IN AN extraordinary political move, the University urged the Philippine electorate to vote conscientiously, bind candidates to their word and choose those who would uphold solidarity with the poor and the socially weak.

The exhortation, in which the University urged the people to work for truthful elections, was released in a one-page advertisement placed by UST in three major national dailies. A Filipino version of the statement originally written in English, also appeared as a one-page advertisement in tabloids.

The important statement appeared to reject the presidential candidacy of actor Fernando Poe Jr. as it called on the voters to elect candidates who reflected in themselves the Thomasian values of “competence, commitment, and compassion.” It seemed to cast doubt on Poe’s qualifications for the presidency because of his purely entertainment background. “Democracy, not entertainment! Freedom, not fantasy! Truth and justice, not escapism!” the UST statement said.

The University said the 2004 elections were crucial to the democratic future of the country. It explained that Philippine democracy faced the test of relevance and integrity. “Since 1986, democracy has not grown in grace; it has merely grown in hollowness. The thunder of the election season has merely obscured the fact,” it said.

The critical statement about Philippine democracy and the significance of the elections was composed by the UST Committee on Social Concerns and Advocacy, an advisory board of faculty members and academic officials to Fr. Rector Tamerlane Lana, O.P.

Dr. Armando de Jesus, vice-rector for academic affairs and a member of the committee, said the statement expressed UST’s concern about the deteriorating quality of Philippine democracy and provided suggestions to the people on how to arrest it.

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“(The status of Philippine politics) has become a sort of ‘lording’ over,” said De Jesus. He pointed out that political leaders should work less for personal gain and more for public service.

UST asked the electorate to set aside despair about the condition of Philippine democracy and “engage constructively with Philippine politics.” It urged voters to elect candidates who had the “moral integrity and the track record in know-how, vision, and work ethic,” adding that for a candidate to be “nice” or “well-loved” is not enough. On the other hand, the University also pointed out that “excellent credentials should be balanced by truthfulness and integrity.”

The University also condemned candidates who refused to discuss their platforms, saying, “The silence of some candidates disguises their dull minds while betraying their dark motives.” UST called them “enemies of democracy.”

UST also urged voters to elect those who really serve the poor and the weak, “the usual victims of bad politics.”

The statement, “New Politics, New Hope,” was released during Easter Week. De Jesus said this was because Easter is a symbol of hope and resurrection. He explained hope is very essential to renew Philippine politics.

Opinion-makers lauded the UST statement. Juan Mercado, columnist of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, quoted the statement in criticizing Poe for his refusal to take part in the presidential debate and discuss his platform of government.

Teodoro Benigno of the Philippine Star quoted the UST statement in buttressing his argument about the weakness of Philippine democracy. His column was titled “Democracy and UST.”

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