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

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