Below is the UST Varsitarian’s Discussion Paper on the 2007 Elections, which outlines the qualities candidates must have in order to get the Catholic “truth vote.” The paper was shared with student leaders who took part in the Varsitarian election survey. The paper was the product of discussions by Varsitarian editors and alumni led by current editor in chief Nicolo Bernardo; former editor in chief Felipe Salvosa, now sub-editor of BusinessWorld and professor at the UST Graduate School; and UST student publications adviser Lito Zulueta, also editor and editorialist of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, faculty member of the UST Faculty of Arts and Letters, and chair of the National Committee on Literary Arts of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

THE TRAGEDY of Philippine democracy is rooted in the way politics is conducted in this country, and how national elections, held every three years since the 1987 Constitution, are fought and won.

First, voters have come to accept, out of indifference or even apathy, the recurring crop of candidates who are either politically and economically well-entrenched, are inventions of the ubiquitous media, or are pretenders claiming to represent the people’s will.

Second, there are really no true, national political parties, and political platforms are often merely an afterthought. Political alliances, meanwhile, are based on expedience and convenience, yielding strange bedfellows.

Third, elections are fueled by a hefty campaign chest, and only those who have the resources to manipulate the antiquated, manual process of casting and counting the votes can expect to win them.

Fourth, voter education has been inadequate in lifting the majority of voters out of ignorance. The Church, fortunately, has made significant strides on this aspect of public life, never failing to steer its flock toward making clear moral choices. In its first document on the political process, issued ahead of the national elections of 1957, the Philippine ecclesiastical hierarchy said: “the high posts in the executive and legislative departments… demand men of great prudence, balanced judgment and wide vision, for they will have to frame policies gravely affecting the lives, the property and the future of our people.”1

Benedict XVI has warned repeatedly against the dangers of relativism and pluralism, a “dictatorship” which has no respect for natural and moral law. Before he became Pope, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, as the Church’s chief doctrinal guardian, declared that Catholic politicians have a duty to oppose legislation that ran contrary to life. Indeed, the tendency toward moral relativism has afforded politicians a convenient excuse to tolerate or even promote policies that cater to the popular trend and avoid the responsibility to make ethical choices.

Benedict’s predecessor, the late great Pope John Paul II, had called on Filipinos to support leaders who uphold the dignity of life and are “role models of moral behavior.”2

The 2007 elections are crucial coming after a time of great political and moral upheaval. Voters will elect a new set of legislators who will craft policies touching on the political, economic, and moral aspects of life. Unfortunately, public trust in Congress is at a low, and the air of confusion and cynicism still pervades. But the need for Filipino Catholics to ensure representation at all levels of policymaking is even greater given the growing moral challenges.

One way to overcome the monumental scourge of relativism is for lay people to serve as credible witnesses in carrying out their civic duties. In the context of political life and the electoral process, Catholics should make informed choices and encourage others to do the same. As Cardinal Ratzinger had said, citing the teachings of the Second Vatican Council: “The lay faithful are never to relinquish their participation in ‘public life’, that is, in the many different economic, social, legislative, administrative and cultural areas, which are intended to promote organically and institutionally the common good.”3

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The Israelites were told, following the exodus: “Choose wise, discerning and experienced men from your tribes, and I will appoint them as your heads. (Dt. 1:13)” Christ, in the New Testament, referred to leaders as being first in line to serve others: “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all Mark (10:42-45).” Therefore, leaders must have:

Commitment to democracy and peace

Candidates must adhere to the inviolable democratic precepts of the rule of law and civilian supremacy over the military, and uphold the basic freedoms, believing that change must be through peaceful means. John Paul II in Centesimus Annus says: “The Church values the democratic system inasmuch as it ensures the participation of citizens in making political choices, guarantees to the governed the possibility both of electing and holding accountable those who govern them, and of replacing them through peaceful means when appropriate. Thus she cannot encourage the formation of narrow ruling groups which usurp the power of the State for individual interests or for ideological ends.”

