. This exclusion of Christian values begins during elections. One can even say that the original sin of graft and corruption in our country is traceable to how patronage politics permeate our elections.
During elections, many politicians run to win at any and all cost. Election expenses reach insane levels. Many look at elections and public office as a business venture; political dynasties preserve family interests. Money is invested and “investors” often come from vested and even illegal interests. When payback time comes, the common good suffers. Present salary levels of elected officials simply cannot compensate for the expenses incurred during election.
On the other hand, voters often succumb to the “lesser-evil” syndrome, wrongly thinking that choosing the lesser evil is a teaching of the Church. Choosing the lesser evil eventually leads to more evil.
A local church recently conducted a survey during a catechist assembly asking them what they most or least like about candidates. Ranked six for “most like” and “least like” were candidates offering bigger amounts in buying votes and candidates who are poor, respectively. We are all part of the problem and also part of the solution.
On the other hand, an SWS survey just before the 2007 elections concludes that most Filipinos deny self-interest, the bandwagon, and political machinery. Regarding self-interest, for instance, 79% of 1,400 respondents nationwide chose to say that “I will vote for a candidate if most will benefit from him/her even if I myself will not” and only 21% chose to say that “I will vote for a candidate if I will personally benefit from him or her, even if most will not.” This result and others show a positive stance of voters. Why are such intentions not translated into reality?
The uneven picture that emerges may suggest some missing links in the process of conscience formation. PCP II 285-286 notes: “From the level of moral tendency to the actual practical judgment is a process whereby conscience discerns and judges. Discernment is likewise part of the dimension of conscience. The discernment of conscience is a pre-requisite of moral behavior.”
What may be missing is a process and mechanism whereby conscience as a “moral tendency” becomes a “practical moral judgment” regarding choice of candidates (cf. PCP II 284). This is critical since “the more a correct conscience prevails, the more do persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and try to be guided by the objective standards of moral conduct” (PCP II 286). Hence, it is not just “do good and avoid evil” but “do this particular good and avoid this particular evil” or “choose this particular good and avoid this particular evil.” To attain this, specific questions must be raised regarding candidates and answers obtained and validated in a deliberate, proactive, communal, methodical, and God-centered manner.
But mechanism is not enough. However well the practical conscience is formed on political matters, if there are no good choices, people will still continue to fall for the lesser evil. There is need to help good people step up and run for office.

Pastoral Accompaniment as key
The need for such mechanism and options finds a critical and paradigm-shifting starting point from Pope Benedict XVI who, last 15 November 2008 before the 23rd Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, says:

In a particular way, I confirm the necessity and urgency of the evangelical formation and pastoral accompaniment of a new generation of Catholics working in politics, that they be coherent with the professed faith, that they have moral firmness, the capacity of educated judgment, professional competence and passion for service to the common good.

“Pastoral accompaniment” was left undefined by the Pope. Dilaab, a faith-impelled movement for social transformation defines it as “a refuge, sanctuary, or space where people come alongside in a journey together towards integrity for the common good. It is a trust relationship growing in a journey of faith, hope, and love, a call to all the faithful, involving discipline and special skills.”
Such pastoral strategy and a corresponding spirituality hold the key to the Church’s effective, fruitful, and sustainable engagement with other social sectors. It is the fire behind fruitful Church’s contribution towards total human development and the emerging efforts at good governance and principled politics. Without this loving mode of engagement, any political initiative can easily degenerate into politicking and mere activism. Love indeed is “the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity,” as Benedict XVI writes.
Pastoral accompaniment supports the emergence of good people running for elected positions, if elections are to cease being the choice between lesser evils. After all, “contrary to the commonly voiced opinion that politics and public life are ‘dirty’ and to be shunned, PCP II ‘stands on record to urge lay faithful to participate actively and lead in renewing politics in accordance with the values of the good news of Jesus’” (CFC 1193).
More recently, last 12 July 2009, the CBCP Statement on Lay Participation in Politics and Peace, called “upon those who are competent, persons of integrity, and committed to change to get involved directly in principled partisan politics, and become candidates for political election…” It also reminds the laity that it is their right and duty to campaign for such candidates.
In the past, partisan politics was a bad word in the Church. With this statement, the bishops have opened the gates that can release and channel the immense pent-up energies of our people, particularly the Catholic faithful, for meaningful political change from a faith perspective. This calls for a politics of hope and patience.
The ball is now in the court of the laity.

