[OPINION] To Christians voting for Bongbong Marcos

After service last Sunday, one young member of our congregation approached me to talk about, of all things, the elections.

While she has an inkling of whom to vote for, something troubles her.

It turns out that in her circle of friends, only she is not voting for Bongbong Marcos. Her friends – evangelicals all – are converting her to BBM. Apparently, his name would be brought up in every prayer meeting. To her it feels like they have the same zeal for the son of the dictator as they do for the Son of God.

And that troubles her. Deeply.

Christians for Bongbong

There is no doubt that Christians of all stripes have rallied behind Bongbong Marcos in the past. 

In 2016, the pastors of Church Without Walls International, an evangelical group, prayed over him and gave him their formal support. In response, Marcos thanked the ministers and echoed their call for national unity.

In the same year, a Pentecostal pastor was supposed to pray for the Duterte-Cayetano tandem at the end of their sortie in Laguna. When it was his turn, Bishop Jess Ramos publicly apologized to Cayetano before praying instead for Marcos to win the vice presidency. 

And when Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) and El Shaddai gave him their institutional endorsements, BBM must have felt that victory was at hand.

To be sure, religious endorsements are not always consequential, especially among smaller denominations.

But on some occasions they can make a difference. This was certainly the case in 2016. 74.5% of INC members followed their leaders’ call to vote for BBM. Without INC’s endorsement, Leni’s lead would have been wider. This is indicative of what may once again transpire in 2022.

In my view, however, religious endorsements in favor of BBM are problematic not just because the electoral race is a numbers game. 

In a piece I wrote in 2019, I expressed my disagreement with institutional endorsements, even if they were in favor of the candidates I thought should win. My reasoning then was simple: official endorsements by religious figures perpetuate the padrino system. 

Religious leaders, after all, are among our society’s power elite. (READ: The folly of religious endorsements)

Noble intentions

But something makes it far more questionable when Christians are deliberately in favor of Bongbong Marcos. It does not matter whether they are ministers or lay.

To be sure, many of these Christians buy into BBM’s call for national healing. 

Reconciliation and forgiveness are staple, after all, in Christian theology. “Why cannot Filipinos forgive and forget what the Marcoses did? It is the Christian way to forgive the sinner and condemn the sin,” so the moral argument goes. 

So whenever BBM asserts that he is for national unity and moving on, which he always does, Christians with noble intentions for the country may readily fall for him.

This is where the problem lies. They forget that an intimate relationship exists between forgiveness and justice. While forgiveness might be an individual decision, justice is a social responsibility. (READ: Forgiveness demands justice)

The theology of forgiveness that Christians embrace is of course admirable. This, after all, is what infuses the Christian life with hope for the future.

But when applied to Bongbong Marcos, there is no hope.

Lies and more lies

There is no other way to put this. The son of the dictator is a liar. 

Whether it’s his Oxford degree or his father’s presidency, everything that comes out of his mouth is a lie. 

BBM, for one, claims that his father “brought the Philippines into the modern world.”

That is not true. His father and his father’s cronies plundered the nation, a fact that is well documented by no less than the Supreme Court. And just a few weeks ago, the Sandiganbayan ordered the return of stolen money. The order enforces an agreement that Imelda Marcos herself entered into with the Philippine government in 1991 to assign all properties in question to the latter.

Time and again, the son of the dictator has resisted calls for him to apologize. He never did, and never will. 

And no, he cannot claim that he was too young to be involved in corruption. 

In 1985, when he was 27, BBM became the chairman of the board of the Philippine Communications Satellite Corporation, a conduit of his family’s ill-gotten wealth. And according to the Sandiganbayan, private foundations registered in Switzerland, for which Imelda Marcos has been convicted, specifically named Bongbong, Imee, and Irene as beneficiaries of stolen money.   (READ: Why is it difficult for Bongbong Marcos to apologize?)

To make it worse, BBM himself is behind the historical distortions we now see on social media. Years ago he approached Cambridge Analytica with a simple task in mind: to change public attitudes towards the Marcoses. That now accounts for much of the online praises accorded Ferdinand Marcos and his Martial Law.

One is thus left wondering how Bongbong has the audacity to claim that his will be a “unifying leadership.”

Given all these lies, it is thoughtless for pastors to admonish Christians “na nagtuturo ng forgiveness pero may hashtag ka ng #neveragain #neverforget. Move on din kapatid.”  

The truth

In John 8, Jesus chose to directly confront the Jews who wanted to kill him. They also claimed that they were Abraham’s children, thus God’s chosen people. 

Jesus, in response, minced no words: “You belong to your father, the devil…the father of lies.”

I have no doubt that Christians out there, as honorable Filipino citizens, only want what is good for the country. I have no doubt, too, that many of them believe in the power of forgiveness.

But forgiveness is not an excuse for ignorance. Nor does it permit us to fall for the seduction of lies.

Christians proclaim that the truth shall set us free. This is as much true to every individual as it is to our society.

And so in the context of our elections, for which the truth has already been sacrificed, many Christians must muster all the courage to first set themselves free. – Rappler.com

Jayeel Cornelio, PhD is a sociologist of religion at the Ateneo de Manila University and a Fellow of the Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture (ISACC). He has taught at the Divinity School of Chung Chi College at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity. Follow him on Twitter @jayeel_cornelio.

Jayeel Cornelio

Jayeel Cornelio, PhD is Associate Professor and the Director of the Development Studies Program at the Ateneo de Manila University. A sociologist of religion, he is a recipient of the 2017 Outstanding Young Scientist Award from the National Academy of Science and Technology. He i...

image