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Bishops and Philippine Elections

The CBCP has always felt the local Church has to play a strong role in turning elections into a vehicle of social change. So in the coming May 10 elections, what do bishops think are the changes most needed today?

The change most needed in our heavily flawed political culture has always been freeing our election process from cheating, vote-buying, murder, over-spending in campaigns, etc. - to make it clean, honest and free. This simply is saying our elections have always been open to all sorts of corrupt practices - a national shame - and correcting it is a concern that the bishops have tried doing (with little success) through pastoral letters.

This year the hope is that the new automated manner of voting would, at least, work well, and that the incumbent president fail in her various efforts to hang onto power.

The bishops' collective voice has always been clear in their opposition to the many evils of Philippine elections. Many bishops have realized that speaking out is not what is most needed but the organization of the laity for action that only they can do. This means only one thing: the exercise of "people power."

However, this year, four bishops have announced their candidates. A bishop has the right to express his opinion, but the bishop should make sure to tell people that they have to make their own choice based on their conscience after their own careful discernment.

In 1986, the bishops judged that the snap elections were fraudulent and condemned it and Marcos' continued rule.

But we also made sure to call on everyone to discern and judge the polls on their own. We told people that if they agreed with our judgment, then they should pray and act together to correct the wrong.

We must be mindful of our influence and make sure we do not stifle people's conscience, but that we educate it.

This is why diocesan social action work vis a vis elections has been concentrated on voter education during the three years between elections. Voter organization then becomes more feasible at election times themselves to ensure the untampered counting and reporting of votes.

It is a huge task, but workable and successful where people are vigilant and unafraid to guard the sanctity of their ballots.

Already, by their simple efforts to keep elections free of all the many wrongs usually done in their conduct, the social change that the Church constantly preaches is beginning to happen.

For when the people start acting in their own way and at their level against the many corrupt practices of Philippine politics, that is when the real social change takes place with the corresponding change of the values of the people.