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.