Naga City --- See, vote, act – this was the challenge to representatives of parishes and religious organizations on April 6, 2019 here during the lecture on Voters’ Education with Fr. Wilmer S. Tria as resource speaker. With around 400 participants, the activity was organized by the Council of the Laity of Caceres in connection with the General Assembly of all parish pastoral councils of the Archdiocese of Caceres.
In an interview, Caceres Archbishop Most Rev. Rolando Octavus J. Tria Tirona, OCD., DD, said voters’ education is important because “it is the duty of every citizen to safeguard democracy.”
“As Christians, it is our prophetic role to raise issues so we can protect the rights of citizens for common good,” he adds.
The issues discussed were fake news, the war on drugs, federalism and charter change, West Philippine Seas and foreign debt, the environment and train law. The evils of political dynasties and vote buying were also examined.
According to Fr. Tria, who heads the archdiocesan Commission on the Promotion of Social Teachings, the lecture aimed to encourage Bikolanos to think critically. “Voters should be able to choose and decide who among the candidates can truly represent the desire of the people for our country,” he says.
Developed by the Education Cluster of the Archdiocese of Caceres and with research assistance from students of Ateneo de Naga University’s College of Law, the lecture concluded with a challenge for voters to “see, judge and act,” upon Archbishop Tria Tirona’s advice.
“The Archbishop said the people should decide and act based on an informed and formed conscience,” Fr. Tria adds.
Criselda Dionisio, anchorwoman of Casarig, a radio program of Radio Caritas Mariae DWRV 98.3 FM which aired the lecture, saw the need to bombard radio listeners with issues that affect the nation. “Sana magkaigwang series para mas mapag-ulayan (I hope there will be a series so there will be more discussion)”. The lecture featured data and analyses to assist the public decide where they stand on the issues.
Data from the Ateneo School of Government which revealed that “the poorest provinces are rich in fat dynasties” were presented. Also quoted was Asian Institute of Management’s findings that “80% of senators belong to political dynasties.” Corruption and incompetence as products of political dynasties was emphasized.
The operational framework of vote buying was discussed, particularly the “vote buying hierarchy” from the district leaders to the poll watchers, and the many forms of vote buying which include the provision of basic goods, jobs and scholarships. The audience was reminded that vote buying is not only political but a moral issue as it oppresses voters, especially the poor, and squanders the country’s future on morally bankrupt politicians.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was quoted on the rapid spread of fake news. MIT revealed that “fake news spread faster than real news” because of trolls, the users paid to fabricate and circulate the falsehood, and bots which are automated for the same purpose. The lecture cited instances when Pope Francis was a victim of fake news such as when he was said to have endorsed the candidacies of Rodrigo Duterte and Donald Trump.
US President Richard Nixon’s War on Drugs in the 1960’s was presented as historical background of the term “war on drugs.” Later admitted by John Erlichmann, Nixon’s assistant for domestic affairs, the so-called drug war was a campaign against Black Americans and the opposition, although not involved in the drug industry.
The Philippine scenario was summarized through the data from the Commission on Human Rights which said that as of December 2018, there are 27,000 deaths in the drug war vis-a-vis the continued importation of drugs, with shabu amounting to PhP 11B entering the Philippine shores in October 2018.
The discussion on federalism was backed with the projected incremental cost of PhP 13B once the Philippines shifts to the federal system of government. The audience was warned that federalism can be a mere euphemism for charter change to lift term limits and the ban on political dynasties.
Regarding the West Philippine Sea and foreign debt, Fr. Tria observed that these issues do not appear pressing among many Filipinos but are actually vital to the country’s future. “We must see the connection between the West Philippine Sea and the loans from China. This is about our patrimonial assets and our economy,” he explains. “The WPS has rich natural resources beyond our imagination,” he adds.
Photos of recent floods and landslides all over the country were shown to underscore the need for environmental protection. Fr. Tria, reacting to the data that trees comprise 18% of the Philippines’ total land area, called for the planting of native trees such as narra and kamagong instead of invasive trees like acacia, mahogany and gemilina. In the 1950’s, forest land area was 60% of the total.
On the TRAIN law, its necessity was the subject of inquiry. “With our existing tax laws capable of collecting PhP 10 Trillion taxes and the 2019 budget requires PhP 3.7 Trillion only, we need to ask about the real purpose and benefit of the TRAIN law. The lowering of personal income tax did not cushion the rise of prices of basic goods,” Fr. Tria explains.
Fr. Tria delivered the same lecture to the clergy during their assembly on March 26, 2019 at San Jose, Camarines Sur. Key personnel of the Consuelo “Chito” Madrigal Foundation - Bikol (CCMF-Bikol) and Ateneo law students also delivered the lecture to other organizations.
Liza Marie J. Tating, CCMF-Bikol’s Program Manager for Microfinance, said the issues on political dynasties and vote buying were closest to home among the members of the Microfinance program who reside in various towns of Camarines Sur.
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