Circles of Discernment for Elections
In the present political culture, candidates usually emerge when someone presents himself or herself to the public as running for office. All other considerations revolve and adjust to this personality.
This is not what happens in the corporate world. Companies begin with a set of qualifications. Only then do individuals apply. There is need then to develop a bottom-up process starting with principles before personalities are taken into consideration. But such process must begin where people are at; principles must be grounded in reality for the process to be effective and responsible.
The bible itself mentions qualities to be looked for in leaders, as in Exodus 18:21 (“But you should also look among all the people for able and God-fearing men, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain, and set them as officers over groups…”) and 1 Timothy 3:1-10 regarding qualities of ministers. Perhaps the most succinct is Psalm 78:72: “And he (David) tended them with an upright heart, and with skillful hands he guided them.”
Many groups have emerged attempting to bring about new politics through voters’ education, political education, and even identification of principled candidates. This is a welcome development. Discernment, however, is needed. Unless the proposed process is prayerful and simple enough, and really engage ordinary citizens, such efforts are bound to become subtle varieties of patronage politics. A democracy like ours ought to provide a way for ordinary people to express their views.
One possible approach is the circles of discernment for elections (CiDE) that are being adopted by a number of local churches in partnership with the Dilaab movement. It begins with prayer since its larger framework is really the Year of Prayer and Work for Peace-building and Lay Participation in Social Change from June 2009 to June 2010 as declared by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). The prayer to the Twin Hearts of Jesus and Mary is vital.
The CiDE approach is the fruit of nine circles of discernment conducted by Dilaab in 2008, including a gathering of Visayan bishops convened by Ricardo J. Cardinal Vidal of Cebu. The resulting one-day seminar (called the Mabolo seminar, after the first parish that adopted it) tries to answer three questions: Ganito na lang ba tayo? Maari pa ba tayong managinip at ano ang ating mga panaginip? Anong uri ng mga lider ang kakailanganin natin upang makamit natin ang ating mga panaginip?
In CiDE seminars in different local churches and even one in Hong Kong, the Dilaab team has seen both positive and negative energies articulated. It has also witnessed conversion as in the case of a participant who started out very cynical but ended with a renewed commitment: “I will ask the candidates if they have God-fearing and honest.” Grammatically awkward, yes, but coming from a re-energized soul.
One feedback captures the spirit of CiDE: “It's important to note that CiDE is very consultative, since guidelines and qualifications really come from the people, and not imposed on them. It is also empowering because it gives people the opportunity to express their sentiments and ideals, and encourages them to move to achieve their dreams…it leads people to be responsible by asking them to choose candidates according to their (people's) criteria, not based on media hype.”
After two national consultations last year and several CiDE seminars in different local churches, a network is emerging. A consensus on the top five qualities and qualifications of candidates is emerging. These are: God-fearing and morally upright; transparent leadership; servant leadership; competence; and pro-life. These qualities, however, have sub-qualities tucked beneath them. “God-fearing,” for instance, includes prayerful, well-formed conscience, holy, morally upright, discerning, Christ-centered, beholden to the Lord, etc.
Even as the CiDE seminars continue to spread, the growing convergence holds the potential of helping shape the political agenda from a faith perspective. Interestingly, the aforementioned qualities of leaders coincide with those of Exodus 18:21.

The next step is how to determine who really have these qualities. Further questions need to be asked and another mechanism for obtaining, validating, and disseminating information needs to be set up. Pastoral accompaniment and evangelical formation is a never-ending process.
(For more information or details regarding the results of the CiDE seminar, or CiDE seminar-requests, call/text 09173248388 or email us at