COMELEC to the peripheries

“The Church in the Philippines is called to acknowledge and combat the causes of the deeply rooted inequality and injustice which mar the face of Filipino society, plainly contradicting the teaching of Christ” – Pope Francis, Homily for the Manila Cathedral Mass, January 16 2015

Photo from ABS-CBNnews.com

Photo from ABS-CBNnews.com

A whole nation was in awe and in a state of euphoria when His Holiness Pope Francis, dubbed as the People’s Pope, visited the country last week. Despite the scorching heat and pouring rains, millions turned-out to catch even a glimpse of the ‘rockstar’ Pope in his activities and even along the designated Papal route. Fathers were seen carrying their children over their shoulders for a chance that His Holiness might stop and kiss them. Mothers bore Santo Niño images to have them blessed. Millions more were glued to their TV sets to watch the Pope.

“I felt annihilated (wiped out),” was how Pope Francis described the moments that moved him most during his brief stay in the country. “To see all of God’s people standing still, praying, after this catastrophe, thinking of my sins and those people, it was moving, a very moving moment. In the moment of the mass (in Tacloban), I felt as though I was annihilated, I almost couldn’t speak. I felt very little. I don’t know what happened to me, maybe it was the emotion, I don’t know. But I didn’t feel another thing, it was quite something. And then the gestures were moving. Every gesture,” his Holiness Francis told journalists in a press conference on his flight back to Rome from Manila. Such sincerity and humility!

Indeed, that fleeting moment when the leader of the world’s more than a billion Catholics visited our country will forever be etched in our collective memory. But more than our #FeelingBlessed Twitter, Facebook and Instagram posts that, as expected flooded social media the past days; we as nation, should live up to the teachings and message of Pope Francis – that of genuine concern and service to the poor and the needy.

Pope Francis minced no words in asking all of us to respect the dignity of the poor. “Above all, I ask that the poor throughout this country be treated fairly – that their dignity be respected, that political and economic policies be just and inclusive, that opportunities for employment and education be developed, and that obstacles to the delivery of social services be removed. Our treatment of the poor is the criterion on which each of us will be judged. I ask all of you, and all responsible for the good of society, to renew your commitment to social justice and the betterment of the poor, both here and in the Philippines as a whole,” he said.

The COMELEC, as the sole government agency tasked to ensure the right to suffrage of every Filipino, should be inspired by his Holiness’ message and be moved to uphold its duty to reach out to the most vulnerable sectors in our society and make every effort to guarantee that their voices, through their votes, are counted, and counted accurately.

COMELEC Commissioner Luie Tito Guia hit the nail right in the head when he said that “the Pope’s message is for us (COMELEC) to empower the poor, the marginalized, those from the vulnerable sectors, by working for the implementation of the principle of ‘one person, one vote’ and free choice. We can then help reduce, if not totally eradicate, what the Pope calls as “the scandalous inequality” in our society.”

Indeed, the COMELEC, as Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle put it, must go with Pope Francis not in Rome but “to the peripheries,” to the sectors often neglected every elections – the indigenous peoples’ (IPs), the senior citizens, the persons with disabilities (PWDs), the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and persons deprived of liberty. These sectors’ participation in elections are often hampered because of accessibility and discrimination. Thus it is imperative that the COMELEC must go directly to them so that they are not disenfranchised of their right to vote.

It is the COMELEC’s duty to ensure a more inclusive electoral exercise. By going to the ‘peripheries’, the COMELEC is fulfilling Pope Francis’ message against injustice and oppression that give rise to “glaring and indeed, scandalous, social inequalities.”

Now more than ever, as it gears up for the May 2016 National and Local Elections, let the COMELEC be guided by the Pope’s call for everyone to take part in “reforming the social structures which perpetuate poverty and the exclusion of the poor.”

Let no one be left behind when it comes to our right to elect political leaders that are, according to Pope Francis, “outstanding for honesty, integrity and commitment to the common good.”

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