3 Senate bets corner ‘holy’ support

Aries C. Rufo

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3 senatorial bets have cornered most of the 'religious' votes - Honasan, Trillanes and Villar

MANILA, Philippines – The May 13 polls will be known as the elections when various religious blocs sought to strengthen their political resolve to make a senator.

Groups such as the Solidarity Vote Movement, White Vote, Live 2013, Team Buhay (Life) and Team Patay (Death) have surfaced in this year’s polls — all variations of the still-to-be-proven “Catholic vote.” This was prompted largely by the approval in December 2012 of the Reproductive Health law, which the Catholic Church leadership has vigorously opposed.

These groups seek to follow the example of the Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC), a much sought-after bloc especially in tight senatorial races. 

On Thursday night, May 9, the INC leadership released sample ballots to all its members of voting age containing the list of senatorial candidates that the religious sect wants elected to the Senate.

The sample ballots contained names which were earlier leaked to the media. In that list, 7 are from Team Pinoy and 5 are from the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA). (Check the INC list here)

A month earlier, the El Shaddai charismatic group released its own list of preferred senatorial bets which is similar the Team Buhay List of the Diocese of Bacolod (Check out the list here). Just recently, Velarde added two more Senate bets on the list: Bam Aquino, cousin of President Aquino, and former Sen Ramon Magsaysay Jr.

Elsewhere, various Catholic dioceses, dubbed as the Solidarity Vote Movement, are coming up with their respective senatorial candidates. Cebu came up with its own version of Live 2013 (Live Initiative for 2013) that seeks to install candidates who pass the Catholic Church’s moral standards.

Rappler tries to make sense of the endorsements of the INC, the El Shaddai and the different dioceses of the Catholic Church, and see how they will determine future elections.

The INC vote

Reputed as the most solid of all religious endorsements, the INC’s senatorial list this year offered a few surprises. Excluded from the INC list are reelectionist Senators Francis Escudero and Juan Miguel Zubiri, both of whom have always been supported by the religious bloc.

Replacing them in the INC list are reelectionist Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and Antonio Trillanes III. The two were snubbed by the INC in the 2007 midterm race.

This year’s list appeared to have been arrived at without any consultation or informal survey with INC members, which the sect did in previous elections. It could simply be a reflection of a change in leadership style. This is only the second national elections for INC under its new executive minister, Eduardo Manalo. He assumed the INC leadership in 2009, when his father Erano “Ka Erdie” Manalo died.

The official list was also apparently leaked deliberately, which runs counter to the sect’s rigid rule on secrecy. As one INC member commented, “The leak was apparently meant to test the INC members reaction to the list.”

EXCLUDED FROM INC LIST. Resigned Sen Migz Zubiri says he is doing everything physically possible “short of a heart attack” to make it to the top 12. File photo from Zubiri’s Facebook page

Why did INC exclude Escudero and Zubiri?

Zubiri resigned as senator before an electoral tribunal decided in favor of Koko Pimentel’s election protest against him. Escudero, on the other hand, broke away from the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) in 2009 after his presidential bid for the 2010 polls failed to take off.

The NPC is founded by business tycoon Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco who got the INC’s support in the 1992 presidential race. An INC source said that the souring of ties between Escudero and Cojuangco could have been one of the reasons the INC decided to drop the senator this time.

But another source said Escudero supposedly gave word to the INC that he would exonerate ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona in the Senate impeachment trial. Eventually, however, Escudero was one of 20 the senator-judges who voted to convict Corona. This betrayal of his vow has turned off the INC leadership, the source who has extensive ties with the INC said.

The fact that the INC usually supports sure winners such as Escudero, who has consistently placed in the top 5 in pre-election surveys, speaks volumes of the INC decision. “This means he will never get the support of the INC if he decides to seek the presidency in 2016,” said the source close to INC.

But what about the other 4 reelectionist senators — Alan Peter Cayetano, Gregorio Honasan, Loren Legarda, and Antonio Trillanes IV — who also voted to convict Corona but still landed on the INC senatorial list?

