To Take A Stand

On April 30, I wrote in this space that a religious sect endorses only the candidates who the polls show to be likely winners. By so doing, it sustains the myth that its endorsement assures victory.

Four days later, Mike Velarde, leader of the Catholic charismatic group El Shaddai, endorsed the candidacies of 14 senatorial candidates. Except for Sen. Bam Aquino and Dr. Willie Ong, all the Velarde-endorsed senatorial candidates were projected by Pulse Asia’s surveys to be the 12 winning senatorial candidates. One cannot but conclude that the choice of candidates was based on the results of surveys as the stands of many of the candidates are inconsistent with Catholic doctrines.

The Catholic Church waged a vigorous and relentless campaign against the passage of the Reproductive Health bill into law. Yet, among the candidates endorsed by El Shaddai leader Velarde was the champion of the RH bill in the Senate. The Church condemns the extra-judicial killings of drug traders and users, yet among those preferred by the Catholic group’s head was the former field commander of the forces behind the EJK. The Church is against the death penalty, yet two El Shaddai-backed candidates want the death penalty imposed again.

The Catholic bishops exhorted their faithful not to vote for those who have been accused of plunder. Velarde endorsed two former senators accused of that crime, while another belongs to a family notorious for political persecution and massive graft and corruption.

Friends told me I was wrong in calling El Shaddai a religious sect when it is a group within the Catholic Church. But it is not the El Shaddai charismatic group I referred to in my column as the religious sect that endorses only candidates that the polls show to be probable winners, although I consider El Shaddai by its rites, practices, and pronouncements — such as its endorsement of certain candidates referred to above — a religious sect, not a Catholic group.

I was referring in my column to a religious sect, while Christian is not Catholic. In fact, its disdain for Catholic beliefs, rites, and practices has long been manifest.

It is said that the sect’s support has been sought from the time of President Manuel L. Quezon. It is well known that politicians court the goodwill of the executive minister of the religious sect all year round and come election time candidates for national positions ask for his endorsement. That is because its members all vote for the candidates endorsed by the executive minister.

President Ferdinand Marcos nurtured the sect’s influence during his administration into a powerful political force so it could serve as his foil against the Catholic Church which was becoming more critical of him as his rule became more oppressive. He appointed a prominent member of the sect to the Supreme Court. He awarded the contract to supply the large-scale requirements of a major government agency to a company two of whose incorporators were prominent members of the sect.

It stood by Marcos when the people’s call for his ouster got louder and louder. It directed its members to vote for Marcos in the Snap Election of 1986. When the people roundly repudiated Marcos, the sect’s position of influence became tenuous. In the 1992 presidential election it endorsed Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. Once again, its presidential bet was soundly beaten, its political influence diminished markedly.

The sect learned its bitter lesson. Never again would it gamble on a candidate who has not been projected by the polls as the eventual winner. Thus, in 1998 it endorsed Joseph Estrada for president months before the elections. This in spite of the fact that Estrada’s private life is the antithesis to the teachings of the religious sect. Adulterous relationships, gambling of any kind, and excessive drinking are prohibited by the sect. Members found guilty of transgression of those rules are either suspended or expelled.

Estrada has been known to have sired children with several women. He frequented the casinos. His drinking sprees with his close friends were said to be nocturnal occurrences. But the sect endorsed Estrada just the same because the Social Weather Stations (Pulse Asia was not yet in existence then) consistently projected Estrada as the overwhelming preference of the voters.

In 2004 it delayed its endorsement of Gloria Arroyo until the last week of the campaign period when she emerged as being ahead of Fernando Poe, Jr, the rumored preference of the sect, by a wide margin. In 2010, it switched from Senator Manuel Villar to Senator Noynoy Aquino five days before Election Day, when Aquino had dislodged Villar from the top rank of the polls as Election Day neared.

After a long wait for its endorsement, it finally announced last Friday which 12 senatorial candidates it is endorsing. Nine of them are in the senatorial slate Davao City mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio’s Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP), two from the Nationalist People’s Coalition, and one independent. It did not endorse any candidate from the “Otso Diretso” ticket nor the other son of Estrada. All those endorsed by the sect are among those who occupied the top 12 spots in the surveys conducted by Pulse Asia this year.

It appears that that is how it chooses the candidate it will ask its faithful to vote for. It chooses a candidate not on the basis of any moral or political standard but on who the polls show to be the most likely winner. That is why it has given the less discerning traditional politicians the impression that its bloc vote is the deciding factor in the success of a candidate’s quest for an elective position.

I say, therefore, the sect’s endorsement as the deciding factor is only a myth created by the sect itself. The candidates it endorsed in recent elections would have won just the same, with or without its endorsement, as they are really the people’s choice as the surveys projected.

That is why I say political surveys have become dysfunctional as they are used by politicians to create a bandwagon effect. In the early years of election surveys in the Philippines, results of surveys were released to the public only after the polling places had closed, preventing the creation of a bandwagon effect. That is how it should be. But it is folly to expect the survey companies to stop their practice of releasing to the public the results of their election surveys. Their election forecasts promote their wares and their organizations, thus generating revenue for them.


Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a member of Manindigan! a cause-oriented group of businessmen, professionals, and academics.