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Catholic voters are a diverse, contentious lot, a boon to democracy

May 26, 2019


How diverse and divided are the country’s Catholics on the issues of our polity?

For an empirical scoring and as Exhibit A on diversity, let us get two men with vows of celibacy, both from the academe and closely identified with the Catholic Church: Bro. Armin Luistro from the De La Salle Brothers and Bernardo Villegas from the Opus Dei-run educational institutions. The professional and religious lives of the two are beyond similar.

But on political views and overall views on society, they are diametrically different. Let us count the ways.

Luistro, it is safe to say, voted for the opposition, Otso Diretso, given his secular role from 2010 to 2016, the education secretary of former President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd. After leaving government and upon reassuming the presidency of the De La Salle schools in the country, Luistro did not retreat into his academic cocoon. He cast his lot with Tindig Pilipinas, which has opposed the government of President Rodrigo Duterte on many issues, from extrajudicial killings to assaults on press freedom.

Luistro not only leaned toward the opposition, he is with the opposition and was vocal about where he stood on issues. A celibate for Otso Diretso.

What about Professor Villegas?

Had Villegas lived in Spain during the time of Francisco Franco, he would have called El Caudillo a “determined reformer.” And heaped praise on the “virtues and reformist bent “of a Francoist Spain.” Never mind Guernica and tens of thousands of Republicans (Hemingway was a volunteer for these fighters) massacred by Franco’s thugs.

Villegas is a never-say-die optimist whose predisposition is to grade every Philippine leader on the leader’s commitment to his favorite themes of growth and economic reforms — his verdict on those leaders’ ability never straying from positive.

He is a preternatural prophet of boom and has yet to meet a Philippine leader worthy of his objection, scorn and dissent. Human rights, commitment to the rule of law, respect for civil discourse are concerns alien to Villegas, astounding omissions for an academic. If he ever discussed these sensitive issues, he probably did via elaborate tiptoeing.

His civic virtues may have been subsumed by his obsession with GDP growth and his fascination with leaders bent on pursuing the dated norms of the Washington Consensus, presented under the guise of “reforms.” Based on his effusive commentaries on the supposed reformist programs of the Duterte administration, many have the hunch that he voted — if he voted at all — for majority of the Hugpong candidates. The choices of a voter are never very far from his public declarations and all the public declarations of Professor Villegas on the Duterte policies have been positive. A celibate for Hugpong.

Bro. Armin and Professor Villegas — living almost identical personal and professional lives and religious commitment. Diametrically different on their views on the polity.

The Catholics outside of the mainstream and committed to the teachings of Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutierrez voted for the five senatorial candidates of LaborWin. The Catholics who lean Left make up, definitely, the third corner in the axis of politically-aware Catholic voters. I also voted for the five candidates based on my Sermon-on-the-Mount Catholic faith.

What about the devout Catholics? What about the so-called “laygo”? How did they vote? The answer is a riff from a William Butler Yeats line: The devout lack all conviction …. And one thing more — most of them lacked the discernment. Otherwise, the vote results would have been different.

But overall, the diversity of the Catholic vote was a boost to democracy.

Those who lamented the “absence of a Catholic vote” after the May 13 elections and wished for a bloc-voting church failed to appreciate the diversity of the Catholic vote, its contentious and divided orientation, which should be good for our republican nature.

Just imagine an otherwise voting mindset. And truly monolithic.

If 80 percent of the voting population were to vote like a herd, picking one set of candidates and damning the other sets, the Catholic vote would set up a mini-caliphate, and that is worse than voting unwisely. Voting is a secular exercise, free, in theory and in practice, from religious fervor. A Catholic bloc vote would smother the essence and functioning of the country’s democracy.

Better the spread-out, diverse, unexplainable votes with no pattern and rhyme than a unitary, single-minded vote of what is, in theory, the largest voting bloc in the country.

The divided and diverse Catholic vote is one reason why, in this regime of global racial and religious strife, no religious minority can claim persecution in the country.

Were Catholic voters to act as rampaging Goths that impose their political choices on the others, aggrieved religious minorities would have surely emerged to protest that sheer and raw exercise of political power.

That would lead to ruptures in our political cohesion. And that is not happening precisely due to the remarkable absence among the Catholic voters of political cohesion and bloc-voting predisposition.

The May 13 votes may have had dismal and discouraging results. The majority voted for plunderers and fakers and the unworthy.

But a massive correction of that voting malpractice through the rampaging herds of monolithic Catholic voters would have been a severe blow to our sacred, secular democracy.

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