Monday, July 19, 2010

MAKING MORAL CHOICES DURING ELECTIONS


"Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?" Gal. 4:16

In pushing for relevant change in politics, I salute young advocates who are idealists in making a positive and reformed difference in our society. Pursuing change has its great potentials from young minds since they have not been tainted with empirical corruption. Despite the strong tempting inclination of most candidates to go along with the tide of traditional politics, cheating, and winning at all costs(mostly by devious design), our society does not lack few albeit rare species of noble souls whose moral backbone remains unbending and unbreakable to check bad politics gone haywire. Initiating reform in politics and governance has always been a long daunting task. Call it wishful thinking but one can always hope for better things to run the affairs of government. This writer is tired and sick of always hearing how corruption has long gone berserk in our country and elevated to a shameless level. Even those candidates whose platform is grounded on the word “change” has demeaned its true meaning. They just want to change the status quo but not their character.

Admittedly though, these young advocates, though they are not candidates, instead get stoned and crucified for their dogged principles simply because they paddle against the tidal wave of political indecency. It is even sadder but ridiculous that candidates who get piqued with constructive and objective criticisms retaliate by challenging critics to also run for public office. Running for public office ultimately is a personal decision and not anyone’s dictates. Public servants should be forewarned that they will never be exempt from public criticisms. Take it or leave it, it comes with the territory. Our imperfect democracy assures us our freedom of speech. I would unsolicitedly advice these elected officials to just be open minded to criticisms that are at least within the bounds of constructive and objective decency. Transparency and accountability, though very cliché already, are not empty principles of governance but is imbedded in our laws. “Kung sino ang pikon, talo” goes the common reaction.

Elected officials must be reminded that they owe their mandate to the citizenry who voted them and therefore must be accountable to them including responding to constructive criticisms. But sadly, elected officials don’t think that way because a good number of our populace are already paid hacks resulting from vote-buying. Thus, these officials have this mindset that they should be “exonerated” from any accountability. Ergo, the evil of vote-buying gives the elected candidate the self-proclaimed idea that they should not be accountable to the electorate because the voters were already given their due. “Bayad na kayo, reklamo pa kayo ng reklamo” so says the common reply of candidates. In this setup, it is the people who are ultimately the losers.

VOTE-BUYING AND CORRUPTION

As a Christian, I tend to wonder how the moral values of some so-called Christian candidates are demonstrated. Oddly enough, what one can hear from them is “winning is the be-all and end-all whatever the means and the costs.” The means and the costs, in this regard, include vote-buying. This also means, as what a friend has relayed to me, “mas makapangyarihan pala ang pera kaysa prinsipyo.” There are candidates who are so obsessed in winning because this is the only thing that matters to them but on the other hand also consciously compromising their moral values and dignity. Gauging from the recent elections, this malady was so blatantly demonstrated. In the hollow minds of most candidates, it “seems” winning an elective seat obliterates their wrongdoings like vote-buying done during the campaign. My neighbor screams at candidates who won an elective position through immoral means and hopes that they will be “hounded and stigmatized throughout their term.”(makonsensiya sana).

Definitely, vote-buying is morally wrong. You can never reconcile vote-buying to one’s moral beliefs based on the moral teachings of the Scriptures. It is so diametrically opposite.

Where can we find a similar case of vote-buying in the Scriptures? Judas was “bought” with a few clinking of silver coins to “sell” his Savior to the political leaders of his time. Rhetorically, vote-buying is a betrayal of our sacred trust when we yield to its temptations. But many would arguably retort, “hey, we didn’t ask for it, they gave us money so what’s bad about it?” If one admits that he is not corrupt, how then should you call someone who consentingly accepted the bribe? Others argue that they would just receive the cash or goodies but will follow their “conscience” to vote the candidates of their choice. This kind of mindset however, still tolerates vote-buying to go on as a bad practice because one still consents to receive the bribe. Also from the point of view of the candidate, they can always lash out at voters that “pera lang ang katapat niyo at mukhang pera pa rin kayo.” Judas realized this and was so conscience stricken he hanged himself. Cash for your vote, anyone?

With corrupted elections, is the conscience of our corrupt elected officials and those recipients of vote-buying already numbed or devoid of any moral sense? I can only feel aghast as to what I have witnessed. On the other hand, I knew of a few friends who outrightly rejected bribes from candidates. The point to be driven here is that we, as morally conscious beings, can make a choice, including the choice to say no. Samuel Adams insightfully said and I quote “Let each citizen remember at the moment he is offering his vote that he is not making a present or a compliment to please an individual - - or at least that he ought not so to do; but that he is executing one of the most solemn trusts in human society for which he is accountable to God and his country.” That solemn trust sadly has been damaged with rampant vote-buying. Thus, it is right for these young idealists to remind our conscience that vote-buying is illegal and immoral. If the so-called “senior” candidates who have engaged in such sleazy tricks could not exemplify themselves as models to the youth, where else will the youth look up to as models then? Regrettably though, even young candidates now would also mortgage their soul and follow the path of dirty politics. Corrupting our youth is corrupting our hope.

As a challenge, how many candidates who were re-elected can make an open declaration like this presidential candidate who said “hindi ako magnanakaw” and truly mean it?

VOTE-BUYING AS A DISHONORABLE ACT

A Roman Catholic priest (and PPCRV chairman in the recent elections) aptly described to me his observations that thousands of people went to the mayor’s house to “sell” their votes. Denying it to high heavens simply insults our intelligence. Both the vote-buyer and vote-seller were indeed shamelessly engaged in a happy tango. In a homily delivered by the Roman Catholic bishop in a barangay church, he presented this question to the parishioners during the campaign period: Anyone of you received 500 pesos from candidates? The parishioners were dead silent. One lawyer friend advised that we should not allow candidates to treat us as downright stupid by accepting their bribes but how many deaf ears heeded this advice?

