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MANILA, Philippines – More than 100 priests and brothers from the Jesuit order, which runs the Ateneo network of schools in the Philippines, endorsed presidential bet Leni Robredo and running mate Kiko Pangilinan for the May 9 elections.
Joining them in endorsing Robredo and Pangilinan is the theology department of Ateneo de Manila University, one of the leading Catholic and Jesuit schools in the Philippines.
“We believe that VP Leni and Senator Kiko display the least self-interest and are the most capable and morally credible to promote truth and social justice, protect our democratic principles and freedoms, and pursue our vision for our nation,” said at least 115 Jesuit signatories in a statement released Friday, February 25.
“This coming election we pray we rediscover our soul as a nation, reclaim our deepest convictions, and retake the future of our nation,” they added.
The Jesuit released their statement on the 36th anniversary of People Power, the peaceful uprising that toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos on February 25, 1986. It is Marcos’ son and namesake, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., who is leading the presidential race this year, with Robredo trailing him as his closest rival.
In their statement, the Jesuits said “our collective soul as a people” is at stake in this year’s polls, after incompetence, impunity, vulgarity, and indecency reigned in recent years. The Jesuits said they reached their decision to endorse Robredo and Pangilinan “using the lens of Catholic social teaching and following the call of Pope Francis to be politically responsible in view of human dignity and the common good.”
“We see this coming election as more than just an exercise of partisan choice. We see this election as a graced and fresh turning point to redefine ourselves, reclaim our aspirations, and redirect the course of our collective action,” they said.
While stating they do not reflect the official position of Jesuits in the Philippines, the signatories include the top guns in their religious order. Among them are the following Jesuit priests: Ateneo de Manila University president Roberto Yap and former presidents Jett Villarin and Bienvenido Nebres, renowned musicians Manoling Francisco and Arnel Aquino, activist and poet Albert Alejo, and media personalities Nono Alfonso and JBoy Gonzales.
The Society of Jesus, as the Jesuits are formally known, is the world’s biggest male religious order, whose most prominent member is no less than Pope Francis. In the Philippines, the Jesuits also run the seminary that produced diocesan priests such as Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, now a top official at the Vatican, and Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.
Though known for their pro-poor and often activist stance, Jesuits – individually or as a group – have not been known to endorse specific candidates in Philippine elections, until this year.
‘Face the future with courage’
A day before the Jesuits published their endorsement, Ateneo de Manila’s Department of Theology released their own statement of support for the Robredo-Pangilinan tandem, titled “Hindi Na Sapat Ang Mangarap, Kailangan Nang Magtaya!”
Deploring the impunity, corruption, incompetence, and failures of the Duterte regime, the Ateneo theologians said, “It is now time to face the future with courage.”
“The signs of the times call all of us to prophetically defend the truth, even at the risk of being labeled divisive,” said Ateneo’s theology department, which took a swipe at the Marcos camp’s battle cry of unity. “The call for ‘Unity’ is empty at the expense of Gospel values. Authentic unity is grounded in truth, inclusive justice, and good governance,” the theologians said.
They then “strongly” endorsed Robredo and Pangilinan as they “embody the ideals of exemplary leadership untainted by corruption and the needed competence to address society’s many social ills.”
“A vote for the Robredo-Pangilinan tandem is not just a vote for viable candidates, but it is also a vote for the ultimate good of our nation. One such vote is a vote for candidates who espouse the Gospel and Filipino values. It is a vote against the return of the Marcos and Duterte dynasties in power which destroyed much of the nation’s social fabric,” the Ateneo theologians said.
Like many other Catholic groups, the Jesuits and Ateneo’s theology department have broken their traditional nonpartisanship to support Robredo and Pangilinan, and to defeat Marcos Jr. in the presidential polls.
Jesuits and their alumni were among the staunchest critics, and victims, of the Marcos regime. In 1974, authorities under Marcos raided a Jesuit seminary, the Sacred Heart Novitiate in Novaliches, because of alleged Marxist links. This prompted then-Manila archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin to issue an unprecedented statement against Marcos.
Father Godofredo Alingal, a Jesuit who served in Kibawe, Bukidnon, was assassinated in 1981 for speaking out against the military’s abuses. A Jesuit bishop, Francisco Claver, was arrested by the Marcos government in 1977, while Father James Reuter helped the anti-Marcos resistance through his work in media. – Rappler.com