By Robin Gomes

With the Philippine general election less than 4 months away, the leaders of the various Christian Churches in the country are calling on voters to “guard against the powers of darkness’ that “defraud God’s plan” for the Filipino people.  The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) made the call in a joint statement on the occasion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Christian Churches in the Philippines mark the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity from 16 to 22 January.  The ecumenical event is part of the worldwide Week of Prayer for Christian Unity observed from 18 to 25 January.

May 9 general elections

In the statement signed by NCCP general secretary Bishop Reuel Norman Marigza of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines and Archbishop Angelito Lampon of Cotabato of the CBCP Commission on Ecumenical Affairs, the Churches urged the electorate to insist upon what they called “servant leadership” from those seeking their votes. 

The NCCP, which is a member of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches, brings together the mainline Protestant and non-Roman Catholic Churches in the Philippines. 

The 2022 election, scheduled for May 9, will give the country a new president, vice president, 12 senators, and a new term for local officials. President Rodrigo Duterte, whose 6-year term ends in June, cannot stand for re-election, as the constitution mandates a single presidential term.

Candidates who honour life, creation  

“In Christian unity, our prophetic voice and firm stand for Christ-like conduct and life-affirming principles will enable us to join with other Filipinos in discerning who should lead the country,” the CBCP and NCCP statement urged. “We must all take courage to work together, honouring life and God’s creation.”

Denouncing the widespread killings in the government’s brutal war against drugs and anti-insurgency operations, the Christian leaders said, “the very dignity of life has been violated, as many have been extra-judicially killed”.  By peddling falsehood and evil, they added, governance has “not only limited democratic space, but they have led to corruption, scandals and serious shortcomings in social, health, and other government services”.

“In these trying times, we must also guard against the powers of darkness that will seek to defraud, deceive, and destroy God’s intended goodness for the Filipino people,” the Church leaders said.

“As a community that evangelizes through active participation in the democratic process, we can lead by example, reflecting Christ’s love and joining in a journey toward our desired future, where justice, righteousness, and peace will take root and God’s Shalom will flourish among us,” they added.

Solidarity with the vulnerable

Noting the struggle, hardship and despair of the people hit by Typhoon Rai and the Covid-19, the Church leaders said “Christians must unite in solidarity with the most vulnerable among us”. “The Filipino people are in need of accompaniment and aid in these difficult times.”

“As we respond to the challenges of our time, we offer ourselves in service to the poor, the marginalized, and to the toiling majority who are striving for more prosperous and peaceful futures.”  

Forming a moral conscience

In a related development, the president of the Filipino bishops found it “extremely worrying” and “disturbing” that voters are being conditioned to support the probable winners rather than voting according to their conscience.  While Filipinos tend to vote for candidates “based on the likely winner, we have failed in terms of forming a moral conscience among Catholics”, said CBCI president Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan. 

Speaking recently at a virtual forum organized by the “Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals”, Bishop David denounced the proliferation of misinformation and false propaganda, especially through social media.

CBCP president laments “age of misinformation”

He pointed out that social media has been used to spread lies “and news without verification”, unlike mainstream media, which employs professional journalists to verify information and validate reported facts.  It is notorious, he recalled, the use of trolls and fake accounts on social media, used in favour of a candidate against his political opponents.

Bishop David said, “There is an urgent need for Filipino citizens to stand up for truth, honesty and transparency”. “One of the crucial moral issues in the upcoming elections in May 2022,” he said, “will relate to the moral imperative of respecting the truth.” “The moral obligation of every Christian is to defend the truth. It has become particularly difficult in this age of misinformation.”, the CBCP president said.