Relatively, how can an elected official be respectfully addressed “honorable” by well-informed citizens when the means they employed to earn that title are brazenly dishonorable. Woefully, many of our candidates in my hometown (or elsewhere) engaged in such pusillanimous schemes like giving of cash, rice, sardines, noodles and tamban fish. Strangely also, one candidate’s selling point was promising free death insurance to voters if he wins. All these in the guise of an insulting plea: “tulong ito ha, hindi vote-buying.” This sort of problem spawns a “lazy” culture of the majority of Filipinos who look for leaders who can provide them with dole-outs. It also breeds a vicious cycle of patronage and corruption, more Juan Tamads in this modern era and beggarship attitude. Ergo, candidates who are into vote-buying are guilty of reinforcing a hand-out culture. Thus, Rizal’s description of an indolent Filipino people is prophetically true. The right thing to do would be not simply to give the poor fish, but to teach them how to catch fish.

After the elections, two elected councilors (not from the political party where I campaigned for) separately but personally sought my services as a speechwriter for them. I asked both councilors if ever they were engaged in vote-buying. Both said no. The first councilor, a longtime acquaintance in which I also wrote his profile, was invited for a speaking engagement in Las Vegas. I consented to write his speech but not after I gave my piece of mind how election was so shamelessly dirty in Isabela City. I gave the same acid lecture to the second councilor. After some negotiations with the second councilor, I likewise consented. To my dismay, I discovered a week later that the second councilor gave 500pesos to barangay kagawads, one of them who was my friend. I can only shake my head in disbelief. Disappointed, I told an emissary of the second councilor that I am withdrawing as his speechwriter.

MOLDING OUR MORAL VALUES

Let me dissect a bit on how we develop and mold the foundations of our moral values. There are three basic institutions that influence our moral conscience.

First institution is the home. I firmly believe that all mothers and fathers inculcate good morals to their children by teaching and reminding their kids, “anak, wag kang magsinungaling, wag kang malulong sa bisyo, wag kang magnakaw, wag kang manakit ng ibang tao, wag kang matigas ng ulo, papaluin kita.” For sure no parent would ever impart wrong trainings to their offsprings. And yet, bluntly speaking, how many parents were beneficiaries of vote-buying? What a sordid testimony to young minds!

The second institution is the school. As pupils, our teachers further molded our moral values with good manners and right conduct within the confines of the classroom. However, I was petrified when one of my workers enrolled in a college evening class informed me that teachers were also lining up waiting for their turn to received cash amounts in a candidate’s residence! (Let me categorically say that I am not making a sweeping generalization here because there are also teachers who were not blinded by money).

The third institution is the church which should help strengthen our core values, righteousness and faith in God. We go to church Sunday after Sunday, kneel, pray, sing religious songs as worship, make a sign of the cross but on the following day lining up, shoving, elbowing and barging through a candidate’s house hankering for the 500pesos like hungry wolves! One religious sect even endorsed a mayoralty candidate who engaged in vote-buying in past elections and still doing the same in the recent elections. I am not sure what the basis for their endorsement was. A leader (who also claims himself as a prophet) of a big church anointed a presidential candidate as the next president of the Philippines only to witness that candidate lost by a wide margin against the winning candidate. For whatever reason, can it be said that churches have also been penetrated with bad politics?

Every Christian has a moral duty to demonstrate righteous indignation at corruption and at reprehensible abuses of power. We do not have to wrestle with the angels on the question of whether we should tolerate crooks and cheats in our midst.

TIME RUNNING OUT

Outside of these three institutions, where else can we further fortify and find shelter for our moral rectitude in times of tests and trials? Or am I simply naïve talking to a blank wall here because I was never a receiver of any political bribe? I confess I am neither an angel nor a saint nor holier-than-anyone. I am an imperfect being still under process by my God to borrow the term of a Christian friend. All I can confess too is that my family was never a recipient of vote-buying and would not intend to be.

Is it possible for me within my lifetime to witness a genuine reform, secure an authentic mandate from an honest election? Time is running out on my generation. I don’t want my children to be witnesses of the continuous malady of corruption perpetuated through and through. I still want to see some guarantees in my remaining years in this world that my children are given safety and an opportunity for a dignified life vis-a-vis good governance even how flawed our democracy is. It gives me a light of hope when young minds come to the fore shouting from the rooftops telling our government leaders what the right and moral thing to do as a Biblical injunction instead of apathy that many of us can be faulted of. Lamentably, the reality is otherwise from the truth. Label me unrealistic whatever, so be it, but not untruthful to my convictions herein.

If it is of any least consolation for my children, I can say that I was not just a fence-sitter overtaken by a couldn’t-care-less indifference, that their papa’s integrity was not cheapened with bribe offers from candidates. In this country, the rule is if you have no clout, might as well shut up and rage in silence. But then, apathy and keeping quiet is tolerating evil to prosper. One adage goes that the sin of silence, when we should be protesting, makes cowards out of men.

I gave my 5 cents worth of critical views against the evils of vote-buying and likewise supported candidates who did not engage in devious schemes even if my candidates lost. For all its moral worth, I can tell my children that there is still dignity in an honest defeat than one who fraudulently won through vote buying. Saying that this malpractice is incurable is a surrender of our core values and grossly debasing our human dignity.

In this imperfect world and imperfect system, a perfect God is not blind. As a Christian, it will be God’s holiness and righteousness that will ultimately prevail and defeat the follies of this world, the evils of vote-buying included.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is written by Nickarter "Boy" Gonzalo, a fellow Christian writer and advocate of good governance.

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