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Albay bishop says: Vote wisely in 2022 polls

By Rhaydz B. Barcia

The Philippines is in the crossroads as guns, goons and gold proliferated and disregarded the will of the populace and the current situation has gone from bad to worse, Albay Bishop Joel Z. Baylon of the Diocese of Legazpi said in a pastoral letter read across the province during the first Sunday of Advent.

“We are again at historic crossroads because we are given the opportunity once more to choose our leaders. During the previous elections emphasis was often given to the personalities not the issues, persons not the office, personal gain not service. Elections have been turned into popularity contests,” the prelate said.

Guns, goons and gold proliferated to disregard the will of the populace, the top Catholic Church official in Albay said. The prelate called on the Bicolanos to discern and to be responsible voters for the upcoming 2022 synchronized national and local polls.

“Recently, we have witnessed the abuse of the law on the substitution of candidates provisioned in the Philippine Omnibus Election Code. Let us prove equal to the challenge to vote wisely. Truth, integrity, competence, and dedicated service should be the foremost standard we use to measure in voting,” Baylon said.

As a lay-leader once said, “While we are non-partisan, we can never be neutral when it comes to good versus evil … to truth versus falsehood … to corruption versus good governance” citing (Amb. Henrietta T. de Villa) pronouncement.

“The choice is between continued stagnation and real progress, between strongmen and strong institutions, between transactional and transformational leadership. As we continue our journey as a discerning community of faith, we ask our people again to have HOPE (Honest, Orderly and Peaceful Elections).

“We pray that we wake up to the evils that are in our midst and decide to fight them in a non-violent way. Elections give us this opportunity. Let us be responsible voters in the 2022 Elections and continue to engage our government leaders beyond,’ Baylon said.

The Church is often described as a journeying community characterized by prayer and discernment. As co-journeyers, let us discern the signs of the times by means of that glimmer of hope, our Christian faith, he said.

If you recall, in November of 2016, our priests and bishops issued an open letter as a product of a prayerful reflection during our retreat in Cavite.

That letter voiced our concern over what is now known as “extra judicial killings” allegedly perpetrated by state forces on suspected drug pushers and users which mainly targeted the poor.

Then, in July of 2018, we issued a pastoral letter calling the attention of our people to the blasphemy and insults heaped on God, and on the Church and its leaders.

“Today, we again sense the need for our voices to be heard because we observe that the situation has gone from bad to worse. Aside from the issues we raised before, we now raise the issues on corruption; the attack on press freedom; public service; and the way the government manages the pandemic, among many others,” the prelate said in his pastoral letter read all over the parishes across Albay province on the first week of advent.

On corruption issues.

Baylon said that there is a lack of transparency and accountability on the part of many government agencies as the Commission on Audit (COA) reports show, even as the Philippine national debt has ballooned to P11.61 trillion as of August 2021.

“There is the tendency on the part of the government to defend its officials and government agencies accused of corruption instead of allowing due process to take its normal course. The accusations are not answered truthfully,” he said.

According to the prelate, the lack of clarifications to the allegations – whether true or not – and the perceived cover-up by the president himself, as in the cases of the Pharmally anomaly and Malampaya issue, only add to public mistrust.

“Under the guise of easing doing business, he has oftentimes disregarded necessary processes, bidding rules, the exercise of due diligence that would ensure transparency and save the government of much-needed money. We are reminded of the purchase of much-needed supplies to combat COVID-19 and the distribution of the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) to the poor via a courier whose credentials are being questioned,” he said.

On Press Freedom

The prelate said that the truth is oftentimes sacrificed because people who express sentiments are silenced.

“We can think of the instances of the non-renewal of ABS-CBN franchise stage-managed by a number of congressmen allied to the President; the continued incarceration of Senator Leila de Lima and the prosecution of Ms. Maria Ressa,” he said.

“Maria Ressa who, although critical of the government, has been ironically bestowed with awards by universities and award-giving bodies in America and elsewhere, topped by the Nobel Peace Prize; and the red-tagging of innocent people who are merely trying to make the life of the poor less burdensome in the midst of the pandemic,” the Albay top church official said.

We call special attention to the prevalence of abuse and misuse of social media even to the point of the denial and revision of history, and the proliferation of trolls vilifying those who oppose this administration.

“Together let us always fact-check through reliable sources to arrive at the truth. We also ask the radio stations and other media outlets, institutions, teachers, the academe, and especially our young people to commit themselves to seeking the truth,” he said.

On Public Service.

Baylon said that appointment to government posts is meant for public service. Public servants are expected to have competence in their line of work and compassion for their constituents and not engage in patronage politics since doing so sacrifices the common good.

“However, it can be observed that at present there is a proliferation of appointments of retired military people to civilian positions. Even under the Aquino Administration, we riled against the “kamag-anak, kaklase, kaibigan, kabarilan inc.” Today never has the bureaucracy been packed by cronies by those in power,” he said.

While this administration doubled the salaries of the police and the military, it could even hardly pay the emergency assistance to medical frontliners, and teachers were given a mere pittance, he said.

“Our people deserve and are expecting servant-leaders with a genuine heart for sincere service especially for the poor and the disadvantaged; servant-leaders who defend our sovereign rights as in the case of the West Philippine Sea,” the prelate said.

On managing the pandemic.

As of September 2021, the Philippines according to Baylon was considered last in the way countries manage the pandemic according to the Nikkei Covid-19 recovery index.

“The reason for this was mainly because the management of the pandemic – which is more of a medical problem – was given to an IATF headed mainly by former military men. Many people dubbed it as the militarization of the pandemic,” he said.

“We believe the government should prioritize the plight of health workers and hospitals, address the prompt delivery and equitable distribution of vaccines, and attend to the demands of the medical frontliners who are putting their lives at risk,” he added.

Furthermore, while we are concerned about the economic impact of this plague, we believe the government should heed the advice of medical experts over the demands of the business and tourism sectors. In addition, we are experiencing a crisis in education.

Baylon said that the present online and modular learning has deprived children of proper and meaningful education; teachers even spend their own money to supplement expenses; and parents can hardly cope with the demands to facilitate such educational arrangement.

All stakeholders according to the prelate suffer tremendously. “As we have said, we are with you on this journey, that even in the early days of the pandemic, the diocese has already offered the facilities of the churches, our seminaries either as quarantine facilities or rest areas for tired medical frontliners,” Baylon said.

To help the government achieve the herd immunity, the diocese opens its doors to the medical frontliners and the public for three days nationwide vaccination dubbed as “Bayanihan Bakunahan”.

The diocese of Legazpi offered its churches as possible vaccination venues. “A good number of our parishes have set up community pantries, groups and generous parishioners share what little they have to far-flung barangays to help the poor cope with increasing unemployment. Of course, we admit those are never enough,” Baylon said.

The Diocese of Legazpi supports the National Covid-19 vaccination drive currently happening at Albay Cathedral.


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