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.