Candidates must deplore attempts to undermine civil liberties, in particular the right to assembly, freedom of speech and of the press, and freedom of religion. The recently passed anti-terrorism legislation should not be a pretext to subvert these freedoms. In a democratic system, citizens should be able to demand transparency and accountability, and must have easy access to public records as guaranteed by the Constitution.

Commitment to the dignity of life and the family

The Church believes that democracy, as “the best expression of the direct participation of citizens in political choices,” succeeds only to the extent “that it is based on a correct understanding of the human person.” Catholic statesmen must recognize that they have a “grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that attacks human life.”

Indeed: “[A] well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals. The Christian faith is an integral unity, and thus it is incoherent to isolate some particular element to the detriment of the whole of Catholic doctrine. The truth about man and the world might be proclaimed and put into action.”4 Catholic statesmen must be public in their positions against laws and policies attacking human life. They can licitly support proposals to limit the negative effects of existing legislation, or work to dutifully obtain at least a partial repeal of unjust laws if abolition is not possible.5

Personal and public integrity

“Building a society based on human dignity can only be achieved when those in authority espouse the principles of right governance and honesty in their personal and public lives and offer unconditional service to their fellow citizens for the common good. Public servants, therefore, have an especially grave obligation to ensure that they are role models of moral behavior and do their best to help others form a correct conscience which at all times shuns any type of graft or corruption.”6 Candidates cannot accept money from illegal gambling and drugs.

Christians have a civic, as well as moral duty, to elect leaders who are competent and possess a record of honesty and excellence. Voters must reject personalities who rely on popularity rather than experience, as well as relatives or cronies of incumbent officials who seek public office to concentrate power among themselves. More importantly, voters must shun candidates who live ostentatiously and display their wealth insensitively.

Christians must make sure that their political leaders associate with colleagues who are also role models of public life, shunning opportunists and turncoats who switch allegiances based on convenience.

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The Church, however, recognizes the diversity of opinions and that numerous groupings constitute the political spectrum. “On the level of concrete political action, there can generally be a plurality of political parties in which Catholics may exercise — especially through legislative assemblies — their right and duty to contribute to the public life of their country. This arises because of the contingent nature of certain choices regarding the ordering of society, the variety of strategies available for accomplishing or guaranteeing the same fundamental value, the possibility of different interpretations of the basic principles of political theory, and the technical complexity of many political problems. It should not be confused, however, with an ambiguous pluralism in the choice of moral principles or essential values. The legitimate plurality of temporal options is at the origin of the commitment of Catholics to politics and relates directly to Christian moral and social teaching. It is in the light of this teaching that lay Catholics must assess their participation in political life so as to be sure that it is marked by a coherent responsibility for temporal reality.”7

Priority for education and science

Political leaders should promote education as a tool to attain justice by providing equal opportunities to citizens. A bias toward education policies, namely, those that give preference to poor but deserving students and uplift educational standards (not merely those that create more state colleges and universities), reflects a bias for the poor, since education is a way out of poverty.

Political leaders should strive to streamline the massive public educational bureaucracy, which breeds inefficiencies and often encourages mediocrity, tending to waste scarce public funds. Private educational institutions, especially Catholic schools that are not for profit and have a track record of quality but affordable education, should be given some form of support, since they are essentially partners of the state in molding the youth.

Moreover, leaders should support policies that harness science and technology to alleviate poverty, hunger, and sickness, as well as protect the environment and conserve scarce natural resources, but without causing severe damage to ecological balance.

An economic program that pursues the common good

The Church recognizes that the market system is tied to the democratic system. But markets can be harsh to those who do not have market power, resources, and influence. Political leaders must commit to support programs that help the poor, the unemployed, and those who are marginalized by society. There cannot be blind allegiance to mainstream ideologies relying solely on the “unseen hand” guiding market forces. Indeed, the economy must strive to be self-reliant, but should guard against inefficiencies encouraged by sectors pursuing their own self-interests, by gradually opening up to healthy competition from the rest of the world. Tokenism cannot be tolerated as well.

