The call of Philippine Catholic bishops for the active involvement of the laity in "principled partisan politics" (24 January 2010 CBCP Pastoral Statement) targets individual candidates and voters but neglects necessary institutions like political parties. More than our flawed elective officials, the bigger national challenge is our weak governance institutions. Enduring and pervasive unethical practices in politics are rooted in flawed systems and institutions, which can outlast individuals & cannot be changed without sufficient competence, imagination, strategic moves & sustained efforts.
The CBCP asks the candidates to educate the people on the situation of our country and “to present their platforms and convictions rather than attack others.” The bishops appeal to voters to exercise wisely their right to vote, and to “follow the dictates of conscience after a prayerful and collective period of discernment” rather than be swayed by “survey results or political advertisements.”
The CBCP encouragement for lay people to participate actively in principled partisan politics should target the strengthening of institutions like the political parties, which are weak in the following: clarifying and promoting their ideologies and platforms, mobilizing resources for political education and electoral campaigns, and disciplining their party members (see “Priorities for Parties,” 15 August 2009 blog). Political parties that are financially stable, ideologically strong, platform-based, and dialogical in practice will be more effective in the political education of the citizenry than the institutional church will be.
In this light, here are some crucial pastoral actions for the institutional church:
(1) Encourage voters, and urge the political parties, to support a Party Development Law that would create a State Subsidy Fund for party strengthening and campaign financing, require an established participatory process for selecting party candidates, and punish party-switching.
(2) Encourage voters to review the platforms, programs & accomplishments of current parties, and to join a party & actively contribute to its capability in formulating & implementing its programs & disciplining its members.
(3) Specify & disseminate criteria to guide voters and neophyte candidates in assessing & choosing to join a political party, e.g. the coherence, the explanatory ability & the explicit & implicit anthropological assumptions of the party ideology & platform.
A radical theologian once suggested that faith without ideology is dead. If ideology is understood as a politico-economic theory on how a society may resolve or balance the competing interests of its members, then the practice of one’s religious faith without ideology tends either to neglect social reform or to pursue reform in incoherent or unsystematic ways. The evangelization of Philippine politics is ineffective when it ignores the institutional weakness of political parties, which are ideologically & financially weak.