The source said that unlike Escudero, these 4 reelectionist senators may have nurtured good ties with the INC which far outweighed the effect of voting against Corona. “The INC knows how to express gratitude. If you do them good, they will remember it,” the source said.

With a slight deviation, the INC list followed the same formula they applied in the past: high probability of winning and nurtured relationships. For instance, the sect’s list almost mirrors the survey rankings. On the other hand, the inclusion of San Juan Rep. Joseph Victor Ejercito, Juan “Jack” Ponce-Enrile Jr. and Nancy Binay in the INC list is likely due to their respective patriarchs who have enjoyed close ties with INC leaders.

El Shaddai, Team Buhay

The El Shaddai’s and the Bacolod diocese Team Buhay’s “chosen ones” are similar,  although Velarde belatedly added Aquino and Magsaysay who are not on Team Buhay’s list.

Former Bulacan Rep. Wilfredo Villarama, who is now the second nominee of Velarde’s party-list Pacyaw (Pilipino Association for Country Urban Poor Youth Advancement and Welfare), said the El Shaddai leader wanted to help Magsaysay, who has been lagging behind in surveys.

Villarama said the El Shaddai leader and other lay groups initially toyed with the idea of calling their initiative Solidarity Vote or Catholic Vote. “But this would mean isolating the Protestant groups which share the position of El Shaddai.”

Thus, they decided to call their initiative White Vote.

How is the El Shaddai’s senatorial list different from the past?

For one, by using the same yardstick applied by the Bacolod Diocese, Velarde ignored pre-election surveys in considering those who should be on the list. He also did away with informal surveys among El Shaddai members.

If the El Shaddai list makes it to the winning circle, this could boost Velarde’s political stock which has dimmed following previous conflicts with the Catholic hierarchy and previous controversial endorsements.

Velarde endorsed the candidacy of former President Joseph Estrada despite the general anti-Estrada sentiment of some Church leaders. In the 2004 race, he also endorsed the candidacy of President Arroyo. In the 2010 race, Velarde opted not to endorse anyone.

Solidarity Vote Movement , Live 2013

The Solidarity Catholic Vote is essentially an initiative of lay groups in the different dioceses, with the blessings of the local bishop.

Despite what its name implies, there is nothing solid in the Solidarity Vote Movement since the list in each diocese varies. Lay groups come up with their own list without necessarily copying the list of other dioceses, although there are instances when the dioceses have “common” candidates.

For instance, in the Lipa Archdiocese, the lay groups there have thrown their support behind 3 Kapatiran Party senatorial bets. The Malolos diocese in Bulacan, on the other hand, decided to include candidates from UNA and Team Pnoy.

Lipa archbishop Ramon Arguelles said the main thrust of the Solidarity Vote Movement is not to come up with a common list of candidates but more to create an anti-RH bloc targeting candidates who support the Reproductive Health Law.

“This is the Catholic vote when you prevent candidates who are opposed to the Church teachings from being elected in office,” Arguelles said.

Thus, as a voting bloc, the Solidarity Vote Movement remains an unreliable gauge of the existence of a Catholic vote, since it has different sets of candidates that vary in various dioceses.

Coup plotters and Villar

Who has thus cornered most of the religious votes?

Only 3 candidates have secured a tight lock on religious endorsements—two of them former coup plotters — from INC, Team Buhay, Solidarity Vote Movement and the El Shaddai’s White Vote.

Reelectionists Gregorio Honasan, Antonio Trillanes IV and former Las Pinas Rep. Cynthia Villar surfaced as common denominators in the lists of the religious groups. 

Based on the latest and final pre-election survey of the Social Weather Stations, Honasan and Trillanes are battling it out for the last 3 spots with 4 other senatorial bets, while Villar appears to be safe at 8th place.

Honasan and Trillanes opposed the RH law. The Villars are also opposed to the controversial law. 

From the INC alone, Honasan and Trillanes are assured of a potential 3 million votes. In a tight race, the so-called Catholic vote may just be the game changer that certain senators would be needing on May 13. – Rappler.com

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