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The Macro And Micro-Politics Of Religion On 2022 Philippine Election – Analysis

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 People say that that there are two sides of the coin in any electoral campaign where religion plays a role in influencing its supporters / members: to support or not to support. Simply put, to vote or not to vote. Just recently, after few months that camp of presidential aspirant Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (known as Bong Marcos / BBM) has not received the endorsement of the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) despite his proclamation rally being held at the INC-owned Philippine Arena in Bulacan last February 2022, the bloc-voting religious sect has finally endorsed the UniTeam duo / tandem of BBM and Vice President aspirant Sara Duterte-Carpio for the 2022 national elections last May 3; four days before long sought campaign period ends in May 7.  This was announced INC-owned broadcast channel Net 25.

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According to reports, INC decision was made after “through study and research”. Thus, the Chief Executive Minister Eduardo Manalo says that the Marcos-Duterte tandem humbly accepts the endorsement of the congregation from the INC. He added, “This kind of trust will guide presidential frontrunner Bongbong Marcos and vice-presidential leader Inday Sara Duterte in leading our country in the event that they are elected in the May 9 elections.”

On one hand, BBM and Sara were not the ones who were endorsed by INC but also the following for senators: Jejomar Binay, Alan Peter Cayetano, JV Ejercito, Guillermo Eleazar, Chiz Escudero, Jinggoy Estrada, Sherwin Gatchalian, Loren Legarda, Robin Padilla, Joel Villanueva, Mark Villar, and Migz Zubiri.

Hours from its release in various platforms, like in 2016 and 2019 election, a lot have reacted on that pronouncement. For others, this has created a hypothesis that the 2022 Election is already determined but for some, INC’s announcement is only minority hence, to conclude the winning aspirants is illogical.

On the other hand, day before INC made a nod with Marcos-Duterte Carpio tandem, an estimated 10,000 Cordillerans gathered in Baguio City Monday last May 2 to show support for presidential bet VP Robredo and voiced out as form of resistance on the ‘Solid North’ tag in a province considered to be the bailiwick of the Marcoses.

On INC’s decision, we may recall that INC’s 2022 decision is somewhat reflective in the same stance back in 2016 when it endorsed the presidential bid of then Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte and the vice-presidential bid of Marcos although the latter lost with VP Leni Robredo, now a Presidential aspirant too. The endorsement was a “significant boost” and up until now, the populist support became the melting pot of current administration to intensify and magnify its Duterte effect in boosting their party-led pushback. However, let us not also forget 2010 Election, INC backed the tandem of Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and Mar Roxas. Aquino. Former President Aquino won while Roxas lost to former VP Jejomar Binay. Further, INC was also instrumental candidates who eventually won. Prior to Aquino, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Joseph Estrada also won the INC’s blessing of endorsement though history would tell us that there also series of lapses and fallout on failing some expectation of their endorsees both national and local polls.

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The known truth in this religion is its practice of “bloc voting” wherein the church expects its members to vote for its endorsed candidates. Data shows in 2015 Philippine Statistics Authority Census that there are about 2.6 million members. However, I personally do not believe that INC is a Christian denomination claiming that it is it is the third largest religion in the Philippines. Also, putting premium on political capital for any political actors by any religion is not necessarily the ends of its means. Some of its endorsed political actors may lose in the process given the plurality of decision and also the final decision to in actual poll. For an instance, The church backed Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, Jr., who lost the 1992 election to Fidel V. Ramos.

Politically and legally speaking, a basic rule enshrined in our 1987 Philippine Constitution stipulated that religious freedom forms part of our fundamental law same way that the previous 1935 and 1973 Constitution recognize the dictum – “an active power that binds and elevates man to his Creator”. Again in our Constitution, This is presently captured in the ‘free exercise’ clause found in Section 5, Article III (Bill of Rights) of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, which reads: “The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed.” The free exercise clause is based upon “the respect for the inviolability of the human conscience . . . [thus prohibiting the State] from unduly interfering with the outside manifestations of one’s belief and faith.” The caveat here is the ‘non-establishment clause’ entails prohibition of state religion establishment and public resource usage for the support or prohibition of a religion.

Meanwhile, in Estrada v. Escritor, 525 Phil. 110 (2006), it then argued that government balances its secular goals and interests with ‘religious liberty and religious interests’ bounded in constitutional merit and boundaries. In other words, our constitutional law adheres to the doctrine of “benevolent neutrality.” This doctrine predicates: respect to governmental actions, accommodation of religion may be allowed, not to promote the government’s favored form of religion, but to allow individuals and groups to exercise their religion without hindrance. “The purpose of accommodation is to remove a burden on, or facilitate the exercise of, a person’s or institution’s religion.

