MANILA--President Rodrigo Duterte's attacks against God, the Church and its bishops are driving angry Filipino Catholics to cast votes for candidates not allied with the administration, several opposition senatorial aspirants said Wednesday, shortly after a group of lay leaders endorsed their candidacies.
Duterte earlier drew flak for calling God "stupid", for cursing at Pope Francis, and for issuing death threats against Roman Catholic bishops who allegedly plotted to oust him.
"Hindi lang bishops ng Church ang inatake. It's the faith. The attack was also directed to God and Jesus Christ, so 'yung pinaka identity ng Pilipino which is molded by the values that we have, like our faith, is being attacked by the President," Otso Diretso candidate Gary Alejano told ABS-CBN News.
(He is not just attacking the bishops of the Church. It's the faith. The attack was also directed at God and Jesus Christ, so it's the Filipinos' identity of being molded by faith and values that is being attacked by the President.)
About 80 percent of Filipinos are Roman Catholics.
Despite its size, the congregation has not practiced bloc voting, but Duterte's tirades may change that, former solicitor-general and opposition senatorial candidate Florin Hilbay said.
"Ordinarily there is no Catholic vote but the fact that the People's Choice Movement decided to endorse candidates tells us about the compelling nature of the need to band together as Christians," he said, referring to the 10 senatorial aspirants backed by a group of inter-faith lay people.
Besides Alejano and Hilbay, the People's Choice Movement also endorsed Otso Diretso candidates Bam Aquino, Chel Diokno, Samira Gutoc, Romulo Macalintal, Mar Roxas and Erin Tañada, as well as independent bets Grace Poe and Neri Colmenares after verifying that they espouse values such as "honor, competence and faithfulness to God and the Constitution."
A"sharp divide" between candidates who tolerate Duterte's ramblings and those who criticize him for it "can generate a Catholic vote," Colmenares said.
"There are these senatorial candidates who find nothing wrong with attacking the Church, calling God stupid and believe it is just routine. There is another set of senatorial candidates who protest and object to such travesty of the beliefs of others," he said.
"'Pag sharp ang divide, baka puwede 'yang mag-generate ng Catholic vote not for any vested self-interest of the Catholics but just for the respect of their faith."
UNIFYING THE 'FEARFUL' FAITHFUL
Filipino Catholics are aware that their faith is being attacked but many remain "non-commital," said Ricky Xavier, chairman of People's Choice Movement.
"There's a big portion of Catholics who just remain satisfied with going to mass, receiving the sacraments and nothing more," he said.
"Most of them are non-committal. I think they are just waiting for a group to speak up. Maybe then they will move."
Xavier said their group would first try to influence people who are part of their members' parishes and congregations.
"We will ask our candidates to go and engage in parishes. There are many people there who are not part of our organization. We will ask them to vote for people who have no record of corruption, who are not part of political dynasties," he said.
"They are looking for someone to lead and we hope that because we have organized, they can look to this group as a lead group.
"We are encouraging them to join us to rid of the fear na 'Nakakatakot, ako lang mag-isa." There is strength in numbers."
The initiative of the lay people to act on the "call to action of church leaders" to defend their faith will be a test for the congregation, Diokno said.
"The fact that they have done this [endorsement] is really an indication that they feel the need to speak out," he said.
"This is a test for the Catholics, Christians. Dito natin makikita if lalabas sila at boboto," he said.
Gutoc, the lone Moro candidate endorsed by Christian leaders, said Muslim voters should not turn a blind eye on attacks against religions other than Islam.
"I want to raise the bar. Just because Muslim ka, hindi ka inaatake, doesn't mean you're no longer concerned about the Catholics," she told ABS-CBN News in a separate interview.
"I hope the Muslim Filipinos remove the clannish issue and look beyond that . . . When the religion of Catholics are being attacked, you should also feel the same way, you should also be offended."
But Gutoc clarified she will not use her religion to rally her fellow Moros to cast a "Muslim vote."
"I don't intend to galvanize them using religion. I intend to galvanize them on the basis of what I can offer," Gutoc said.
"It's not about using religion. It's about galvanizing them, mamulat sila na importante ang good governance as a platform."