More bishops back JC for president

More bishops back JC for president
By Aries C. Rufo
abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak

MANILA, Philippines – While other presidential candidates tap celebrities to boost their campaigns, one of their rivals scored a coup of sorts after getting the endorsement of 6 Catholic bishops without really trying.

John Carlos ‘JC’ delos Reyes, standard-bearer of Ang Kapatiran Party, has been described by the bishops as “the conscience vote for 2010.” (Read: Profile: John Carlos ‘JC’ de los Reyes / JC de los Reyes’ first 100 days if elected)

Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles said the entry into the race of Delos Reyes and Ang Kapatiran Party, whose platform of government hews closely to Christian doctrine and principles, might provide the trigger for political change. (Read: JC de los Reyes: Sex know-how for youth is instinctive)

“They are the only candidates who speak their mind, speak what is truthful and what is honest and idealistic,” he added.

Arguelles was the second prelate to express support for Delos Reyes, following the lead of Bacolod Bishop Vicente Navarra. Others who followed suit were Novaliches Bishop Antonio Tobias, San Jose de Mindoro Bishop Antonio Palang, Ilagan Bishop Joseph Nacua, and retired Bishop Teodoro Bacani. (Read: 3rd bishop to support Ang Kapatiran’s JC)

Their vocal support for Delos Reyes’s campaign is unparalleled in the history of the local Catholic Church. (Read: 2 bishops quit PPCRV, endorse JC)

Tradition

Since it was founded in 1945, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has not endorsed any national or local candidates. The extent of their political participation during elections is to issue a checklist that serves as guide for voters, as well as identify issues that candidates should address.

Even during the regime of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the CBCP refused to endorse his rival, Corazon Aquino, although the bishops would later on condemn the alleged massive cheating in the 1986 snap presidential election.

Perhaps only 2 prelates in recent memory had openly come out to endorse a candidate, says Arguelles. Former Manila Archbishop Cardinal Rufino Santos endorsed Diosdado Macapagal, who later won as President. Another Manila archbishop, Cardinal Jaime Sin, favored House Speaker Ramon Mitra in 1992, but later admitted that he voted for the one who won, Fidel Ramos.

The CBCP as an organization, however, maintains that it is only politically involved, but not partisan.

Changing mindset?

But Arguelles said that the May 2010 election “is an exceptional matter” that necessitates an exceptional response. “Haven’t we had had enough of corruption, of ambivalence, of these traditional politicians?” he asked.

“For the longest time, we’ve been stuck with the same people and individuals. Now we have choice,” Arguelles said.

When he and Navarra came out in support of Delos Reyes, Arguelles had hoped that others would follow suit. And 4 more did.

Is there a growing mindset among the bishops to cross the line from just issuing poll guidelines to officially endorsing a candidate?

Former CBCP president and retired archbishop Oscar Cruz explained that the CBCP’s position not to endorse a candidate is not cast in stone.

He said under the Church law and under the Constitution, prelates do not violate anything when they endorse a candidate.

But the prohibition, he said, applies when the clergy and the bishops assume civil positions.

Still, the CBCP believes it would be more prudent not to endorse any particular candidate to “avoid dividing the flock,” Cruz said.

Some of the candidates and their supporters are Catholics and supporting one over the other “could send the wrong signal that Catholics are divided.” Besides, “Catholics have their own views, exercising free will,” he said.

Cruz said that the open support of the 6 bishops for Delos Reyes does not mean that the CBCP as an institution is backing Delos Reyes. He doubts that the CBCP would break its rule to be non-partisan in the very near future.

Weak leadership

However, a Church leader who requested not to be named, believes that move of the 6 bishops is a symptom of the weak leadership in the CBCP under Tandag Archbishop Nereo Odchimar.

“Breaking tradition on non-partisanship is a no-no to us before. You cannot just go out there and endorse a candidate,” the Church leader said.

Odchimar became CBCP president with the backing of the bishops identified with President Arroyo. (Read: Palace bet is new CBCP president)

After the 6 bishops declared support for Delos Reyes, Odchimar issued a pastoral statement in his diocese in Tandag, Surigao de Sur, warning the clergy against engaging in partisan politics.

Bishops who are identified with Mrs. Arroyo prevailed on him to issue the statement. The impression now is that Odchimar would act at Malacañang’s bidding.

Arguelles said that he is not bound by Odchimar’s reminder that Church officials should keep out of partisan politics. (abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak)

Karen Ang

A plebeian who is trying to make small changes in this world.