Though the next case is more of individual pursuit of religious freedom and exercise, the landmark case G.R. No. 95770 March 1, 1993 that held with decision by former Supreme Court Justice Narvasa, Davide, et.al. on Ebralinag and Amolo et.al. vs Division Superintendent of Schools of Cebu, “Religious freedom is a fundamental right which is entitled to the highest priority and the amplest protection among human rights, for it involves the relationship of man to his Creator. This was Chief Justice Enrique M. Fernando’s separate opinion in German vs. Barangan (135 SCRA 514, 530-531). Subsequently, same case highlighted, “The right to religious profession and worship has a two-fold aspect, vis., freedom to believe and freedom to act on one’s belief. The first is absolute as long as the belief is confined within the realm of thought. The second is subject to regulation where the belief is translated into external acts that affect the public welfare” (J. Cruz, Constitutional Law, 1991 Ed., pp. 176-177).

From the given cases, there are instances that state can indirectly affect the people individually and collectively through its governing policies while religious groups have also an indirect political capital on any governmental activities but gone are the days that the latter has no say at all, that no strings attached in each involvement. What then is the benefit of it all?

Legislative policy lobbying as endorsed by INC or nay religious group may be taken advantage by themselves as they have counted on support of their endorsed candidates. It only takes a matter of time to instill the accolade and influence of religious elites to those power elites affected by populism, illiberal politics, and democratic fault lines. Second, positions promised to their power elites can be expected as part of internal arrangement unknown to the public. A search or study must be conducted too by academic institution or third party think tank to check how many INC members have been part of past administrations and the would-be administration in case either BBM or Sara will win. And lastly, this kind of arrangement also presuppose illogical conclusion of INC membership that all of them votes what their bloc dictates so.

This free exercise of religious choice and voting is a fundamental right being questioned by many whether or not their choice is a moral choice for the majority. I guess, just like Estrada vs. Escritor and Imbong vs. Ochoa, if one wants to ascertain the limits of exercise of religion freedom, the public has to scrutinize with compelling state interest and based on laws burdening the fundamental right subject to strict scrutiny. But what mode we can justify the assertion if this means too subjective populace as subject of scrutiny given free choice in every election?

As of now, whether these national and local candidates endorsed by INC, Catholic, Evangelical Christians, Muslims, etc., it is too late for the candidates to consider withdrawing or endorsing another rival after reaching the last stretch of the campaign. This is according to one political analyst Prof. Edmund Tayao, “To my mind even if anyone withdraws at this juncture, it might already be too late in the day.” He then said in one interview that Manila Mayor Isko Moreno’s recent tirades against rival Vice Presient Leni Robredo makes it look like he is only “lawyering” for Bongbong Marcos, even if his original intent is to prevent further erosion of his survey rating. In the latest Pulse Asia survey, Marcos kept his lead, but Robredo narrowed the gap. Moreno remained at the third spot, followed by Senators Manny Pacquiao and Panfilo Lacson.

Whether you like or not, religious beliefs are significantly related to national political participation. While most Filipinos no longer adhere with traditionalistic religious activities as a lot has reduced its participation, Filipinos are significantly proactive in political participation. Albeit some macro religious beliefs increase macro political behavior, believers in an involved God are less likely to have strong and active participation. Individualistically speaking, micro beliefs have no effect in national politics even in local politics that is why the targeted audience of each political party has always been in macro scale. More chances of winning as they say. Hoping for the best for strategic direction of the Philippines after this May Election.

*Ideas and/or views expressed here are entirely independent and not in any form represent author’s organization and affiliation.

*About the authors:

  • Jumel Gabilan Estrañero is a defense, security, & political analyst and a university lecturer in the Philippines. He has completed the Executive Course in National Security at the National Defense College of the Philippines and has participated in NADI Track II discussions in Singapore (an ASEAN-led security forum on terrorism). His articles have appeared in Global Security Review, Geopolitical Monitor, Global Village Space, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Philippine Star, Manila Times, Malaya Business Insights, Asia Maritime Review, The Nation (Thailand), Southeast Asian Times, and Global Politics and Social Science Research Network. He worked in the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Office of Civil Defense, National Security Council-Office of the President, and recently promoted in the Department of the National Defense. He also lectures in De La Salle University Philippines and Lyceum of the Philippines as part-time lecturer.  He is the co-author of the books titled: Disruptive Innovations, Transnational Organized Crime and Terrorism: A Philippine Terrorism Handbook, and Global Security Studies Journal (Springer Link, United States) to name a few. He just recently completed ASEAN Law Academy Advanced Program in Center for International Law, National University Singapore. He loves his God, family, church, and his loved ones 

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