BACOLOD CITY—“God knows we just do our part.”
That was Bacolod Bishop Vicente Navarra’s answer when asked on Sunday whether the crowd of 6,000 at the Church-led rally against the reproductive health (RH) law on Saturday represented the Catholic vote in the city.
Bacolod has a population of 511,820 (as of May 1, 2010, the most recent figure from the National Statistical Coordinating Board). The 6,000 who came to the rally held at Bacolod Public Plaza represented only 1.2 percent of the city’s total population.
But Navarra said everybody was happy with the turnout, the remainder after another 6,000 gave up when heavy rain poured on the march to the rally after 1 p.m.
The Diocese of Bacolod led the rally to guide voters in choosing candidates from two groups of politicians seeking election or reelection to the Senate in May’s midterm elections.
The Church has dubbed the two groups “Team Patay” (Death), for the reelectionists who voted for the RH bill in the 15th Congress, and “Team Buhay” (Life), for those who opposed the bill that would require, among other things, state-sponsored contraception and sex education in elementary and high schools.
Leading the opposition to the RH law, which has been temporarily halted by the Supreme Court, the Church urges voters to elect only candidates who fought the bill in Congress or in the streets during the divisive debate that ran for 10 years.
Certified by President Aquino as urgent legislation, the RH bill cleared the two houses of Congress late last year. Aquino quietly signed it into law on Dec. 21.
In Negros Occidental, the Church-endorsed candidates on Team Buhay include reelectionist Sen. Gregorio Honasan, Zambales Rep. Milagros “Mitos” Magsaysay, and Ang Kapatiran senatorial candidates John Carlos “JC” de los Reyes and Rizalito David.
All four spoke at the Bacolod rally.
The other candidates on the Church’s Team Buhay are reelectionist Senators Antonio Trillanes IV and Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III and Representatives Jose Victor Ejercito Estrada and Cynthia Villar.
No official claim
The Church makes no official claims about the existence of a Catholic vote in the Philippines, but organizations affiliated with the Church warn politicians who voted for the RH bill of a backlash at the polls in May.
Msgr. Meliton Oso, director of the Jaro Archdiocesan Social Action Center, said on Sunday that while he was not sure whether there was a Catholic vote, the stand of the Catholic Church against the RH law would definitely have an impact on how Catholics would vote.
The Jaro Archdiocese, however, will not tell its followers how to vote, Oso said.
“We respect the choice of voters and we as priests cannot dictate whom they should or should not vote,” Oso said.
But the Church, he said, has laid down criteria to guide voters in choosing candidates: lifestyle, track record, identity of backers, previous electoral record, and integrity.
Catholic lay groups promote those criteria while campaigning for candidates who oppose the RH law.
Through a movement they call “Solidarity Vote,” the lay groups urge voters not to elect candidates who voted for passage of the RH bill in the House and in the Senate.
Not only about RH
Independent senatorial candidate Teodoro Casiño is concerned that the elections have been reduced to a battle between opponents and supporters of the RH law.
On Sunday, Casiño urged the Church to “teach the faithful to be more discerning” in setting standards for legislators.
“Why choose a candidate on the basis of (opposition to the) RH law when a senator has a lot of other things to do in the Senate?” he asked during a break in his campaign in Pampanga.
But Archbishop Paciano Aniceto of San Fernando, Pampanga, said the Church was flexing its “pastoral muscle” to bring about good government.
“Like at Edsa (the 1986 People Power Revolution), [the Church] wants to put Christ in every area of life, in culture, education and politics. Christ is the first standard of [the Church’s] engagement in the world,” Aniceto said.
The engagement goes beyond May’s midterm elections and runs through the 2016 presidential election, for which various Catholic groups are even now preparing to carry on their fight against the RH law.
Representative Magsayay said many Catholic voters had learned the importance of electing candidates who share their values after the RH bill passed into law.
According to Magsaysay, a candidate of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), many Catholics were “mobilized for action” when lawmakers approved the reproductive health law.
“They began to realize that the kind of leaders they elect will affect their religious faith. If Congress will pass bills that are against the teachings of the Catholic Church, their fellow Catholics will be affected. So this time, they want to make sure that they elect senators, congressmen, governors and mayors who are prolife, pro-Catholic teachings,” she told reporters in Legazpi City on Sunday.
She said this action would extend all the way to the next election in 2016.
“They will want to elect a prolife, Catholic president in 2016, because they already saw the effect of somebody who does not have a high regard for the Catholic faith,” she said.
President Aquino backed the RH bill and personally appealed to his allies in Congress to vote for the bill despite opposition from the Catholic Church.
Magsaysay said the continued assertion by many politicians that there is no Catholic vote has challenged Catholics to show their strength.
“Let’s put it this way. In the past, the Catholic laity was always passive when it comes to elections. But because of what they did in the last RH bill deliberations, and the way the administration bashed the Catholic Church, of course the lay organizations of the Catholic Church were the ones most offended by that action. You can’t blame them if they want to be proactive now in this election,” she said.
Show of force
The Diocese of Lucena tried to stage a “show of force” at a religious convention on Saturday. About 8,000 people attended the Munting Sambayanang Kristiano (Little Christian Nation) convention, 3.2 percent of Lucena’s total population of 246,392.—With reports from Leila Salaverria in Legazpi City and Tonette Orejas and Armand Galang, Inquirer Central Luzon