NOBODY is even sure if there is a “Catholic vote” and here comes the leader of the religious group El Shaddai splintering it by endorsing 14 senatorial candidates some of whom may not sit well with those who describe themselves as Católico cerrado (closed).
Ten of the 14 endorsed on Saturday by El Shaddai leader Mike Velarde come from the ticket of President Duterte and the Hugpong ng Pagbabago party of his daughter Davao Mayor Inday Sara. Only one, Sen. Bam Aquino, is from the opposition Otso Diretso.
In practice, the Church does not endorse candidates by name but simply gives clear criteria and guidelines for the voters. El Shaddai is not a mandated lay organization of the Catholic church.
The 10 candidates chosen from the overlapping Duterte lists were: Imee Marcos, Bong Revilla, Jinggoy Estrada, JV Ejercito, Bong Go, Bato dela Rosa, Koko Pimentel, Cynthia Villar, Sonny Angara and Francis Tolentino. Completing the 14, aside from Aquino, were Nancy Binay, Grace Poe and Willie Ong.
The voting power of El Shaddai, which boasts of six million members, has not been measured or tested. But in politics, every solitary vote is important, especially to those courting a faith-based group whose charismatic head suggests favored candidates to the flock.
Asked by media why he chose the 14 candidates, Velarde said: “Yung lumapit malapit sa’min, sa lahat ng panahon hindi lang panahon ng eleksyon.” Those chosen, he added, have answers to the country’s problems such as poverty, drugs, and unemployment.
Many of the candidates endorsed have been joining Velarde on stage during their Saturday prayer vigils in Parañaque even before the election season set in. Their faithful attendance apparently has paid off.
Rep. Lito Atienza of Buhay Party-list, El Shaddai’s representation in the bigger house of the Congress, also noted that many of those endorsed have been sympathetic to some Duterte policies, such as the revival of the death penalty as an added deterrent to crime.
Capital punishment is one of controversial religion-related issues that have not found unanimous agreement among the senatorial candidates endorsed by El Shaddai.
They will have to grapple with political expediency as well as their conscience in handling questions on abortion, divorce, death penalty, religious tolerance, and such issues that impinge on religious beliefs.
As we write this, we have not heard of any official reaction of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines to Velarde’s endorsing even candidates with blemished political and personal reputation.
It was once reported that the Church has assigned a senior prelate to Velarde as counselor, presumably to make sure his preaching does not contravene Church teachings. We have not been able to verify if this is still the case and if his endorsements were discussed with any adviser.
• Velarde and his bets are of kindred spirit?
BROTHER Mike’s endorsement stirred a storm in social media, with many netizens asking why he saw some politicians widely perceived as corrupt, thieves, liars and incompetent as deserving a seat in the august hall of the Senate.
One uncharitable question was: Are Brother Mike and his chosen candidates of kindred spirit? We needed an explanation.
I sought an answer from a friend, Willie Buyson Villarama, who has been associated with Velarde for some 13 years now. In fact, like Lito Atienza, he is also a nominee of Buhay Party-list.
I emailed Willie the query quoted below. With apologies to those who cannot understand Pilipino, we run it as is:
“Willie, nakakapit ka pa ba sa El Shaddai? Nakahihiya naman ang pag-endorse ni Bro. Mike ng mga alam naman natin kung anong klaseng tao.
“Hindi na sana bale kung ordinaryong political party ang El Shaddai. Pero nagpapanggap na RELIGIOUS group.
“Naipit lang ba si Bro. Mike o malaki na talaga ang pangangailangan niya ng pera?”
In about two hours came Willie’s reply to our pointed questions. I presume he would not mind my publishing below his email verbatim, so it does not lose its flavor:
“1) Bilyonaryo si Bro Mike, Real Estate magnate.
“2) He believes in free will.
“3) He believes in conversion like St Paul. People who know him know his checkered life, his gambling habits, his bouncing checks, the bomba movies he produced — all these he narrates in his talks.
“4) He believes in whoever God puts as our president has some divine reasons we can never understand why. But he opts to just honor and respect the winner.
“5) He gave 14 names and told our members mamili kayo ng 12 lamang, pero kung wala sa 14 ang gusto ninyo hanapin niyo at siyang iboto.
“6) The Inquirer reporter failed to write down what Bro Mike always tells candidates every time they join us for lunch — Go, Bato, Imee, Dr. Willie Go, Joy Belmonte, Alejano, Bong Revilla, JV Ejercito, Jinggoy Estrada, Zamora father and son, at marami pang iba – ‘Nagpa-survey ako kung ilan ang susunod pag nagbigay ako ng listahan – 40 percent lang. Ang 60 percent kung gusto nila mga names. Wala silang obligation dahil wala kaming Block Voting.
“Coyang, he is sincere enough to tell the truth.
“7) He allows all candidates to speak before our members every Saturday evening after mass — for free. We have no block voting but any candidate has the chance to address hundreds of our members here and abroad because of Live Streaming, our local AM, etc.
“8) He said tinutulungan ko Iang yun lumalapit at humihingi ng tulong at yun naaasahan nuon mga nakaraan panahon na pinapagtanggol ang mga utos ng simbahan: vs abortion, vs same-sex marriage, vs death penalty, etc.
“Coyang, macaba na ini. Everybody is entitled to his opinion. We respect that. You are still my Coyang caluguran come what may.