Sunday, April 11, 2010

Electing our future

THE Easter message of Christ’s resurrection and victory over sin and death offers us the promise of rising above our own brokenness and rebuilding the structures of our fragmented society. It is fitting then that our coming elections should take place during this Easter season. For Easter is the season of hope—and concrete action for building the future.

The apostles were filled with joy, mixed with initial incredulity, as the first witnesses of the Resurrected Christ. But they were also impelled by the Holy Spirit to share this joy and conviction over the good news of Christ’s resurrection with the whole world, even at the cost of hardships and martyrdom.

It is in this light that we too, as good Christians and responsible citizens, are challenged to be involved in our electoral process. This has been dubbed by our archdiocesan ministry workers in good governance as PEACE, i.e., Political Easter Action for Credible Elections. During these remaining forty days before election day, let us then adopt this form of PEACE-building in all our parishes and kapilya communities as a concrete response to the call of the bishops:

There is a duty for the Christian Catholic to transform politics by the Gospel. The Church, God’s people, must evangelize politics. God’s call to the Church is to preach the integral Gospel, the Gospel with all its social dimensions. (CBCP, Pastoral Exhortation 1997: Philippine Politics)

More recently, over the past year, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has also made three calls to the Catholic laity: (1) to form circles of discernment (so that they can see, judge, and act together on issues of public concern); (2) to get involved directly in principled partisan politics; and (3) to exercise their right and duty to campaign for candidates who are competent, honest, and public-service minded.

How then do we choose candidates who are “competent, honest, and public-service minded”? There are four C’s we can consider as criteria for measuring the qualifications of candidates.

The first “C” is Conscience. We need leaders with a sense of morality—who know what is morally right and morally wrong, and who act according to their conscience. In earlier consultations we find that Filipino voters look for leaders who are God-fearing and heed the commandments of God. A person of conscience works for truth and justice. He or she is pro-life and pro-family. He is transparent in his dealings and is accountable for his actions. He does not stall calls for public investigations in the conduct of a public office.

A person of conscience shuns corruption in any form and makes sure that public funds are not used for private gain, but for the common good. His name is not linked to drugs, gambling, or any form of shady deals; indeed even “Caesar’s wife” should be above suspicion. The effect of corruption in a person is literally a “broken heart”. On the other hand, a person of conscience has a heart that is whole and integral; he is a person of integrity.

The second “C” is Competence. A candidate for public office must have a track record, starting with his academic qualifications and work experience. In the same way that we make sure that we go to a qualified doctor when we are sick, or consult a qualified engineer for our construction plans, so also must we carefully examine the qualifications of candidates for public office.

How often have we heard of classrooms or highways that have been built with inferior materials? Or of “natural” disasters that could have been prevented, had there been more comprehensive planning based on climate change projections? Sadly, we hear stories of misfits in public office who have no concern for balancing budgets but have instead increased the public debt.

We need public officials who can lead us, not by means of “guns, goons, gold or glamor,” but by their management skills, and, more so, by their ability to inspire us to work for objectives that are realizable and urgent.

This kind of transformational leadership requires the third “C”: Commitment. A leader must have a vision and goals for the community that he or she aspires to serve. He should also have the political will and the readiness to sacrifice personal interests to pursue these goals.

Commitment means faithfulness to one’s principles and promises. It means adherence to the higher loyalties to God and country, beyond family, regional or class interests. Like Jose Rizal and other national heroes of the Philippine Revolution, public leaders today should personify the selfless kind of nationalism that unifies and creates a truly independent and self-reliant nation.

Broken promises, shifting party loyalties and the practice of transactional politics are hallmarks of trapo politicians. In its crudest form, vote-buying becomes a measure of one’s commitment—only for a day, at the price of one’s vote. On a grander scale, un-committed public officials are prone to sell the nation’s patrimony for thirty pieces of silver; thus the continuing lamentations of environmental groups over the destruction of our remaining forests and mountainsides due to irresponsible logging and mining activities.

Likewise, agrarian reform beneficiaries like the Sumilao farmers are still barred from tilling all the lands promised to them. Other target beneficiaries of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program are still awaiting the full implementation of this centerpiece social legislation after more than two decades of delaying action.

Social concern and a preferential option for the poor, the marginalized and the exploited thus characterize the fourth “C”: Compassion. A public official should give special attention to the basic needs of the least brethren in our communities, not simply by providing safety nets but by empowering them to become productive members of society.

A person of compassion is one who “suffers with” others. He strives to bring about the common good by dismantling unjust social structures, perhaps best epitomized in Ramon Magsaysay’s Credo: “He who has less in life should have more in law.”

A person of compassion works for unity and reconciliation. He is not vindictive against those who did not support his candidacy. His magnanimous allocation of public resources is based on the needs of the local communities rather than the favors they can give to him.

A person of compassion makes peace and builds peace. He is willing to listen in dialogue to the legitimate claims of those who take up arms against the government. He promotes inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue to forge solidarity in diversity.

Another name for compassion is Christian Charity, an all-embracing love and capacity to forgive one’s enemies. This is the core message of Easter. “There is no peace without justice,” notes Pope John Paul II, “and no justice without forgiveness.”

Election time then in the spirit of Easter should not be seen simply as fiesta time when common people seek the bounty of powerful patrons. Neither can it be viewed merely like a basketball game with a winning and losing team while spectators stand on the sidelines. We are all winners—or losers—during election time depending on which candidate wins the mandate for public office. For we are all stakeholders, and fellow sojourners in choosing the right captains for our local communities as well as for our ship of state.

Let us then all work together for PEACE—i.e., Political Easter Action for Credible Elections. And let us begin to scrutinize candidates according to the four C’s. For in choosing the best possible candidate among many others, based on Conscience, Competence, Commitment, and Compassion, we are doing nothing else but electing our own future.