The debate over economic policy must be carried out dispassionately and with reason, but without disregarding the common good. Voters, therefore, must be wary of candidates who proclaim their “nationalist” economic agenda, and those who claim to be “pro-environment,” “anti-mining,” etc. Rather, candidates must be subjected to intense scrutiny. Their business or other vested interests must be disclosed.

On labor issues, candidates must support the just remuneration for workers, and various social benefits “intended to ensure the life and health of workers.” Workers must have the right to regular weekly rest, and the right to pension and insurance for old age and accidents at work.8

Political leaders should strive to stem the exodus of Filipino workers, particularly doctors, nurses, teachers, and skilled labor, by supporting policies that attract new investments (foreign or domestic) and create more jobs. Health sector workers should be given incentives to stay in the Philippines.

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Candidates should recognize that a policy of sending workers abroad as a stop-gap measure to ease the unemployment problem, while resulting in billions of dollars in remittances, is counter-productive in the long run and will drain the country’s talent pool. The migration phenomenon is threatening to deprive Filipinos of access to quality health care and education.

Rather than the usual dole-outs, policies should be instituted to support small businesses and engender a culture of entrepreneurship that will pull people out of the poverty trap. Candidates should be supportive of microfinance programs spearheaded by the private sector and supported by credible government agencies. Economic policies should be geared toward easy access to credit and the improvement of the local business climate.

In general, taxes should be progressive, and processes in setting up new businesses and dealing with government agencies should be rationalized. The decrepit public infrastructure should be upgraded to spur economic development especially in the countryside, and encourage more business activity and investments.

Financing economic development, however, should not come at a heavy price for taxpayers. We recall the late John Paul II’s Jubilee appeal to rich countries and the international financial institutions for debt forgiveness.9 Political leaders should craft policies that remove the country’s dependence on debt, and ease the debt burden which occupies a third of the national government budget.

At the same time, they should resist the temptation to raise new taxes as a quick solution. Instead, the taxation system should be rationalized so that economic sectors that enjoy certain incentives can be compelled to contribute more to the national coffers.

The long-term solution is to encourage the entry and formation of new businesses which will create economic multipliers (such increased incomes through higher employment) and become new sources of tax revenues.

John Paul II states: “Hence, Christians who engage in politics — and who wish to do so as Christians —must act selflessly, not seeking their own advantage, or that of their group or party, but the good of one and all, and consequently, in the first place, that of the less fortunate members of society.” “In a now globalized world, in which the market, which of itself has a positive influence on human freedom and creativity in the economic sector (cf. Centesimus Annus, 42), nonetheless tends to be severed from all moral considerations and to take as its sole norm the law of maximum profit, those Christians who feel themselves called by God to political life have the duty — quite difficult yet very necessary — to conform the laws of the ‘unbridled’ market to the laws of justice and solidarity. Only in this way can we ensure a peaceful future for our world and remove the root causes of conflicts and wars: “peace is the fruit of justice.”10

1Joint Statement of the Catholic Hierarchy of the Philippines on the Eve of the National Elections of 1957, October 11, 1957. 2Address of John Paul II to H.E. Mrs. Leonida L. Vera, Ambassador of the Republic of the Philippines to the Holy See, April 19, 2004. 3Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding The Participation of Catholics in Political Life, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, November 24, 2002. 4Doctrinal Note, November 24, 2002. 5Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, June 3, 2003 6Address, April 19, 2004. 7Doctrinal Note, November 24, 2002. 8Laborem exercens, Pope John Paul II, September 14, 1981. 9Message of the Holy Father to the Group Jubilee 2000 Debt Campaign, September 23, 1999 10Address of Pope John Paul II, Jubilee of Government Leaders, Members of Parliament and Politicians, November 4, 2000.

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