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Why not Glenn Chong as Comelec chairman? Cardinal Vidal’s pastoral letter

I remember when I first met Glenn Chong. He knew his stuff and he was very angry about how the Smartmatic PCOS election was conducted in Biliran, Leyte. Here, I told myself is someone who would be dedicated to whatever cause he chooses to advocate. From politician to a crusader, I went away assured that he was someone we could rely on.

Still. Before the elections of 2010, I was appointed by former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to a committee which was tasked to select who should be appointed Comelec chairman for the crucial presidential elections. It was to be the first automated elections in the Philippines.

The head of the committee was Bernardino Abes, a longtime presidential adviser. The debate centered on the frontline candidate Justice Jose Melo who was also regarded as the favored one by then President Arroyo. He was pounced upon by the usual cause-oriented groups as unacceptable because of that. The cause-oriented groups headed by Lente, an election watchdog group, wrote letters to Abes attacking Melo and saying he would be unacceptable to them.

Everyone who had anything to do with Comelec were invited separately to meet with the committee to express their views – former Comelec chairmen, election lawyers and Comelec staff etc. The most interesting discussions came from election lawyers who asked that their revelations be confidential. In sum, they said working for candidates and the Comelec was difficult. To be the Comelec chairman, you need to be a “gangster,” a toughie.

Candidates were willing to kill to win elections. I remember someone saying that corruption was so embedded in the election body that it was not just about making candidates win, they could also reverse election results if the price was right. You need a “gangster” to run Comelec. The lawyers vied with each other to give horror stories about what they could do in connivance with Comelec for their clients. That was a revelation. Some of them practically said the institution was beyond repair whoever we appointed as Comelec chairman.

Strangely when the date of selection came, Abes told us that he had received a letter for the election watchdogs including Lente that they were in favor of Justice Melo as chairman. So the selection was almost unanimous with no objections. I found it strange that those who fought against him would suddenly have a change of mind and write that their candidate was no other than GMA’s candidate as well. There was a story to that switch but to this day I do not know the answer. I was later invited to lunch by Abes and he did not give an answer except to persuade me to stop asking.

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So it is not just a problem of who should be selected by President Duterte as Comelec chairman after Andres Bautista. To conclude it would not be enough to vote a good man in including such a crusader as Glenn Chong. My answer is to remove the electoral body which can be done only if we change the political structure of the country into parliamentary federal. We would not only eliminate crime and corruption in the electoral body, we will also have smaller constituencies that will not need an automated electoral system.

Having been abroad as an exile at the height of the campaign to remove Marcos, I did not know some important details that led to the People Power peaceful revolution in Edsa. As far as the general public was concerned, it was Cardinal Sin who was behind Edsa when he called on the people to surround the two camps where Enrile and FVR were holed in with a few soldiers. It would have been a massacre.

It was only recently in the early days to form the National Transformation Council that I found out that Cardinal Vidal played a greater role in the making of Edsa than is known. I had many conversations with the amiable cardinal and I told him that more would join the NTC if he lent his name to it. But he refused to say he was too old for that now.

In 1986, as president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), it was Vidal as president of the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines who signed the pastoral letter and “gave the moral impetus” to the first Edsa People Power Revolution. I have excerpted from it to fit my column space.

“WE MUST OBEY GOD RATHER THAN MEN”

Joint Pastoral Exhortation of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines on the Snap Elections

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, and Fellow Filipinos,

The eyes of the world are upon us, the only Christian country in Asia, as we conduct the February 7 elections. We are like “a city set on a hilltop” (Mt 5:14). Hence, there is a special urgency that we should let our light shine before men that they may see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven (Cf. Mt 5:16).

The Lord Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father... Your kingdom come; your will be done on earth as in heaven.” These coming elections can and should be, an event through which God’s will is accomplished more fully in our land through our choice of leaders whom he wants, and in the manner that he wants. Indeed, this election will be judged not only in terms of the persons and issues involved but also by the way it is conducted and the way we respond to its conduct.

These elections can become one great offense to God and a national scandal, or they can be an event of conversion and national renewal.

We should not passively surrender to the forces of evil and allow them to unilaterally determine the conduct and the results of these elections. The popular will is clearly shown by the interest of the vast majority of our people to participate in these elections. Banding together, we can become a massive force that will assure relatively clean and honest elections, expressive of the people’s genuine will…

This will must be expressed and respected. For the power to choose our leaders comes from God.

For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:

(Sgd.)RICARDO J. CARDINAL VIDAL

Archbishop of Cebu

President, CBCP

25 January 1986 
Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, the Apostle

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