By Robin Gomes
Bells of Catholic churches across the Philippines rang out simultaneously at midday on Sunday urging the faithful to exercise their right and duty to vote in the next presidential election to be held next year. The bells pealed for 3 minutes exactly a year before the country goes to the polls on May 9, 2022, to elect successors to President Rodrigo Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo.
Making voices heard
According to the Philippine Constitution, Duterte is ineligible for re-election after his 6-year term. Church authorities are encouraging churchgoers, especially those who have not yet registered, to make their voices heard through their votes.
“Let us awaken and enliven once more our love for the country. Register to vote … Make your voices heard. If you want to see change, elections are the democratic way to effect change,” said Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo of Kidapawan, the director of Caritas Philippines, the social and development arm of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
He said Filipinos must begin to reflect on the qualities they want their next president to have as the election draws near. “We only have one year before we choose. May we choose them well by praying and examining our conscience,” he said, adding it is a call for Catholics to be involved in good governance.
The tolling of bells was part of initiatives by a group called Eleksyon 2022 Koalisyon, a non-partisan, multi-sectoral coalition of 29 civic and religious organizations and individuals, including Caritas Philippines. The group’s “Regi to Vote” campaign is using both ground and social media initiatives to encourage the country’s new and deactivated voters to register.
According to data revealed by the Commission of Elections (Comelec) in February, there will be 73 million Filipinos who will be aged 18 and above by 2022. The Commission said some 1.5 million will be voting for the first time. About another 4 million eligible voters have yet to register themselves, while 7 million others have been cut from the electoral register for failing to vote in previous elections and would have to re-register. “We are looking at more than 12 million more votes if both eligible voters and deactivated ones participate this time,” Comelec said. The deadline for filing applications for registration is September 30, 2021.
Voting a right and duty
On the question of voting, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one's country.”
Caritas executive secretary Father Antonio Labiao said the Catholic Church has begun mobilizing citizens to be more active in the upcoming elections. “It’s important for the Church if we are serious with our mandate … to actively participate. This is a call for us to become involved in good governance,” Father Labiao said in a radio interview.
CBCP president, Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao stressed that the electoral process is “our sacred duty, not only as Filipinos but as Christians.” Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Manila agreed with him underscoring the Catholic Church’s moral duty to urge the faithful to vote. “Getting into politics is not an evil in itself. Being involved in politics is a way to show love for one’s country. If the candidates who are running are good, the people would have good choices as well,” the bishop said on Sunday.
The Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), a church group that advocates credible, honest, accurate, meaningful and peaceful elections next year, said many Filipinos do not vote because they have lost their trust in the whole political system. “Millions … do not vote because they do not believe anymore in the sanctity of elections. When the voting process is overshadowed by money and violence, it makes elections a rich-only affair. It discourages the poor from voting or to sell their vote for money,” said Roderico De Guzman, a council volunteer from Manila. “The Mass is just the start. PPCRV calls for our people’s prayers for our nation as we countdown to May 9, 2022,” it said.
Eleksyon 2022 Koalisyon believes “in the dream that everyone, regardless of their age, status and personal viewpoints, can collectively unite to achieve our ambition of a brighter and better future for all, especially the poor and marginalized”. “We believe that registering to vote is among the most accessible and sustainable means for every Filipino to achieve this desired future,” the coalition said in a manifesto issued to the public on May 7. (Source: UCA News)