MANILA - The Catholic Church as an institution never endorses election candidates, but members of the clergy, consecrated religious, and laypeople have been speaking up to endorse presidential aspirant Leni Robredo and running mate Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan.
As of February 15, at least 569 priests, deacons, religious brothers and sisters from various archdioceses, dioceses, and congregations have signed the declaration saying Robredo and Pangilinan both have the "moral ascendancy and aptitude" to be the country's next leaders.
"A leader must be known for his/her moral integrity evinced in his/her life of civility, right conduct, virtue, and fear of the Lord; has a track record of public service that is unblemished of corruption; eschew political dynasties and patronage politics; has demonstrated the intelligence, maturity, and capacity to lead and confront the large-scale and deep-seated problems of the land; and has the right program for the alleviation of poverty and the other pressing concerns the country faces in the contemporary and digital age," read the statement of "Pari Madre Misyonero Para Kay Leni" published on February 15.
Among the signatories was Bro. Armin Luistro of the De La Salle Brothers, who worked as education secretary under the late former president Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III.
The group also highlighted the importance of respect for basic human rights and patriotism among the necessary qualities for the next president and vice president.
They also reminded the electorate that the country's leaders must "stand against dictatorial rule," "contest any policy that marginalizes and abuses the poor," and "show genuine commitment to assert the sovereignty of the Republic of the Philippines against foreign neo-colonists."
Council of the Laity
Meanwhile, in an unprecedented move, the Council of the Laity of the Philippines (Sangguniang Laiko ng Pilipinas) also endorsed Robredo's candidacy.
With 11 out of 15 council officials agreeing to support Robredo, the group released a statement on Monday describing her as the "most capable candidate for the presidency," while calling on their constituents to throw their support for her candidacy.
The council, meanwhile, expressed reservation regarding Robredo's stance on several issues, like her support for same-sex civil union and her willingness to discuss the decriminalization of abortion.
"[Although] there are still other issues which need further dialogue and cooperation, we are of the opinion that Vice President Leni Robredo, based on her track record of service, dedication to good governance, ability to implement partnerships and programs for the advancement of the people especially the marginalized and her unassailable integrity, bested the others.
It has been a policy of the Catholic Church not to endorse election candidates although it recognizes the rights of its members to choose and support their preferred candidates, including priests and religious men and women.
In a report from CBCP News, Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma reminded priests not to use the church pulpit to campaign for any candidate.
But the prelate also said that priests, as citizens of the country, also have the freedom to support a candidate in their personal capacity.
Earlier, El Shaddai's Bro. Mike Velarde openly endorsed the candidacy of presidential aspirant Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. and his running mate Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio.
The charismatic group is one of the largest laypeople organizations in the country with existing chapters in various parishes. As such, every election, politicians would often come to Velarde to secure the group's endorsement.
But one of its spiritual directors, Novaliches Bishop Emeritus Teodoro Bacani, clarified that Velarde's support for the namesake of the late dictator does not equate to an official endorsement of the group.
The bishop also said that Marcos Jr. should not be voted for president. The Philippine Catholic hierarchy was one of the key figures that toppled the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos Sr., whose regime saw thousands of extrajudicial killings. tortures, incarcerations, and disappearances.
"Sinasabi ko po ito base po sa katuruang Katoliko: walang sino mang lay leader ang makapag-uutos sa kaniyang mga nasasakupan na bumoto para sa isang kandidato. Wala po," Bacani said in one of his masses at Radyo Veritas.
"Madalas ko na pong nililinaw sa El Shaddai na malaya silang pumili kung sino ang gusto nilang iboto."
The retired bishop also said that Velarde's endorsement was not sanctioned by the Catholic figures who are connected to the group, including Parañaque Bishop Jesse Eugenio Mercado whose ecclesiastical jurisdiction covers the headquarters of El Shaddai.