31 October 2010
Corrupting our Minors, Corrupting the Future
PASTORAL BULLETIN NO. 03, Series of 2010
To: Clergy, Religious, Lay Faithful
Re: Corrupting our Minors, Corrupting the Future
"Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Mt 18,16)
Reports coming from all over leave no doubt as to the scope and magnitude of corruption and cheating in the recent Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections. During our Clergy General Assembly held last Tuesday, every priest present said that vote-buying and selling were rampant in their respective places of assignment and home towns. Radyo Veritas Legazpi and other local radio stations, as well as our local PPCRV units also confirmed this widespread terrible state of affairs.
Vote-buying is morally wrong. It is unfair to candidates who have lesser means or who choose the path of principled campaigning. It is unfair to the electorate because it puts undue influence on their right to vote. It subverts the will of the people. Vote-buying feeds the vicious cycle of graft and corruption as politicians and their patrons later find ways to recoup their election “investments” by stealing from government projects and exacting political favors.
Vote-buying is illegal. Article 22, Section 261, of the Omnibus Election Code (R.A. 881) cites vote-buying, vote-selling and conspiracy to sell votes among election offenses punishable by law.
Under the Local Government Code (Book 3, Section 384), the barangay is the basic political unit of our society and the primary unit responsible for implementing government policies, programs and projects. It also serves as a forum where the people’s voice may be heard and considered, and where local disputes may be amicably settled.
The barangay is where people experience direct democracy in action – a government by the people, of the people, for the people. Sadly, during this recent barangay election a great number of our people have chosen unwisely. They have chosen to set aside Christian values and disrespect the law. Politicians shell out money to buy votes and maintain loyalty. The voters expect – and in many instances, demand – to be bribed into voting for candidates.
Even worse, the Sangguniang Kabataan election was not spared from the same sin of corruption and vote-buying. In some places vote-buying for the position of SK Chairman reached as high as P1,500.00. Young people were suspiciously “quartered” in various beach resorts and other places prior to and during election day by political patrons. Most shocking were widespread stories of parents of SK candidates who funded, supported and pushed their children to bribe other youths into voting for them.
When the next round of election this time for the SK Federation President on the municipal, city and provincial levels come, another level of vote-buying, “quartering” and corruption of youth leaders would almost certainly arise, involving bigger sums of money and more scandalous forms of bribery.
What has happened to us as a people? What have we done to our youth? With leaders like these, what kind of future do we have in store for our country? And then we hear even from honest, well-meaning people – perhaps reflecting the common sentiment nowadays – that we just have to get used to this sad situation that has become a way of life, a culture that has become impossible to change.
We, the Bishop and the Clergy of the Diocese of Legazpi, condemn in the strongest terms this culture of vote-buying and cheating that has corrupted our people, especially our youth. It is un-Christian and unlawful for politicians to buy votes and cheat during elections, and for voters to pressure candidates into bribing them. It is un-Christian and unlawful for parents to push their children to buy the votes of their fellow youth and teach them to disrespect democratic institutions. It is against the values of the Gospel to simply not care and consider the situation hopeless and impossible to change.
We are calling on our young people, with the help of our Youth Ministry and others who are involved in youth formation, to gather together in parishes, schools and communities to discuss what has happened during the recent elections, discern where this culture is leading them, and ask guidance from the Spirit on how to win back the youth for Christ.
We are calling on our people in the parishes, especially our lay leaders, to gather together in prayerful dialogue and examination of conscience about the conduct of the recent elections and plan ways to counter what has become a trend in our political culture. Some may even find themselves needing to take a leave of absence for some time from active ministry or position of leadership in the parish, if communal or personal discernment calls for it, and to prevent further scandal and facilitate healing in the community.
We are calling on concerned government agencies, especially the COMELEC and the PNP, to be more vigilant and effective in enforcing the law. We are renewing our commitment to work with you towards making our elections truly clean, honest and meaningful.
We are calling for the abolition of the Sangguniang Kabataan. This institution may have lofty goals and some positive contributions but has been found generally wanting. It has failed in teaching the young the values of democracy and the skills for good governance. Far from being an empowering presence, it has become a corrupting influence on our youth. The problem is not with our young people but in the political structure and culture where the SK operates. The voices of the young should not be stifled, there is a clear need for youth representation in governance. The training of the young should not be stymied, there is a definite need for their political empowerment. But not in the manner and form of the current SK. Mere reforms in the SK will not resolve its inherent flaws, its recidivist nature and its sorry state of affairs. It has to be abolished, only then can we make way for better representation and genuine empowerment of the youth.
Finally, we humbly acknowledge that, in more ways than one, we are all carriers of this moral malaise and perpetrators of these crimes against democracy and the moral fiber of our communities. Therefore, with humble hearts and contrite spirits, let us call on the heavens for forgiveness of these our sins. May the Lord of mercy and righteousness help us amend our ways and restore what we have broken so that we shall endeavor with all our might to prevent such transgressions from happening again in future elections. Let us together as one closely monitor, in particular, the conduct of elections of the SK Federation Presidents on the municipal, city and provincial levels.
May our Mother of Salvation, our patroness who has strengthened our hope and provided guidance during difficult times, lead us to faithfully follow her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+JOEL Z. BAYLON
Bishop of Legazpi
Chairman, CBCP Episcopal Commission on Youth
and the Clergy of the Diocese of Legazpi
Rev. Fr. Rex Paul B. Arjona
29 October 2010