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Is there such a thing as a ‘Church vote’ in this year’s Philippine elections?

“Politicians believe that Churches and Church leaders have social and cultural capital”

What is all the fuss about the endorsements made by religious groups, bishops, priests, and pastors of national and local candidates in this year’s elections? Does it really matter?

“It is both a yes and a no,” said Vincentian priest Daniel Franklin Pilario, a theologian, a professor, and a pastor of an urban poor community in the outskirts of the Philippine capital.

“Yes, because being a predominantly Christian country, people would ask Church leaders some Christian criteria for choosing candidates,” said the priest who is also chair for Social Justice at St. John’s University in New York.

“[And] no, because in the end, it is the individual conscience that should be respected,” he said.

Father Pilario said there is no such thing as a “Church vote” despite various religious groups urging its members to vote for candidates who are endorsed by the Church’s leaders.

“Politicians believe that Churches and Church leaders have social and cultural capital,” said Father Pilario. “Endorsement would mean trust; hopefully trust transforms itself into votes,” he said.

He warned that “endorsement also means legitimization.”

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The priest, however, said that the “moral influence” should not be underestimated.

For Dr. Jayeel Cornelio, a professor and sociologist of religion, “religious endorsements are not always consequential” although these can make a difference sometimes.

Cornelio cited the 2016 elections, when 74.5 percent of members of the Iglesia ni Cristo followed their leader’s endorsement and helped Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to inch closer to Leni Robredo.

“This is indicative of what may once again transpire in 2022,” said Cornelio in an article on Rappler.

Vice President Robredo and Marcos are contesting the presidency in the May 9 elections.

The Iglesia ni Cristo has yet to come out with a candidate for president.

In a separate article published in 2019, Cornelio criticized religious leaders endorsing candidates, saying that “when religious leaders enter politics – whether through endorsements or even their own party lists – they themselves become implicated in a power struggle.”

“They are forced to form alliances and become backers of specific individuals,” he wrote. “When that happens, they cannot pretend that they are just the voice of conscience,” he added.

El Shaddai leader Bro. Mike Velarde raises that hands of former senator Bongbong Marcos and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio during a prayer rally in Manila. (Photo from Lakas-CMD)

Meanwhile, at least two presidential candidates who have yet to receive an endorsement from Church or religious groups believe that a “blessing” from the Church might make a difference.

Labor leader Leody de Guzman said the Church holds a big influence on the people.

“Maganda ang panawagan ng Simbahan, pero sa pamamagitan ng Simbahan at sa interes ng kapital, ay nananaig ang interes ng kapital,” said De Guzman.

He noted that big businesses fund Churches, adding that a Church endorsement may not beat the bet of the capitalists.

Former defense and intelligence chief Norberto Gonzales said he is aware that Church people are prohibited from being partisan, but should “respond to the signs of the times.

He agreed that the Church has to be active in politics because they were the “ones who were trained and educated with the philosophy and morals in molding our politics.”

Gonzales, however, said the Church should not pick a candidate to endorse, adding that he is “a little disturbed” that some religious groups have endorsed candidates.

“It is against the law of the Church,” he said.

Manila Mayor Isko Moreno welcomed the endorsements of religious groups.

“Kailangan namin ng lahat ng tulong, lahat ng pwedeng tumulong sa aming kampanya upang mapagtagumpayan namin ang laban namin para doon sa mga itinataguyod at layunin namin sa pag-gogobyerno,” he said.

Vice President Leni Robredo said she is not using the Church to advance her political agenda.

“Masyado naman ’yung insulto sa Simbahan. Tingin ko, ang Simbahan, hindi naman magpapagamit,” she told the media after reports came out that she has been using places of worship to campaign.

The camp of Marcos, meanwhile, hit the Catholic Church for “meddling with politics” even as he got the endorsements of the leaders of the Catholic charismatic group El Shaddai and the Kingdom of Jesus Christ of Pastor Apollo Quiboloy.

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